Steve Maobs: Fortune Magazine (Unused)


fortune magazine
design director.

emily kehe

alex varanese

To illustrate a potential cover story on the intriguing impact of Apple's products on the Chinese economy, I was asked by Fortune to design what felt like a propaganda poster based around a central figure that subtly combined Chairman Mao with Steve Jobs (whom I gleefully took to calling "Steve Maobs"). Unfortunately, the idea was pulled at the last minute and the piece remains unused.

My first step was familiarizing myself with Socialist Realism, the style at work in the Mao era's most recognizable propaganda. These remarkable pieces of hand-painted artwork, while ideologically absurd and about as patronizing to the adult intellect as an episode of Blue's Clues, are utterly beautiful in their execution and incredibly effective in terms of visual communication. I tried to reproduce their color schemes and general layout as closely as possible, with a giant bust shot of Mao looming over a foreground of sprawling industry and promising a future of both unending prosperity and dangerously majestic bursts of sunlight.

But the real effort, of course, went into the central visual of Mao himself. And to make matters worse, I decided up front that tracing wasn't an option (as practical as it would have been). So, with numerous photographic references and as much patience as I could muster, I set about rendering my own stylized but accurate Mao from scratch. Finally, to complete the Steve Jobs allusion, I gave him the trademark turtleneck and glasses, as well as the same general pose and expression Jobs so often struck when presenting the latest iPhone to the audience at WWDC.

The last step was fleshing out the scene with some 3D elements. I love the mixed-media look of vector, 3D, texture and lighting effects, and I think this piece captures that. Socialist Realism was my model for the general tone and layout, but I wanted the "finish" to feel both technologically agnostic, drawing on multiple types of imagery to create a final arrangement, and undeniably modern.

cover concept (blue)

cover concept (gold)

My first goal was simply capturing Mao's likeness as closely as possible, then adding some basic Steve Jobs trademarks like the black turtleneck, circular rimless glasses and his typical pose.

I experimented with the black iPhone, the white iPhone, and a more politically overt screen design. In the end I thought the solid red made for a cleaner overall visual, and I loved the way it resembles the Little Red Book seen so often in posters of the Mao era.

alternate layout

copyright 2008-9999 alex varanese. all rights reserved.