Gabriel García Márquez Ha Muerto

A great man died today. Gabriel García Márquez gave the world some amazing stories—stories filled with imagination and poignancy, that blurred the line between human reality and the fantastically impossible.

Gabriel García Márquez

The New York Times shares:

The Magus of magical realism, Gabriel García Márquez — who died on Thursday at his home in Mexico City, at the age of 87 — used his fecund imagination and exuberant sleight of hand to conjure the miraculous in his fiction: plagues of insomnia and forgetfulness, a cluster of magical grapes containing the secret of death, an all-night rain of yellow blossoms, a swamp of lilies oozing blood, a Spanish galleon marooned in a Latin American jungle, cattle born bearing the brand of their owner. (read more)

While I can’t call One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera my absolute favorite books, those stories captured my imagination and stuck with me far longer than most, and they left their mark on our culture.

In honor of his work and his life, I’m taking a quick break from my thesis to share a collection of covers for his books:

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Gabriel García Márquez

Capable of Working Magic

I’m in the process of putting together my final portfolio for my MFA and looking around for ways to communicate my design beliefs, so I’ve been reading a lot more quotes than usual. There are two that have really stuck with me, one that speaks to the sheer delight and amazing capabilities of books and another that speaks to the purposeful nature of design, and I like them so much I thought I’d share.

Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan

The first is from Carl Sagan, an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, and author. He clearly had a great passion and respect for the capabilities of science and technology, a deep-seated wonder at our world and the way it works, and an appreciation for books. Those qualities are shown in the following quote, where he describes the incredible power of books:

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”—Carl Sagan

That quote just gets me. It really captures how truly incredible books are. I remember thinking a very similar thing (albeit not quite so eloquently) in high school when I was reading Plato’s Apology. Our class was carefully analyzing the subtle points of Plato’s logic, and I remember sitting back for a second and thinking, This guy has been dead for 2,300+ years, more time than I can really grasp, and yet his thoughts are here, today, in this book in front of me. So many people have thought about and debated his ideas for literally millenia, ever since he originally wrote them down. How crazy is that!

And the designer in me today loves Sagan’s description of writing—”lots of funny dark squiggles.” So often people overlook the importance of typography because they take it completely for granted that these black shapes on a page, or on a screen in our case, have a meaning that is decipherable to people. How did a circle become the letter “o”, that can be used next to two perpendicular lines (“t”) to create a word “to” that has so many meanings and helps hold sentences together? It’s amazing, when you sit down and really think about it.

But one thing to remember is that quote by Sagan was from his 1980 tv show and book, Cosmos, when there was no such thing as a Kindle, an iPad, or an ebook. The first personal computer was released by Apple in 1984, and the great wave of technology that has completely changed the shape of reading has all come since Sagan originally described the magic of books.

Cosmos-older edition

So I hope he’ll forgive us if we take the liberty of expanding the meaning of his quote to refer to the many different ways that thoughts are expressed by their authors and conveyed out to the greater world. Today, that amazing ability is accomplished not just by “a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts” but also by screens of all shapes that support ebooks, and really the very many different reading and publishing platforms available, including this post published on the internet via WordPress.

We could argue about whether platforms like Twitter, which allow people to author only very concise “books,” should be included, but if you are willing to admit Hemingway’s famous six-word story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”) counts, then I think Twitter must also be included.

You could argue that really what captured Sagan’s imagination and appreciation is the longevity of the thoughts in the form of a book, and how they can connect people from distant epochs, and therefore today’s technology doesn’t count as it will probably not be accessible 2,000 years from now. In fact, its a pretty safe bet that even 20 years from now technology will have so thoroughly changed that many things will no longer be accessible (floppy disk, anyone?). But not all writing has lasted that long, and many authors works have been lost over the centuries. It’s always been a process of saving and passing along only the best works of literature, and that is the same challenge we face today, just with a much larger magnitude of written work.

So I, for one, would like to extend Sagan’s wonder at books and the power of written communication to include the many different innovative forms of ebooks and digital communication popular today.

Paola Antonelli

Paola Antonelli, curator for architecture and design at MOMA

The second quote by Paola Antonelli is related, but talks about design as a whole, and how design is fundamentally about caring how something works, not just what it looks like.

“People think that design is styling. Design is not style. It’s not about giving shape to the shell and not giving a damn about the guts. Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need, and beauty to produce something that the world didn’t know it was missing.”—Paola Antonelli

In relationship to books, this mean that it’s all well and good if the cover looks great, but fundamentally what’s important about the design of a book is how the format of the book accomplishes its goal, namely, getting someone to pick it up and be able to read and understand it. To enable what Sagan loves: “across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.”It means, for ebooks, that all the flashy interactivity in the world is useless, and in fact detrimental, if it doesn’t somehow serve to improve the reading experience.

And this to me is the amazing challenge of design. How do you design something that makes people’s lives better? How do you use the tools of aesthetics, of typography, of color theory, of all sorts of “cognitive science” and “beauty” that Antonelli talks about, and perhaps more than ever today, use the tools of technology to design something that “the world didn’t know it was missing?”

What a lofty, and yet worthwhile challenge! Could a designer ever hope to accomplish anything better than to give the world something it didn’t know it was missing?

What Should a Book Cover Be?

