Use Your Words! The Creative Typography of Ben Wiseman

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.

Lolita

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.

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More Information about the Book Covers:

The Melting Season: paperideas.it/paperzine/news/4140-Ben_Wiseman,_book_jacket_designer,_New_York

The Shallows: bookcoverarchive.com/book/the_shallows

The Collective: flickr.com/photos/wwnorton/7296881744

The Tragedy of Arthur: isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?368149

And Then There’s This: bookcoverarchive.com/book/and_then_theres_this

Epigenetics: flickr.com/photos/wwnorton/5704006427

Lolitathebookoftheday.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/lolita/

The Books of Chic Type

The phenomenal blog Chic Type provides a visual smorgasbord for type nerds, and if you haven’t yet stumbled across it I highly recommend checking it out. Blogger and designer Svetlana Bilenkina shares an amazing assortment of interesting, beautiful and usually custom-made typography, with examples ranging from posters to packaging, including a few awesome book covers.

I recently read her delightful post The Comfort of Thingy-ness Vol II featuring a collection of 20 book covers, and just had to share them. Here are a few of my favorites from that group:

Image

You might recognize the cover for The Manual of Detection from my previous post, Judging By the Cover—I still think it’s absolutely gorgeous. I also really love the ornate, swashy blackletter type on the cover of Shadow and Bone, and I was unsurprised to learn that the artist was Jen Wang whose beautiful work can also be found on the cover of Into the Woods (which I featured in another one of my posts, On My Wall). If you like the Shadow and Bone cover I recommend reading this great interview with art director Rich Deas which includes some really interesting images from the design development process.

Chic-Type-3

These two covers also really stuck out for me in the collection of 20. I am a little surprised at how much the typography on Love Slave appeals to me, since it has an almost 70s feel to it that I usually don’t go for. But I like the two shades of green and the graceful swashes combined with the stencil-like lines of the title—it hits a nice balance between cliche-ly romantic and a slightly edgier aesthetic. I also think that the title is well incorporated with the image, in terms of both composition and color. Perhaps the one thing I would change is the treatment of the author’s name, which currently seems to be crowding the title and fighting with it for prominence.

The other cover, The Kingdom of Ohio, isn’t really doing anything particularly original or innovative, it’s just pretty and fun to look at. Nothing wrong with that! And I’m super curious what the book is about—I might have to pick that one up at my local bookstore.

One thing I found interesting in the Chic Design post was the author’s comment about the joys of physical books, as opposed to just ogling the covers online. A bit ironic perhaps for a design blogger to be saying, but I know exactly what she means when she says:

“There is something inherently different between seeing the covers online, and touching them and feeling all the intricacies that went into their design and production.”

It’s good to remind myself that while it can be so easy to browse book designs online, there really is no replacement for the experience of browsing in an actual bookstore. All the little details about paper choice, the smell of a book and it’s weight in your hand, and the really quality details like embossing or foil stamping, are completely lost in the online experience, but they are something worth hanging on to.