Behind the HOW International Design Annual Cover

As the 2014 HOW International Design Annual begins to hit the newsstands, it’s hard to believe that it’s been months since the HOW team viewed thousands of entries, made tough choices and elevated 292 winners to merit, outstanding achievement and best of show honors. The issue is here, and it’s spectacular. From design firms and studio apartments across the country and around the world, HOW has had the pleasure of curating an incredible showcase of the top global designs.

The first design we hope you’ll take note of is the cover. Expertly crafted by Jen Adrion and Omar Noory, the duo behind These Are Things, this cover is sure to seduce readers with its overlapping layers and clever approach to international travel. Take a look, and let us know what you think. On social media, add #HOWIntlDesignAwards to your comments to participate in the overall discussion. In the meantime, These Are Things talks design, international travel and their next big projects in the post below.

    HOW International Design Annual sketch

HOW International Design Annual sketch

These Are Things is known for its maps and travel graphics. How did you two come to find this niche?

Jen: Surprisingly, we weren’t really even searching for a niche at the time. It was really just something we wanted to make for ourselves! We were looking for a map to hang in our apartment to track our travels. When we couldn’t find one that matched our style, we designed our own. That piece became our original Modern World Map. To our surprise, other people had been searching for a modern map, too, and they sold out instantly.

Since then, we’ve designed a full collection of map prints and other paper goods that are sold in our online shop and in stores around the country. While we’ve explored some new subject matter in recent years, much of our work still relates back to travel and adventure in some way.

Have you been to all the places you’ve created maps for? 

Omar: We wish! We’ve actually visited quite a few of the cities, but we’re making it a personal goal to see even more of the world in the coming years. We never get to travel as much as we’d like, but whenever we do, it makes for the best design inspiration. Our backpacks are always crammed full of vintage papers and books that we pick up along the way. We also love taking photos on the road. We’re heading to Los Angeles later this month, Portland for a conference in March, and (hopefully!) setting up a longer trip abroad this summer.

What are some of your bucket list places around the globe?

Jen: We both really want to go to New Zealand and Australia. Japan and South Korea are also high on our lists. I went to Finland two years ago and I’ve wanted to go back ever since. There are also so many great cities here in the U.S. that we’d like to see. Our travel bucket list is basically infinite. Good thing we’ve been saving up some frequent flyer miles!

Where’s your favorite place to travel to?

Omar: Jen really liked the design scene in Helsinki, so I think that’s a favorite. We both love New York, too. Every day, there are amazing things happening, more restaurants and bars than is even possible to go to in a lifetime, and just such an electric and exciting energy. We’ll be back there this May for the National Stationery Show and have already blocked out a week or two of time to chill there afterwards. As much as we love our favorite places, our most favorite thing is visiting somewhere new. There’s nothing more exciting than exploring a place we’ve never been!


When HOW came to you with the cover concept, how did you get started?

Jen: First, we did a happy dance! As HOW readers, this is the definition of a dream project. After we were done celebrating, we got on the phone with HOW’s art director, Adam Ladd, to discuss the cover concept. The main idea was to capture the global feel of the International Design Annual issue. Adam envisioned something layered, collaged, colorful, and fun. The first image that came to mind was a piece of luggage covered in destination stickers. What if the entire cover was plastered with layer upon layer of stickers and stamps? Our goal was to make it look as if the magazine itself had traveled to each location and picked up a little souvenir from each place.

How did you choose which places to include on the cover design?

Omar: We wanted to show a good mix of countries from across all continents. (Except Antarctica–I guess there weren’t any entries from down there this year!) Next, we picked a couple of particularly iconic cities and landmarks that could be recognized quickly on the newsstand. From there, it was a matter of making a choice as to which countries, cities, and landmarks functioned best together from a visual standpoint.

Were there any challenges?

Jen: It wouldn’t be the design process without challenges! The sticker and stamp illustrations came together pretty easily. The hardest part was the positioning and layering of each individual element. As we arranged the pieces, we had to watch out for strange tangencies while also allowing as much of each design to be seen as possible. There was a lot of fine tuning! We spent a lot of time nudging things around, pixel by pixel.

Omar: Once we started adding color, we also had to make sure that the same colors weren’t layering on top of each other. It was kind of like that ’90s game, Lights Out. Every color we changed affected something else. That’s part of the fun of working with a limited palette, though. It’s like a puzzle.

What was your favorite part about the design?

Jen: Our favorite part was actually the challenge! We don’t usually work with a ton of overlapping layers, so this piece was an opportunity to try something new, which is always great as an artist. We’re so happy with the final piece. It really pushed us to step outside our comfort zone and we learned a lot during the process.

Final cover design for the International Design Annual

Final cover design for the International Design Annual

What’s next for you both?

Omar: We’re about to celebrate our fourth year in business for ourselves, which is both exciting and unbelievable! Every week, we receive emails from other designers who ask how we did it, so we’ve spent the last six months working on a new project that will share some of the lessons we’ve learned over the past few years.

Jen: We’ve collaborated with Chris Guillebeau, New York Times bestselling author of The $100 Startup, to create the ultimate toolkit for aspiring creative entrepreneurs. We’ve written a 150-page guide that will help designers and artists find their big idea and turn it into a thriving, profitable creative business. It’s scheduled to launch on February 11 at We’re so excited to share this resource with the design community and help launch some new creative businesses in the process.

Omar: Other than that, we’re busy creating tons of new work and preparing to exhibit at the National Stationery Show in NYC in May. It’s going to be a busy year!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Omar: Thanks again to HOW for this great opportunity. We can’t believe a magazine we’ve been reading since college is going to have our design on the cover!


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