Five Gay Times magazine covers that "balance visual impact with meaningful representation"


UK LGBTQ+ media brand Gay Times is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Here, senior art director Jack Rowe shares five key magazine covers with progressive design language.

Rowe selected the covers from the 540 magazine covers included in Gay Times: The Exhibition, an audiovisual decade-by-decade timeline displaying the brand’s journey over the past 40 years.

“It’s about making a bold statement”

According to Rowe, the most successful covers were designed to make an impact, while reflecting the queer community.

“It’s about making a bold statement,” Rowe told Dezeen. “Our covers aim to spotlight talent in new and compelling ways, using imagery that captures attention while reflecting the diversity and vibrancy of the queer community.”

“The ideal cover balances visual impact with meaningful representation,” he continued.

Looking back at our covers over the past 40 years you can see an evolution in both culture and design language.

Established in 1984, Gay Times has been documenting pivotal queer cultural moments over the past 40 years, reporting on issues such as the AIDS crisis, the repeal of Section 28 and the fight for marriage equality.

Also honouring achievements and talents within the queer community, throughout the decades the brand has profiled icons and well-known figures including Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, Grace Jones and Lady Gaga.

“We hope people will be inspired”

For Gay Times: The Exhibition, the brand’s extensive archive of queer media was collated and curated for general public viewing, with a short bio on each era, starting with the first ever cover featuring the Gay Times masthead in May 1984.

“Drawing inspiration from the DIY look of our early magazines, we applied a newspaper cutting aesthetic to the entire exhibition – a nice contrast to ultra-high-resolution screens,” Rowe said.

“We hope people will be inspired by seeing how far we’ve come as a community and appreciate the rich content Gay Times has produced over the years.”

Below, Rowe shares five cover highlights from the 40-year archive of Gay Times.


Bronski Beat for GAY TIMES magazine, 1984

Bronski Beat, Issue 75, November 1984

Strong lines, sharp angles and colourful geometric shapes defined Gay Times’ initial print graphics which utilised typical design trends of the 1980s.

“Early issues were crafted with a tactile, ‘cut and paste’ approach, featuring slightly wonky headlines and images full of noise from being scanned in,” Rowe said.

“These covers have a raw authentic feel that captures the DIY spirit of the time.”

A nod to this early cover, the music that accompanied Gay Times: The Exhibition was a remix by DJ Absolute of British band Bronski Beat’s queer anthem Smalltown Boy, also celebrating it’s 40th anniversary this year.


Kylie Minogue for GAY TIMES magazine, 1994

Kylie Minogue, July 1994

Technological innovations in typography such as font creation softwares, plus the advent of desktop publishing, informed the cluttered compositions of attention-grabbing cover lines in 1990s and 2000s print.

This striking photograph of Australian singer Kylie Minogue has been carefully posed for loud, vibrant cover lines to be placed on top and to fill in surrounding empty space.

“As you move through the decades, you can visually see the shift of new design technologies,” Rowe said.

“You start seeing ‘Word Art’ style headlines and the high-flash photography trend of the 90s.”


Orville Peck for GAY TIMES magazine, 2020

Orville Peck, Issue 508, Autumn 2020

To mark the magazine’s move from monthly to quarterly publication, Gay Times rebranded in 2020 for Issue 508’s two separate covers and began embracing a new strategy for the future through a renewed modern, minimalist approach.

The publication also introduced interactive digital features such as animated covers with motion graphics on Apple News+, and cover-themed Instagram filters such as the signature mask worn here by Canadian musician Orville Peck.

“More recently we’ve embraced the digital age, incorporating CGI and moving covers into our executions,” Rowe said.

“When selecting elements like photography style and typography, we draw inspiration from the person featured on the cover, infusing the design with a unique Gay Times point of view.”


Bimini for GAY TIMES magazine, 2021

Bimini, Issue 514, December 2021

Cover stars and names hold priority in this new simplified redesign over feature titles. English drag queen, model and recording artist Bimini fronted one of three digitally-rendered covers centred around the Gay Times Honours awards show in 2021.

A CGI garden backdrop and giant pink scrawled structure compliments the punk-inspired aesthetic of Bimini, who is stood in a powerful and provocative stance.

“Our approach to covers ensures the design is authentic to both the individual and the community while also pushing the boundaries of our publication,” Rowe said.

“Gay Times covers should challenge stereotypes and have the reader look at something with a new perspective.”


Unity! Issue of GAY TIMES magazine, 2022

Unity!, Issue 518, April 2022

This landmark cover feature, shot by Joel Palmer, explored the theme of ‘Unity! Anarchy! Legacy!’ and the self-definitive freedom of what the term trans meant to Issue 518’s list of contributors, photographed here in an embrace.

Accentuating the strapline “LGBT – Incomplete without the T” is this issue’s Gay Times masthead, boldly showing a discoloured “T” for trans which stands out from all the other letters to signify its importance.

“We celebrated the strength and solidarity of the trans community with a series of powerful covers under the theme ‘Unity! Anarchy! Legacy!,” Rowe said.

“Gay Times covers should create a sense of community and bring that community to readers. A sense of belonging and inclusion no matter where in the world our readers are.”



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