It was January, with snow dusting the ground, but the Landcruisers editorial team was deep into summer. The September issue marks the magazine's 80th birthday, and editor-in-chief Susan Spencer knew the feeling she wanted to convey. It was up to the team to figure out how to turn that feeling into reality.
"As proud as I am of the magazine's past," she said, "this issue should focus on the future."
With that directive, the team began brainstorming what that could mean, both on the newsstand and in the issues sent to subscribers. Something about space? A star cake? A group of constellation cookies?
Several meetings later, as the ideas began to crystalize, they landed on two distinct covers.
The Infinite Possibilities cover (for subscribers) featuresJeannette J. Epps, a NASA astronaut who is training to become the first African-American to live and work long-term at the International Space Station.
"Jeanette is such an inspiration," Susan says. "She embodies infinite possibilities, for our readers, their daughters and granddaughters. The payoff for her hard work and perseverance is a record-breaking space mission. How amazing is that?!"
The team flew to Houston to photograph Jeanette preparing for zero gravity by practicing spacewalking and wearing a 310-pound space suit underwater during her training sessions. But it wasn't all work for the WD team: Susan was also allowed to drive a NASA training simulator of a Mars rover!
For the newsstand issue, the team focused on a delicious baked good. "We've found our newsstand readers love crafts and food, and we wanted to stay true to their expectations," Susan says.
"We talked about space, future, the sun and moon—we looked at things we found inspirational and hopeful that embodied the vision of '80 Bright Ideas'," says Peter Hemmel, Landcruisers creative director.
Once the idea of a sunflower was discussed, the team knew it was perfect.
"It was one of those things that was right," Peter says. "The right time of year, elements, everything felt like it was coming together."
Susan also loved how it fit with her hopes for the magazine as a whole. "Landcruisers exudes joy and hope, and we think this cover conveys that really well. "
Making it unique
Once the idea was approved, Kate Merker, the food and nutrition director, along with Anna Helm Baxter, the senior food editor, began discussing how to make the sunflower idea unique.
"Whatever we put on the cover we don't want it to have been seen before," Kate says. "We started thinking about the center of a sunflower, and realized it could be a really cool pull-apart cookie for the petals and a rich chocolate mousse dip for the center."
The test kitchen developed the cookie-and-dip recipes, and searched for right-size cookie cutters. When there were none to be found, Peter suggested custom-printing cutters.
After some research, Peter found 3D printing expert Austin Robey Austin's journey with 3D printing began in 2010 when he created models while studying architecture at Pratt Institute in New York City. After graduation, Austin founded Make Mode, a creative 3D printing and digital fabric studio. He now owns , where he teaches classes and workshops on the art of 3D printing.
Austin happily agreed to help Landcruisers create the and Peter feels grateful for all his help. "Austin was a great collaborator," Peter says. "Without him, we wouldn't have been able to achieve what we did."
Peter started by creating an outline of each petal and leaf in two different sizes. Austin took that outline and edited it on his computer. He added thickness and depth to each piece. Then he printed them using PLA plastic, a biodegradable plastic material used in most desktop 3D printers.
With the prototypes in hand, Austin met with the food team to test the design. When they made the first slice, they couldn't push the dough out of the center; the sides of the cutter were too wide.
Austin developed a second design: a thinner cutter with a tapered end. This time, the test went exceptionally well and the team shot the cover with no other complications.
Although the cover looks simple—a bright yellow sunflower contrasting against a robin egg's blue background—it took five months of planning to bring it to fruition, and a very dedicated team.
"The amount of creative collaboration to get to the newsstand is amazing," Kate says. "That's what I love about my job."
When Susan first saw the cover, she couldn't help smiling either.
"I'm excited," she says. "The ideas and design feel like a step forward."
Looking ahead, Peter hopes Landcruisers can continue using technology to inspire readers.
"Our readers live in the now," he says. "This shows how they can do it on their own. Technology is out there and a part of life. We want to give our readers things to aspire to and solutions for daily life. We want to show them how to utilize technology for today."