Book spines are such an interesting and often-overlooked part of the book experience. They present a unique challenge to the designer, in terms of their long and narrow shape and requirement to include title, author, and usually the publisher’s logo as well. The result tends to be either a space that is forgotten and boring, or ingenious and engaging in its creativity.
In a previous post, I delved into the debate about whether book spines are of particular importance because a spine is all the reader sees on a bookshelf, or of particular unimportance because in today’s digital age of e-readers and online stores, the spine no longer even exists.
Since then, I’ve come across a number of new inspiring spine designs that I wanted to share with you all. Enjoy!
“The House of the Seven Gables” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
“This is not the end of the book; Two great men discuss our digital future” by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere
“The Camberwell Beauty and Other Stories” by V.S. Pritchett, illustrated by Clifford Harper
“Desktop” magazine spine detail – by garbett
Complete Works of Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“China 1945: Mao’s Revolution and America’s Fateful Choice” by Richard Bernstein
It’s October, which means once again it’s time for Graphic Design Halloween costumes. This year I want to highlight the really out-there masterpieces from the Bauhaus in the 1920s. The famous artists at the Bauhaus (including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, László Moholy-Nagy, and Marcel Breuer) apparently had quite the costume competition at their social events, creating fantastical, original outfits that played with silhouette, line, shape, and all sorts of visual design principles.
Oskar Schlemmer, Triadisches Ballett (Triadic Ballet), 1922.
Bauhaus costume from the 1920s
Bauhaus costume from the 1920s
Bauhaus costume from the 1920s
Bauhaus costume from the 1920s. Designed by Oskar Schlemmer for ballet in the twenties. He LOVED stripes, which can be made with plumbers or day-glo gaffer’s tape on whatever you have at on hand
Bauhaus costume from the 1920s. Illustration 14: Scene from the Triadic Ballet. Photo by Karl Grill.
Bauhaus costume from the 1920s
Bauhaus costume from the 1920s
The costumes were described by Farkas Molnár, a Hungarian architect and Bauhaus student, in his 1925 essay, Life at the Bauhaus: “Inhuman, or humanoid, but always new. You may see monstrously tall shapes stumbling about, colorful mechanical figures that yield not the slightest clue as to where the head is. Sweet girls inside a red cube. Here comes a witch and they are hoisted high up into the air; lights flash and scents are sprayed. … Kandinsky prefers to appear decked out as an antenna, Itten as an amorphous monster, Feininger as two right triangles, Moholy-Nagy as a segment transpierced by a cross, Gropius as Le Corbusier, Muche as an apostle of Mazdaznan, Klee as the song of the blue tree. A rather grotesque menagerie…”
Along these same lines are the delightful masks from a collaboration between the artist Saul Steinberg and photographer Inge Morath (more here).
Masks from the Morath-Steinberg collaboration
Mask from the Morath-Steinberg collaboration
Want more? I found a lot of my source material from this great article on Curbed, and you can also check out these fun posts from Improvised Life (here and here) and The Charnel House (here).
If you’re looking for inspiration for more modern costume ideas, check out my previous costume posts here and here. Happy Halloween!
B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures comes by its title honestly; the book is one filled with only words, in different fonts and colors and sizes. Funny, creative, and smart, the book, which forces the reader to say a slew of ridiculous words, is guaranteed to get a laugh out of any kid you know
I love so much about this. I love the idea of showing children the power of words, and the sense of exploration in where words can take them. And I love the idea of highlighting that power, and making the words themselves the hero, rather than any accompanying images. It hits home at an early age the power of communication, and that old adage that the pen is more powerful than the sword.
And making the words, as the star of the show, hilarious and delightful and fun and playful and imaginative and silly, just hits home how much fun reading can be—the best lesson there is!
Novak, known for his career as a comedian, started this project because he says he loves reading to children, and getting a laugh out of them. Starting perhaps with the idea that a comedian has to play to his audience, Novak wanted to explore how a children’s book could feel like it was on the child’s side. As he said in an interview with The Atlantic:
“If the adult had to say silly things, I knew the kid would feel very powerful and would feel that books are very powerful. Working backwards, I realized that if there were no pictures, it would be an even more delightful trick: The kid is taking a grown-up style book and using it against the grown-up.”