Obviously, a book cover needs to provide structure and protection for the book. But what is the purpose of the design, and what does the design have to say about the story within it? The artwork on the cover could be anything, really.

Book Cover Template

The cover could have people on it, such as the protagonist, or an abstract figure, or crowd of people who belong in the world of the story. It could have an object that relates to the title or the storyline. It could convey a sense of the story through typography only, choosing a typeface and way of setting the type that conveys the time period or mood of the story. It could depict an environment or building from the story. Or it could have an abstract image or pattern that conveys the mood and general atmosphere of the book, or the cultural setting and traditions.

With so many possibilities out there, the question that we sometimes forget to ask is not what can a book cover be, but what should it be?

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The Covers of Petra Börner

When I first saw these four book covers by Swedish graphic designer Petra Börner, I was completely blown away. They are visually arresting, almost mesmerizing even, in the way they grab and hold my attention. Her bright, bold, vivid style is in someways reminiscent of the youthful design in Paul Rand’s children’s books that I recently wrote about. But there is also an unmistakably mature aesthetic sense to them, and they feel like they could do quite nicely framed and hung up as art in a chic city apartment.

I keep telling myself that it is absolutely ridiculous to buy books in a language I don’t even speak, but they are so gorgeous that I’m genuinely tempted!

The Serious Game

Cover for Hjlmar Söderberg’s “The Serious Game”

Emma

Cover for Jane Austen’s “Emma”

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Cover for John Fowle’s “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”

The Lover

Cover for Marguerite Duras’ “The Lover”

The publisher, Bonnier Pocket, wrote in a release that “We believe that graphics and design have become an even more important way to get consumers to choose our paperbacks.” I couldn’t agree more, and as I have mentioned before, I think this is the result of a shift in the public perception of physical books as objets d’art. I predict we’ll see more and more gorgeous designs being released as consumers look to physical books to be delightful experiences.

After finding these covers I looked online to see if I could find more of Petra’s work. I found some illustrations she made for Wrap Magazine, and a short interview they did with her which is charming, but my favorite part of the article was seeing her pictures from her illustration process:

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Hey, Type Girl

The Hey, Girl meme has spread far and wide, and at this point is rather old hat. But typography jokes are few and far between, and as we type nerds  get so few chances to share our industry inside jokes I couldn’t resist sharing this collection, despite its lack of timeliness. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little extra Ryan Gosling to your day… Enjoy!

Hey Girl Leading Hey Girl Fleurons Hey Girl Ligature Continue reading

Designed for Children

I’ve written a number of posts on design for adult and young adult books, but I’ve yet to feature any books for younger audiences. However, I recently discovered that a few famous graphic designers have made their own children’s picture books, which approach youthful subjects with really beautiful composition and color. One of the most notable authors is probably Paul Rand, who illustrated books written by his wife Ann Rand.

Ann & Paul Rand

Paul Rand is perhaps best known for his logos for ABC, UPS and IBM, and some of his advertisements and posters. While Rand spent most of his life designing for adult audiences, his aesthetic has a simple, colorful, bold look that works really well in children’s books.

rand-logos

rand-posters

The Rands’ children’s books include the three I’m sharing below, Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words, I Know a Lot of Things, and Little 1. The books have different topics and slightly different visual styles, but are all recognizably Paul Rand’s aesthetic. The text of the books also has a lot of fun word play, from the number puns in Little 1 to playfully illustrated homophones in Sparkle and Spin.

rand-grid2

Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words

This is probably my favorite of the bunch, as it talks about the power and importance of the written language. Despite the simple text, you can tell that the author is very aware of the significance of the written word in our society, and the playful typographic layouts demonstrate a masterful grasp of letterforms and type. Aesthetically, the book design uses a bright, limited color palette and large blocks and shapes of color to fill the pages. And you’ve got to love a children’s book that breaks out the word “tintinnabulate”! Continue reading

Reading the Web

Reading on the web can be annoying. Websites are often crowded with additional features, graphics, ads, navigation, alternative content, links, and who knows what all else. Every little thing pulls at your attention, drawing your eyes away from the text you are trying to read.

This is the polar opposite of reading a book. In a book, you get the text, perhaps a page number and chapter title in the corner, and that’s it. Even reading modern ebooks, for example on the kindle, you usually still just get text and some information tucked in at the bottom about how far through the book you are.

So what’s up with the web? Why can’t web designers control their impulse to put anything and everything on the page next to the text? The answer is, they’re starting to, and we can see this in both the NYTimes redesign and Medium, the latest venture of Twitter cofounder Evan Williams.

NYTimes.com Redesign

The NYTimes.com previous site design was just as bad as anyone in terms of loading up the page with distracting extras. Below is a screenshot, where I’ve highlighted which part of the screen is actually taken up by the article (including the article’s picture):

Old NYTimes Design

Compare that to the new NYTimes.com design, where they’ve recognized how much better of an experience it is when the screen isn’t completely cluttered:

NYTimes Redesign6Because they still need to make money from ad revenue, there is an ad at the top. But notice how I could say “an ad”—there’s just one. And there are still links to share the content online and go to other sections, but they’re kept to strictly defined areas that don’t compete visually with the article. Typographically, the article title now grabs your attention as the most important text on the page, and the social media icons are now all the same color so they’re less visually distracting. And now look at what happens when you start reading the article:

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