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Category: graphic design Page 2 of 4

First rule of design?

bad designer“If you do three designs, and there’s one you love, one you like, and one you think is crap, nine times out of ten your client will go with the one you think is crap.”

Or so it says here.

What is wrong with this picture?


Cartoon via Telec Thoughts.


Design geekiness

Admit it designers, you’re a bunch of playbabies. Witness:

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The five rules of book cover design

John Gall, book designer for B&N, shares some thoughts about book cover design.


Charles Montgomery Burns Blogging Award

charles montgomery burns award

Almost a year ago, the excellent India Ink was tagged for excellence in blogging, an award she rebranded as the Charles Montgomery Burns Award. Mr. Burns is the owner of the Springfield nuclear power plant on the Simpsons. Well, India’s blog is hot.

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How to design like Massimo Vignelli

vignelli canon

Crave that prominent-grid, basic-fonts, industrial design aesthetic? Massamo Vignelli  would tell you that you can’t just imitate the surface, which must emerge as an epiphenomenon from an essential spirit embuing the design at its most fundamental level. He has put a document called The Vignelli Canon on the web as a pdf. It’s worth consulting.

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What are the components of a well-made book?

india, ink

Over at India, Ink., the redoubtable India is thinking about “what materials and processes and vendors to use to make books that will last a hundred years.”

I think traditional books will survive the digital revolution but that their role will change. They will become luxury items, keepsakes, so whoever still knows how to make the nicest books will win. But I’ll bet that a lot of well-meaning production people don’t even know how to spec well-made books, because all they’ve ever been asked to do at their jobs is make everything cheaper and faster. And as the vendors that excel at quality work die off—Stinehour comes to mind—it will become even more difficult to acquire that kind of experience.

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Book design primer

My final guest post at ForeWord Magazine, an introduction to book design, is now up.


What independents can teach corporate publishers

tom christensen at foreword magazine publishing insider

That’s the topic of my first column over at ForeWord magazine, where I will be doing a series of four guest posts for their Publishing Insider section this January.

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Better Flickr search

Compfight (don’t ask me to explain the name) is my new favorite Flickr search site. It’s extremely fast, returns a lot of results, and can be set to retrieve only Creative Commons images. If you hover your mouse over one of the thumbnails it will show you the size of the original image.

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Five centuries of board games

game of the goose

Every so often Mr. Peacay of BibliOdyssey exceeds even his high standards, and then one just has to call attention once again to his excellent site. BibliOdyssey is devoted mainly to prints and book illustrations, but for this post on board games he has selected 34 favorites from the British Museum’s Prints Database.It’s a wonderful selection ranging from the 16th through the 20th century.

I’m always partial to late Medieval – Early Renaissance illustrations similar to the one shown above. Well, according to the British Museum, which dates it to the 18th century, this one is actually a fair bit later than that, but to my eye it’s in the style of earlier woodblock illustrations. Peacay describes the board as a “simplistic spiral arrangement of game squares in an anonymous board produced in the 1700s.”

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Ubu Roi, book binding by Marcel Duchamp and Mary Reynolds

ubu roi binding

Mary Reynolds (1891-1950) was an innovative book binder who for three decades enjoyed a relationship with Marcel Duchamp described by friends as “happier than most marriages.” Susan Glover Godlewski has written about her life and career, and examples of her work can be seen at the Mary Reynolds Collection (affiliated with the Art Institute of Chicago).

A post at Ordinary finds called this extraordinary binding for Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (Ubu the King) to my attention. It quotes the Reynolds Collection:

This binding is perhaps the best known and most successful of the collaborations between Reynolds and Duchamp. On November 26, 1934, Duchamp visited his close friend Henri-Pierre Roché in Arago and excitedly reported on a binding that he had just designed for Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi that Mary Reynolds was going to execute. Reynolds and Duchamp created out of the binding itself an extraordinarily clever pun. Both the front and back covers are cut-out “U’s” covered in rich earth tones; the spine is a soft caramel B. The endpapers are made of black moiré silk. A gold crown, signifying the puppet king, is imprinted on the front flyleaf and visible through the front cut-out “U”. The author’s name is imprinted in gold on the back flyleaf and is similarly visible through the back U. The binding spread open spells “UBU.” Reynolds must have spent considerable time executing this binding. We know from a letter from Duchamp, responding to a question from Katharine Kuh, that the binding was not completed until 1935. It is expertly and lovingly crafted. Both Duchamp and Reynolds were so pleased with the final work, that another copy was bound identically for the American collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg (Philadelphia Museum of Art).

ubu roi


Paris: Librairie Charpentier et Fasquele, 1921. Binding: morocco, levant, and niger (goatskins) with silk and glassine endpapers. Mary Reynolds Collection, MR 253.


Ordinary Finds – Book binding for Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry


The Island at the End of the World

Penguin Books and Creativity magazine recently ran a Hearts and Minds Talent Competition for which entrants designed the cover of a book by Sam Taylor, described as “a chilling novel about the near future, where most of the world has been destroyed by catastrophic floods.” There were many strong entries. Shown below are four of the twenty-five finalists. At lower right is the winning entry by Matt Taylor. At upper left is the first runner up by Pillow Fort. The one at lower left was designed by Alan Vladusic and the one at upper right by John Rice.

island at the end of the world penguing book cover design competition


Two covers, one image

It’s not unusual to see two or more books that use the same image. After all, professional designers tend to sample from the same stock image pools. What I find interesting about these two is the way the different crops and tones seem to adjust the dynamic between the figures.

two book covers that use the same image

Would you be more likely to pick one up than the other?