This idea that books are powerful reminds me of that Carl Sagan quote, which I wrote about before, and love so much:
“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
Anyone that can teach children that books are works of magic is doing something right in my book!
Little Nemo in Slumberland
The other book I wanted to share with you is an old classic: Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay. Recently some friends purchased the large format (10×13) Vol 1 of the Complete Collection of this classic comic strip originally published from 1905 to 1911. It is, admittedly, a little early for their newborn to enjoy it, but they are eagerly awaiting the age they can crack it open and enjoy these stories with their son.
Winsor McCay’s beautiful dreamscapes appeared in the New York Herald between 1905 and 1911, and the comic strip “Little Nemo” is considered by some to be the best, most brilliant comic strip ever published. Six-year-old Nemo (Latin for no one) falls asleep in his bed and is transported to the fantastical Slumberland—at the request of King Morpheus—where he encounters all kinds of strange creatures. At the end of each trip he wakes up, unsure of what was real and what was a dream. The exquisitely detailed, art-nouveau-style colored panels in this edition are reproduced from rare, vintage file-copy pages. Alongside George Herriman’s bizarre Krazy Kat, McCay’s work helped to create the grammar of comic art. This Little Nemo collection—an entertaining romp into Slumberland—also provides a lovely glimpse into the origins of an art form.
Often listed in the same category as Calvin and Hobbes (my personal all-time-favorite), Little Nemo is no vapid child’s tale with the same old tired stories. The images are fantastic, truly works of art, and the creative plotlines are an almost magical-realism style exploration of the realm of imagination and dreams. Its more mature approach to fantastical stories helps it appeal to both adults and children, and its role in defining and establishing the comic genre gives it a historic and cultural significance.
And it’s kind of just fun to read from a 10×13 book! It’s a good example of the format of the physical object itself giving a playfulness and importance to the content.
Both of these books are superlative examples of what a children’s book can be, and would be a fun addition to any child’s library!
Holiday weekends can be jam-packed with parties, gift wrapping, cookie baking, envelope stamping, and general fun times and to do lists. If you need a break, here’s a quick post full of some lovely holiday cards featuring beautiful typography and clean, simple graphics. Enjoy!
Pixel and Pilcrow – Designing the Holidays – “Wish you a merry Christmas!” by Áron Jancsó
Pixel and Pilcrow || Designing the Holidays Card
Pixel and Pilcrow – Designing the Holidays – from Trollback+Company
Pixel and Pilcrow – Designing the Holidays – for Fossil by Dustin Wallace
Pixel and Pilcrow – Designing the Holidays – Eames Card
Pixel and Pilcrow – Designing the Holidays – Designed by Erin Jang of The Indigo Bunting
Pixel and Pilcrow – Designing the Holidays – HWT Star Ornaments from Hamilton Wood Type
Pixel and Pilcrow – Designing the Holidays – “Merry Paper cut” by Silvia Raga
Pixel and Pilcrow || Designing the Holidays Card
Pixel and Pilcrow – Designing the Holidays – Art directed by Seth Nickerson
From left to right,
1) “Wish you a merry Christmas!” by Áron Jancsó
3) Holiday card from Trollback+Company
4) Christmas illustrations for Fossil by Dustin Wallace
1) Eames card
2) Designed by Erin Jang of The Indigo Bunting
1) HWT Star Ornaments from Hamilton Wood Type
2) “MerryPaper cut” by Silvia Raga
4) Art directed by Seth Nickerson
It’s that time of year again when leaves change, the sky gets a crisper blue, the evenings cool down, you pull out your big cozy sweaters and cuddle up with your favorite someone over hot apple cider. Well actually, here in San Francisco, not that many leaves change, and your sweaters are already in heavy rotation after our freezing cold summers… but it still somehow feels undeniably like Fall now.
And that means Halloween is almost here, and the challenge of coming up with a fun graphic-design-related Halloween costume is once again upon us. As I unfortunately will be missing Halloween this year, here are some costume suggestions for all the other designers out there, and I hope you guys do something incredible!
