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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
The protagonist of the story
A more generic image of person that could be in the story
A key object that references the storyline
A single, stark object
Typography sets a mood and time period
Typography from the era of the story
Distinctive typography is used in abstract pattern and for the title and author
Depicting the environment of the story.
A much more abstract and layered image, but still focusing on the barn setting
An abstract pattern that somehow evokes a scene and mood
A culturally significant pattern that relates to the book’s theme
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?
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 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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 Designed for Children
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.
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):
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:
Because 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:
I just stumbled across the To Resolve Project by Chris Streger. A little late for 2014, but I decided to jump on the bandwagon anyway—it’s still the first week of the new year, after all! Here’s Streger’s description of his project: “You create a list, stuff it away in a drawer and it never sees the light of day till the year has passed. I decided to ask as many talented designers I knew (or didn’t know) to create a resolution for the new year as an iPhone background.” It’s so smart, because lets face it, putting it on my phone makes it a practically constant reminder of my resolution!
I decided my main resolution for this year was to focus on finishing my thesis project, and really power through so I can graduate in May. Rather ironically, I designed this iPhone background reminder for myself while was supposed to be working on my thesis project…
Download this design for iPhone 5 (left) or iPhone 4 (right). All work copyright Rebecca Wright:
Here’s a collection of some of my favorite designs from 2014 and the design archives at toresolveproject.com. They seemed to group themselves into a few themes—using technology, changing actions, and being a better person.
Ebooks are always made of pixels. Variety is provided by their ability to be interactive, to move and change and react. But there isn’t much variety in the actual material of ebooks. Physical books, on the other hand, have the freedom to experiment a little bit more. And as more focus turns to the physical book as an objet d’art, designers are having more fun with their materials.
Here’s some fun, inspiring examples of book designers thinking outside the box:
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Designed by Elizabeth Perez (see her portfolio), who describes her simple design: “The book’s spine is screen-printed with a matchbook striking paper surface, so the book itself can be burned.” I especially like this because it almost challenges the reader to burn the book, which is a disturbing idea, and in doing so really uses material to make the book’s ideas come to life.
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee
Designed by Helen Yentus and MakerBot. Award-winning author Chang-rae Lee’s new novel “On Such a Full Sea” debuts with a striking, 3D-printed slipcase. Only 200 of these custom 3D slipcases will be sold, with the signed limited edition hardcover books.
The author Chang-rae Lee commented on the covers: “Content is what’s most important, but this [3D edition] is a book with a physical presence, too. Of course I hope what’s inside is kinetic, but the physical thing isn’t normally meant to be. This edition feels as if it’s kinetic, that it has some real movement to it. It’s quite elegant as well.” Lee noted, “It’s all about changing the familiar. That’s ultimately what all art is about. That’s what we all do as writers.”
Good Ideas Glow in the Dark
Report designed by Bruketa & Zinic for Adris Group. Like the Fahrenheit 451 matchstick design, the materials of this book cover are a direct embodiment of what it’s trying to say. And I’m sure this unusual design choice helps the book stand out on the shelf!
Shopping in Marrakech by Susan Simon
Designed by Jessica Hische (one of my favorite designers, see her portfolio). Says Hische: This fun guidebook was especially fun to design. I developed the lettering first in illustrator and spent three days embroidering the cover for this book (the original now hangs on my wall). The interior is also decorated with bead and embroidery ornamentation where possible to make for a very rich design reflective of the wares you might purchase in Marrakech.”
Embroidery artist Evelin Kasakov (see her portfolio) describes her work: “A tactile interpretation of different modes of representation. Four paper objects mix print and screen formats. Pixels and dots, single elements of digital and printed image, become physical using hand embroidery. The project visualizes analogue versus digital theme, an on-going obsession in the creative industry today.”
Traveling Clock Book
This last example comes from when books were so expensive to make that they really were objets d’art, although this one is particularly unusual.. This traveling clock in the form of a book was made in Europe, ca. 1576.
It’s that time of year again, and I have no idea what I want to be for Halloween. Despite a rather random desire to perhaps wear a wig, I’ve got zero inspiration. So I started looking around for some graphic design-related outfits. There are some fun ones out there, so I thought I’d share this collection with you; categories include typography costumes, Pantone costumes, web design costumes, and famous art costumes).
I’ve always thought it’d be fun to go as a letterform, but have never really figured out how to make it work. For example could your hands be serifs, if you did it just right? I haven’t figured it out yet, but here are some ways other people have made it work for them.
The first option seems to be body paint (the face paint example is from a fun article in The Atlantic):
The second popular technique is cardboard construction:
These seem like a great idea—easy to make, easy for other people to get, and easily customizable—you can go as whatever color fits your mood. Not that original, but you’re still probably not likely to run into another Pantone color at your Halloween party. The second one’s a little bit weird because it’s actually a Barbie outfit, but it’s still kind of a cool idea…
Web Design Costumes
My original graphic design costume post featured a couple of webby/pixelated get ups that were surprisingly effective, so I went searching for some more web-related options this year. My favorites include an 8-bit mask, a last minute 404 Error tshirt, and a fantastic Firefox logo.
Famous Design Costumes
And finally, some pretty impressive replicas of famous design and artwork. I featured a Lichtenstein girl in the last costume round up, but I found another really impressive version, complete with speech bubble, that I decided I had to include. There’s also a surrealist Son of Man costume, AND, my favorite of all of these ideas, a costume of the best Banksy artwork out there: the bouquet grenade. I’m betting it takes a lot of work to get the costume looking this good, but this guy did a stellar job!