Despite what all of us had been thinking the day it came out in December, the devil horned M of Donald Trump’s TIME Person of the Year cover was tragically pure coincidence.
“That’s just the way our logo works,” said Creative Director D.W. Pine. “We actually had to do huge galleries on TIME.com that had 40 versions of when we’d done this before with other people—including the Pope.”
Delivering Thursday’s opening FORTUNE Venture panel at Northside Innovation, The Business and Art of Covering Trump, Pine discussed that while there’s certainly no shortage of content and artistic opportunity surrounding this administration, it can be serious business too.
Prior to the election, Trump stated he’d graced the cover 14 or 15 times (false, it was seven), making him the most frequent face to appear in TIME’s history (false again, it’s currently Richard Nixon with 55, but at least he’s in good company). Already garnering an additional eight covers since January 20, however, he may very well be on his way—whatever implications that may have.
“Every year we choose a Person of the Year who is the individual who’s had the most influence on events—for better or worse,” said managing editor Nancy Gibbs. “It’s hard to argue that anyone had more influence than Donald Trump over the events of this year (2016).”
The controversial cover circulated widely on social and traditional media with plenty of colorful commentary. It even earned a Stephen Colbert cold open imagining the fateful meeting in which TIME’s creative team was forced to concede the inevitability of 2016’s selection against their will.
In addition to being Person of the Year by default, other “business” aspects of covering Trump have been fairly straightforward; Pine noted that sometimes they simply want to mark the moment—photos from election night and inauguration stamped with a date, for example.
It’s the creative decisions that must remain agile—sometimes up through the very last minute – because of the tumultuousness of the administration. Pine recalled being taken on a full tour of the White House, including the upstairs living quarters where press is hardly ever allowed. That same night, however, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, forcing the team to quickly pivot from their plan of an exclusive spread to whipping up dozens of alternate cover sketches.
Despite constant challenges and the never-ending need for flexibility, art has been abundant during this presidency, if not crucial to surviving it. “We try to think of visual analogies to make people understand…and hopefully enlighten them,” said Tim O’Brien, the painter behind TIME’s Trump “storm” cover (Titled Nothing to See Here) and over 20 others. “When things are erratic and unpredictable…illustration can be really great at capturing the unknown to make things that are out of the ordinary more understandable…although I would like things to calm down a little bit,” he chuckled.
Us too, Tim. Us too.
Photos by Zane Roessell