Villains and Horror Shows
X-acto, Chip Kidd’s Batman Nemesis in “Batman: Death by Design”
The famous book cover designer Chip Kidd, who I’ve written about before, has written several books including an issue of Batman titled “Death by Design.” The premise is pretty amazing, with architecture- and construction-related villains wreaking havoc on Gotham City, including the punny “X-acto” named after a designer’s best trimming & cutting friend (read more about the plot). Talk about the perfect design villain costume! This woman’s silver-gloved get-up and fabulous headpiece are great inspiration for a pretty epic DIY costume. (source)
The Death of Print
Whether you think claims of an inevitable “death of print” are baseless fear-mongering or an informed view of a technological revolution, this costume allows for fun, dramatic, nerdy, puny creativity—all my favorite costume characteristics! (source)
I wasn’t able to find an example of this costume already done, but I feel like there is a lot of potential here. Whether you’re using bad kerning to make silly click/dick jokes, or just trying to horrify your designer friends, there’s plenty of room for fun. One idea is going with a group where each person is a different letter, and spend the evening playing with ways to be improperly spaced—lots of photo ops!
In previous costume post, I featured Internet-themed costumes such as the Firefox Logo and an 8-Bit Avatar. Recently I found a few great additions to this collection—meme, app and emoji inspired costumes. Check out these hilarious black-and-white greeting-card ladies (source), classy app icons, emoji group (source), and beer-drinking smiling pile of poo!
… and new ideas for Famous Artwork, especially the Roy Lichtenstein girl:
Last Minute Costume
My favorite Easy Out costume this year is to get together with some buddies for a CMYK costume. With other group sizes, you could do a 3-person as RGB or a couple as BW. And if you’re the only costume-procrastinator, there’s always my favorite from the last post, Error 404: Costume Not Found.
And finally, if you want to bring your design-related Halloween theming to an all time high, try your hand at carving a Pantone Pumpkin!
The interplay between literature and the various visual arts—paintings that tell stories, or books that describe paintings, or any other cross-artform conversation—has always been fascinating to me. And being the book lover that I am, artwork based on the written word itself has always captured my imagination, from the Winnie-the-Pooh movies I watched as a kid, to the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremonies.
So when I discovered this “ocean of words” honoring Gabriel García Marquez, from Spain-based creative group Think Big Factory and creative agency Barrabes Meaning, I was absolutely mesmerized.
The speech is about “the power of words in the image era”—a still-relevant concept, especially in the Internet’s zeitgeist of diminished word use and 140-word tweets.
It is conceptually, visually, experientially stunning. I love this homage to “the power of words in the image era,” and the role words play in the greater social landscape, which is so evocatively visualized in this ocean. The sense of movement, based off of real-time data of word-use on Twitter, gives me the same sense of wonder as the starling murmurations I was inspired by for one of my favorite school projects.
The technology they harnessed to build this piece is also super interesting. More from the PSFK article:
The choice and arrangement of the waves behind the words is affected by the contemporary use of Márquez’s words about water by the general populace. The motion of the 3D-printed words is determined by data extracted from Twitter through a program designed in openFrameworks.
The room, on a larger scale, is a representation of what the creators’ software does, taking the elusive qualities of language and transforming them into a physical manifestation. This is made especially evident through the tirelessly working 3D printers that remain on display, and the words that flow ceaselessly through the room.
It is so fitting that this creative exploration, pushing the envelope for the experience of the written word, was done to honor the memory of a man whose writing pushed the boundaries of the believable. I was fascinated by Gabriel García Marquez’ works, and wrote my own, rather humble, memorial to the man in this blogpost; it is lovely to see that not only will his stories live on, but his ideas will inspire art and conversations like this, still very relevant to our society today.
I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I finished my thesis project, Same Moon, and graduated from my MFA program! Time flies, especially when you’re no longer pulling all-nighters.
My thesis project was a two-year process, and it was incredibly challenging, but it was also so much fun. Possibly my favorite part of this multifaceted project was designing an interactive ebook, which I called Exploring Stories, that used stories to allow a traveler to explore a famous historical place.
The concept for Exploring Stories was, whether visiting a site or simply exploring from the armchair at home, users could read stories that were geotagged to specific spots within a map of the tourist destination (Angkor Wat, in the case of my demo), and explore the rich heritage of the place, told from many different perspectives and times throughout history.
The stories represented the physical space, and were navigated via a map rather than a traditional, linear Table of Contents. Users could bookmark their favorites, or explore other stories from the same time period or perspective. Users could also add their own stories to the map, to share with others or keep private in a sort of journal.
