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About the Cover (Gifted)

The ultimate gift-wrap.

The conceit behind our December issue is the result of a collaboration between Topic creative staff, who conceived of the advent calendar concept, and Hugo & Marie, the Brooklyn-based design firm that built it.
Brooklyn’s Hugo & Marie submitted several concepts to visually introduce the issue’s theme “Gifted.” Some explorations flirted with various levels of abstracting the idea of giftwrapping (accompanied with a literal labeling of the theme), which became the basis of our final cover image.

Unfortunately, chocolate—sometimes found behind the doors of many real-world advent calendars—was not an option for Topic’s digital reimagining, and the staff had to make a few other tweaks to the idea, including starting the calendar on the first of the month (the actual days of Advent begin sometime between the end of November and beginning of December) and ending it on the 31st, not the 24th.

Hugo & Marie’s Jennifer Gonzalez says that the most important initial consideration was helping to design something that was “whimsical and functional all at once,” without compromising the fast, efficient user experience already baked into the site build.

“It was a bit of a tightrope,” she says. “More than traditional cover art—a video, image or other piece of content—the calendar was created to be a tool. We didn’t want the system to be unfamiliar, but we also didn’t want it to be too common. We wanted to create a calendar that was rich and celebratory, bright and colorful—something with a sense of delight, and with satisfying interactions.”

ABOVE: Storyboard options for the cover image animation. The multipatterned ribbons enveloping a mysterious white box seen in “Option 1" eventually evolved into our cover’s final explosive gift package.

Gonzalez’s business partner, Mario Hugo, admits that the advent calendar assignment was quite a challenge—the company is often spending a year or more on digital projects and the Hugo & Marie team only had a month for this one. (Sorry, guys.) “We cut our teeth as illustrators and it’s common to have super tight deadlines,” he says. “[But] digital work is complex and takes longer. We had the concepts, interface design, UX design, illustration, animation, programming, QA and testing to fit into the span of a month. It was just exciting to throw down, and make a functional tool with a detailed execution in a very short span of time. Ultimately, it was a good test for the studio.”

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