Joe Zeff Design

A boutique agency that blends software with storytelling, helping the world's largest companies tell better stories.

Our story . . .

The Best of TIMEs

This week's TIME Magazine features our latest photo-illustrated cover, a for sale sign in front of the White House to help tell the story of how billionaires are influencing the election. Although the iPad has shifted our focus from design and illustration to digital publishing, we continue to be extremely proud of our magazine covers. As technology changes, it has been our ability to infuse information and illustration that has always set us apart.


Our next TIME cover is already printed, it turns out: the front and back of the magazine's upcoming Election Guide, available for pre-order here.


A little background: Company president Joe Zeff worked at TIME from 1996-2000 as Deputy Art Director and Graphics Director, and vice president Ed Gabel was TIME's Associate Graphics Director from 1997-2007. Together they produced diagrams and charts using 3D software that helped change the way that magazines presented information graphics. Joe used that software to produce realistic magazine covers for TIME and then other magazines, ultimately leaving TIME in 2000 to start Joe Zeff Design.

Joe Zeff Design has produced eight nine TIME covers, most in collaboration with Creative Director D.W. Pine. The other seven eight:


During his career at TIME, Ed illustrated numerous covers in styles ranging from photorealism to abstract portraiture:


Joe had the best education an aspiring magazine designer could ever wish for — an office beside longtime TIME Art Director Arthur Hochstein and an up-close look at how week after week Arthur turned threads into tapestries on the cover of TIME. Along the way, Joe had the chance to illustrate a handful of covers and take over the design responsibilities when Arthur took an occasional break.


And the very first Joe Zeff cover was an illustration commissioned by Deputy Art Director Sharon Okamoto. It was a Reuben sandwich of Photoshopped layers with hand-painted highlights and drop shadows that took consecutive all-nighters to produce.


Today, applying the 3D software we now use to create these types of illustrations, it could be crafted in less than an hour. But the execution has never been the hardest part of producing a compelling magazine cover. It's the idea, the concept that draws in a reader and makes them laugh, or cry, or care enough about an issue to lift it from a shelf and investigate further. It's the challenge of making a complicated subject instantly understandable by using pictures rather than words, by showing rather than telling.

There's a timelessness of a TIME cover that transcends limitations, and turns finite parameters into boundless opportunities. We were proud to work with TIME to produce their 9/11 commemorative apps last year, which won two Gold Awards from the Society of Publication Designers. Stories that are told impactfully on a magazine cover have the potential to be even more richly conveyed with the additional of multimedia.


As technology upends the way we communicate, our experience producing magazine covers for TIME — and Newsweek, Esquire, Fortune, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, Texas Monthly, Macworld, Fast Company, Money and dozens if not hundreds of other magazines through the years — will continue to benefit us as we strive to produce content that resonates with consumers, regardless of what new device comes out next week and what logistical complications it presents. As always, it's important to execute well, but even more important to understand that the execution itself can only be as effective as the ideas that are being delivered.

We're looking forward to the next TIME cover. Thanks to all who make them possible.