via Book Design Review


American and European dust jackets, 1926-1947

queer books

The New York Public Library’s amazing and ever-expanding digital collections includes more than two thousand book jackets from 1926 through 1947. The library routinely removed jackets from books in its collection– no doubt because they quickly would become damaged or lost — but during those years some of its librarians kept interesting examples in a collection of scrapbooks. As the library website notes, “Ranged side-by-side within years, the dust jackets provide an overview of the graphic design taste and trends of the time, while helping to reconstruct the atmosphere of the annual panoply of an era’s published works, with classic titles alongside their less enduring contemporaries”


Illustrating Lennon

Jerry Levitan, working with direction Josh Raskin, illustrator James Braithwaite, and digital artist Alex Kurina, has produced an animated version of an interview he made thirty-eight years ago with John Lennon. Levitan was fourteen at the time, and Lennon was generous in answering his questions.


via crap detector


Never the same stream twice

getty moodstream

Getty Images has come up with an odd, inventive, and intriguing take on the streaming music service (pandora, last fm, etc.). Getty’s Moodstream combines audio with shifting still and video images. The user dials up a “mood” by adjusting sliders for such qualities as “happy” vs. “sad,” “calm” vs. “lively,” and so on. (Or you can choose from presets.)

Moodstream is intended as a promotional tool. Getty hopes that creative people will use it as a brainstorming tool and end up licensing some of the images. Certainly Getty is rich in excellent stock images. Unfortunately, the music is the weak link, and I suspect after the site’s novelty has faded the comparatively insipid music will not be good enough to attract a sizable audience.

Still, it’s an interesting concept, and one worth checking out.


Graphic design fads and Olympics posters

Are there fads in graphic design? Well, duh! Check out these eras of Olympics poster design.

1. 1912-1924: the homoerotic era

homoerotic olympics posters, 1912-1924

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The design process

Here’s n interesting case study in how a final magazine layout is arrived at. The designer is Matt Willey, the magazine Royal Academy.

The title changes are amusing, in a wicked sort of way (I assume the endless revisions are coming from an editor) — at some point Wiley just stops entering the changes and works with a row of exes instead.



frank chimero's silhouettesGraphic designer Frank Chimero had the cool idea of comparing his silhouette to those of a bunch of famous people. He turned the project into a nicely designed little book. A selection from the book is on his website (though the text is too small, regrettably, for reading).


Via Swiss Miss


How have new technologies affected book design and typography?

Caduceus asks that question at MetaFilter, and IndiaInk has started a thread in reply.

There have, of course, been many effects. some good, others not so good. Caduceus is probably asking for practical advice on using new technologies and media, but the question could also be answered in a broader sense. Following are a few consequences of new technologies that come immediately to mind.

  1. Maybe the most significant result of new design and printing technologies is just that publishing has become more affordable. I think it was Ben Franklin who said “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.” Through the centuries printing and publishing required a significant investment that kept the industry in the control of an exclusive group of specialists. That has changed and now anyone can easily and cheaply publish a book (although promoting, marketing, and selling it remain difficult).
    Print on demand and short run printing have also made it possible to keep books in print that formerly could not have been reprinted because of the expense of a conventional reprint, which penalizes short runs with very high unit costs. These technologies make self-publishing (or at least self-printing) economically viable.
  2. Word processing has changed the way texts are written and edited. Authors used to resort to elaborate strategies to make revisions. Evan Connell, for example, used to retype passages and then attach the new sheets with windows cut out of the pages where he wanted the original text to remain. Today revising and moving words, passages, and even chapters is so simple that the text is rarely a continuous stream, like that championed by Kerouac, for example, and instead is more like a snowflake, with elaborations being worked on all sides around the core idea.
  3. Regarding typography, rather than working with a limited set of font sizes (in the hot type era, one often had to make do with a very restrictive font set), designers now have a nearly seamless continuum of sizes and widths to work with. It also used to be difficult to set type in anything but a rectangularly block — now limitless effects can be achieved quickly and easily. This gives designers and layout people extraordinary freedom to create spectacular results — or to screw up spectacularly.
  4. New type formats have enormously multiplied the number of typefaces available, at a low cost compared to previous technologies. There was a time when typesetters might spend years working with only one or two typefaces — whose qualities they would come to know intimately — but today people flit from one face to another, in the same work, or page, or even sentence. While the principles of good typography remain largely unchanged, type families and traditions have have become kaleidoscopically confounded.
    Typography was formerly a craft that was highly constrained by tradition — probably master-apprentice lineages of typesetters could be worked out, much as Melissa Rinne has traced lineages of bamboo artists — whereas today relatively few people working with type are educated in the craft’s traditions.
  5. The integrity of the image has been sacrificed for ease of production and the graphic artist’s command of effects. Digital photography and low-cost digital scanning have reduced the cost of photographing and printing in color, and images and texts are more integrated than they used to be and can be moved and modified together. Image manipulation is easy and can produce effects that were previously almost unimaginable. Photographs are no longer authoritative. Images are tweaked and modified at nearly every stage of production and in nearly every instance of use, making image authorship itself problemmatic.

In sum, more flexible and affordable printing and publishing options are available than in the past, with a lower bar to entry. On balance this is good, but it means that a large percentage of work is amateur in nature. Writers rush to print before their work has matured or their texts have been sufficiently edited. Books are produced that are so painful to look at they are effectively unreadable, never mind the text.

Amateurs can, of course, produce first-rate work, but the very ease with which a book can be produced makes it unlikely that many people will educate themselves on the qualities that distinguish well-made books. Probably more excellent works are being created than ever before, but as readers we are drowning in a sea of pabulum, and finding those instances of excellence becomes challenging.


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