Unwrapped 529.32

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.”

Share this story

Cold Open

Life Is a Gift

When a present becomes more than just an object.

The Greatest Gift a President Ever Got

How a small sculpture by Frederic Remington became the only seemingly permanent fixture of the White House’s West Wing.

View storyArrow

You Are Good at Things

Choosing a doughnut, spying on other people’s text messages, touching your toes ... you are gifted. You are talented. You are good at things!

Off Topic

‘Their Spirits Were Trapped in Those Masks’

No one wants these faces of Native American POWs—not the Smithsonian, not Harvard—because of how they were made.

View storyArrow

The Hidden Networks of Dog Rescue

The South is full of unwanted dogs in kill shelters. But sometimes, there’s a happy ending.

View storyArrow

Snowy Bing Bongs Across The North Star Combat Zone

Could this dance-comedy-sketch weirdness become a new holiday tradition? Consider swapping your Yule log for Cocoon Central Dance Team’s visually stunning potpourri of...something.

The Bar Mitzvah Party Starters

It’s hard to be the life of the party when you’re a 13-year-old. So you hire professionals.

View storyArrow

The Gift

3 Parts | 10 min Three women— an opera singer, a painter and a style icon—demonstrate their singular, special gifts.

Ave Maria Bamford

12 Parts | 30 min Fear. Financial ruin. Loneliness and heartbreak. This month, comedian Maria Bamford stars in a 12-part special for those who find the gifting season as insufferable as it is celebratory.

Off Topic

On Being ‘Young, Gifted, and Black’

The twisting journey of an iconic phrase through 20th century America.

View storyArrow

The Night Before GIF-Mas

A different telling of the iconic holiday poem.

View storyArrow


Roxane Gay: “I’m Really Bad At Saying No.”

When you’re a singular talent with a true gift, everyone wants a piece of you.


Sorting through what loved ones leave behind after death is an important part of bearing witness, and moving forward.

View storyArrow

Off Topic

Where Big Bows Come From

One company dominates the market.

View storyArrow

Off Topic

The 62-Year-Old Child Genius

The adult life of a very smart kid.

View storyArrow

The Hustle of Financial Domination

Taking over a man’s bank account or receiving copious gift cards sounds like easy money, but the dominatrixes will tell you, it’s a grind.

View storyArrow

Gift of the Whale

The whalehunt is a revered tradition that is in danger.

View storyArrow

The biggest bonfire in the world happens every New Year’s Eve in The Hague. (Actually, it’s two of the biggest bonfires!)

View storyArrow