For users who were actually at Angkor Wat, their position showed up on the map so the app could be used almost as a guide, and users could access the stories near to them, and stand in the places the story was referencing.
Check out the demo video I put together below:
It was so much fun for me to explore what reading could be, and really push the limits of what defines a book or a reading experience. I love that the interactivity of ebooks or apps allows for new kinds of interaction—in mine, the user gets to go exploring, choose their own adventure and even add their own stories to the “book.” And the interactive abilities allowed me to build a tool that enabled users see the world from different perspectives, and provided an engaging portal to access history and make it come alive, rather than be lost in the past.
I was inspired in a lot of ways by The Silent History app, which I wrote about in a previous blogpost, and by an amazing service called Maptia, where users tag blogposts to a map of the globe. If you aren’t familiar with them, I highly recommend checking both of them out!
This summer, during an effort to streamline the apps on my phone and organize them in a more coherent way, I decided to finally get rid of my Goodreads app. It made me sad, but honestly, I never used it.
Goodreads is one of those products that I want to love. It’s right up my alley, using technology to enhance the reading experience in new ways. It’s focus on the social aspects reading—the shared experiences created by reading books, recommending books, talking about books, and discovering new books, is awesome. I love it. I religiously update my profile online every time I finish a new book.
But that Goodreads iPhone app was not great. I was really not a fan of their brown-on-brown-on-brown color scheme, and it was kind of clunky to use, with its opening screen taking me from my iPhone homepage to a second homepage of Goodreads app-like icons that seemed to head off into their own worlds. In addition to these icons, there were five navigational options along the bottom bar, and along the top, a Search Bar and Messages and Updates indicators. There were so many options, a lot of which I wasn’t interested in, that it felt more overwhelming rather than enticing me to use it. It didn’t help that the app seemed buggy and was constantly logging me out.
So I was thrilled when I learned recently (thanks to this TechCrunch article), about the Goodreads app redesign. Glad for the excuse to give their app another try, I immediately re-downloaded it from iTunes App Store. Upon opening it I was greeted with this elegantly simple What’s New page:
Unfortunately they have stuck to their brown-shtick (only so much you can do about branding), but aesthetically I’m a fan of the simple line-icons, layout and clean typography that is much more inline with the new iOS style. Tapping “Get Started” took me to their new Home screen which is perhaps the best improvement in the new app—instead of a landing page of “app” icons, I was immediately shown content in the form of a newsfeed. This is similar to the Goodreads website experience, and makes so much sense, as it is bringing the focus of the app back to social activity.
Outside of the new Home screen experience, a lot of the functionality has been simplified to focus on key interactions, but remains fundamentally the same. Previously there were five icons along the bottom,and now there are four: Home (the Newsfeed), My Books, Search, Scan, and More (which hides all the extra less-frequently-used functionality previously found on the homepage). At the top of the screen, the Messages and Updates notifications have been removed, leaving only the Search Bar. Even this is a little unnecessary, considering that there is also a Search Icon on the bottom, and I might be tempted to get rid of it, perhaps replace it with some sort of title or branding.
All in all I think this redesign has made a significant difference to the app experience. Goodreads hasn’t done anything groundbreaking or really actually exciting from a design perspective. What is exciting about it is that they’ve *finally* released a redesign that is a significant improvement over their previous app design, and they did a pretty good job with it. It has definitely increased the usefulness of the app for me, resulting in it once again earning a place in the reading section of my phone.
I recently discovered a mini treasure trove of book covers designed by Ben Wiseman (view his portfolio). He seems to be best known for bold, simple graphic illustrations, but I was completely bowled over by his typographic book covers. These covers focus on the creative design of the letterforms, and imbue the titles themselves with subtle significance and a sense of visual delight.
