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Robert Festino was born an art director. Of course he didn’t know that when, as a young boy, he sat on the floor in front of the magazine rack in the general store, browsing the periodicals for hours on end, seeking out and remembering the names of any and all illustrators gracing their pages. And it’s not likely it was something he was aware of when, while going to school for business, he signed up for a class on typography and graphic design—the experience that ultimately prompted him to go to design school in New York.

He probably had an inkling when, after a few forays into the magazine design world at and Vogue, and a brief departure into the area of architectural design, he took a position at Entertainment Weekly. There he quickly became the main art assignment art director, collaborating on a daily basis with the best illustrators in the industry, including some of the legends he had admired back at that old magazine rack. It wasn’t long before he won, with Brian Cronin, his first Gold Medal at the Society of Illustrators—the initial snowball in a fast approaching avalanche of nominations and awards.

His calling did become clear, no doubt, when he was offered the opportunity to design direct his first magazine, Runner’s World, a relatively unknown publication at the time. His stunning redesign, coupled with his particular style of art direction (which includes challenging everyone, illustrators and photographers alike, to stretch concepts as far as possible), catapulted the magazine from seeming obscurity to a force to be reckoned with in the editorial world. Consequently, a slew of nominations and awards followed, including a nomination for Magazine of the Year and numerous awards from American Illustration, American Photography, the Society of Illustrators, and the Society of Publication Designers.

Moving over to ESPN Magazine, he started to utilize illustration as a distinct counterpoint to oftentimes heavily-altered, overly-slick photography, emphasizing the rawness and personality only illustration can deliver, and rightfully and successfully so, as ESPN was nominated for Magazine of the Year by SPD every year he worked there. This pattern of success followed him to L.A., where he became Art Director of Bon Appetit (with friend and fellow champion of illustration, Matthew Lenning), which proceeded to garner nominations for Magazine of the Year every year he was there, as well as two nominations by the American Society of Magazine Editors.

Back in New York, after having worked at Fortune, alongside Creative Director and legend John Korpics, design directing another traditional playground for illustration, he is now reigning supreme as the Creative Director of Men’s Health, the most widely circulated men’s magazine in the world. Continuing to push the boundaries of design, continuing to challenge himself and his collaborators beyond their own perceived limitations, never settling for the safe approach, all while having retained the innocent passion and wonder of the little boy sitting in front of that magical magazine rack—this is the guy you want to get a call from.

-—Thomas Fuchs

Illustration by Riccardo Vecchio

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