I was impressed with his creativity and the range of styles that he was able to bring to this collection of book covers. From clean, vector san-serifs for The Shallows to rough, textured, hand-painted letterforms for The Melting Season, Wiseman brings rich visual detail and attention-grabbing graphics that are appropriate to each title. I also love his bright color palettes—a skill he no doubt honed as an illustrator, Wiseman’s color combinations bring a fun energy to the typography. These six are some of my favorites:
I came across a fun interview with Ben Wiseman talking about his career and design process. It was interesting to read his thoughts on what makes a good cover, and his favorite examples of this artform:
“A great book jacket is one that makes you pick it up. It can be a great photo or a great illustration or just a great concept. But the best ones are the ones that stop you in the store and make you look. As for favourites, I love Paul Rand’s cover for HL Menken’s Prejudices and Alvin Lustig’s Lorca.”
You can how these two covers, with their hand-drawn type and bold, arresting style, have influenced Wiseman’s work.
Another part of the interview that I enjoyed was about his process. Wiseman is thorough and reads the whole book to brainstorm ideas, but he also places an admirable faith in “happy accidents”to get to his final design:
“I always read the book, and spend the whole time bouncing ideas around in my head. Usually I might have a couple of ideas halfway through the book, and usually those won’t go anywhere. But once I’ve sat with the book for a while, and thought about it for a few days, things usually start coming together. And after I start working, there are hopefully some happy accidents that occur.”
Looking at Wiseman’s book covers I was also interested to note that he submitted a cover for John Bertram’s Recovering Lolita project that I wrote about in a previous post, Lo. Lee. Ta. A Collection of Covers. This cover is a combination of an obsessive, hand-written “Lolita” over and over, censored and hidden by black marks and a clean, white ripped paper with the author’s name. Appropriately intriguing, foreboding and an unsettling combination of innocent and dark that hints at the themes of the book without revealing too much. And, once again, very much type-centric.
While I think Wiseman has made a name for himself mostly through his illustration, I will certainly be keeping my eye out for more of his great typographic covers in the future.
My sincerest apologies in having been so neglectful in writing these last few months. I have been incredibly busy finishing my MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) in Graphic Design, and sacrificed a lot of my favorite pastimes—including gardening, watching movies, and unfortunately, writing blog posts—in order to do so. But the deed is done, my diploma in hand, and I am back!
One of the final steps in graduating, as a designer, is to put together a portfolio of the work I did over these last four years. While the vast majority of people view design portfolios online, and when I go to interviews all I really ever show is my portfolio website on my iPad, we are still required to also create a beautifully designed portfolio book to showcase our work. And I have to say—despite it being less relevant than it used to be, I’m really glad to have my work collected in such a lovely, bound anthology. There is something about the heft of a book, the texture of a page, and going through all those projects one page after another, that gives a certain feeling of gravitas to my work. For all its versatility and accessibility, the online portfolio just doesn’t quite capture that same feeling.
I had a lot of fun designing my portfolio book. I am interested in digital design and book design, and I love both cutting edge design developments as well as the history and tradition of design going back to the days before set type and the printing press, so I tried to bring that juxtaposition of modern design and design heritage into my portfolio. I chose an old-fashioned blackletter typeface and a modern sans serif, I found layout inspiration in the simplicity of pages from illuminated manuscripts, and tracked the project number in the upper right corner in a visual style that echoes the step by step indicator in software wizards. In general, I tried to exemplify my personal style, with clean and elegant layouts, lots of white space, bright colors and little details that add fun and a bit of interest to the simplicity.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Capable of Working Magic, my portfolio design was inspired in part by a quote from Carl Sagan. In it, he talks about the power of books to communicate and bring together people from different epochs, which to him seems “proof that humans are capable of work magic.” I love that quote for many reasons, and in particular for how it seems to really express delight in design. This idea of delightful design is something I value, and wanted to emphasize throughout my portfolio.
One of the challenges to creating a beautiful, professional book is figuring out how to present the rough stuff—the process, the sketches, the drafts—in a way that doesn’t look jarring next to the polished finished work. One technique I used was to put the wireframes or sketches on a navy background, sometimes with little notes scrawled on the edges to show thought process and development.
Another fun design challenge was designing my portfolio website. For all that I love my portfolio book, at the end of the day my website is more important. The challenge with the website was to create an interactive, responsive, screen-viewing experience that had the same aesthetic as the physical 8×10 printed book that I designed. This meant the same typography styles and color scheme, and a simple, clean layout that referenced the layouts I used in the book, but adapted for the web viewing experience, taking into account things like the ability to scroll and needing to look good on screen sizes changing from a large desktop to a potential employer’s small smartphone.