I think designers might have brains that are set up slightly differently to ‘normal’ people (there are always a lot of left handed people design departments). Quite often someone will mention authors and titles of books to me and it won’t mean anything, but when I look those books up on Amazon and see some pictures, I’ll realise I’ve read them or even worked on them. Words don’t seem to lodge in my brain in the same way that images do – I’m useless at remembering people’s names, but I can recognise someone because I sat next to them on a bus three years ago. When I read a book, I’m not sure if I experience in the way you’re supposed to do. It’s hard to describe, but from reading a book I get a sense, in quite an abstract way, of what the tone of the cover for that book should be. Each book seems to create its own world with its own rules and logic. And working on a book you don’t like is always easier – there’s nothing worse that trying to design a cover for your favourite book. It’s like being so keen to be friends with someone that you instantly become the most boring person in the world.
“The only way I’ve been able to hand over any work and feel ok about it is to throw an inordinate amount of time into thinking and thinking and editing and thinking. Then when you hand it over you know you’ve really tortured yourself thinking about what you can get rid of. It’s amazing we ended up with something as clean as we did: you have to get rid of absolutely everything.”
A little bit later than scheduled, here is my October selection of book covers. There are three from Verso, and two by James Paul Jones, but I think it’s still another month of interesting, diverse, and eclectic work. I hope you agree…
(I was raving about this cover on Twitter no so long ago. It really needs to be seen in person because the image doesn’t do it justice at all. The finish on the jacket is lovely and gives the design a beautiful nuance and subtlety)
With the release of the Ben Wheatley movie adaptation starring Tom Hiddleston imminent, Chris Hall looks at High-Rise and the ‘inner-space’ of J. G. Ballard’s science fiction for The Guardian:
High-Rise is the final part of a quartet of novels – the first three are The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), Crash (1973) and Concrete Island (1974) – with each book seeded in the previous one. Thematically High-Rise follows on from Concrete Island with its typically Ballardian hypothesis: “Can we overcome fear, hunger, isolation, and find the courage and cunning to defeat anything that the elements can throw at us?” What links all of them is the exploration of gated communities, physical and psychological, a theme that is suggestive of Ballard’s childhood experiences interned by the Japanese in a prisoner-of-war camp on the outskirts of Shanghai in the 1940s. It was, he always claimed, an experience he enjoyed.
The built environment is not a backdrop, rather it is integral and distinctive in its recurring imagery – from abandoned runways, to curvilinear flyovers and those endlessly mysterious drained swimming pools. Perhaps more than any other writer, he focused on his characters’ physical surroundings and the effects they had on their psyches. Ballard, who died in 2009, was also interested in the latent content of buildings, what they represented psychologically. Or, as he once obliquely put it, “does the angle between two walls have a happy ending?” – by which he meant that we project narrative on to external reality, that the imagination remakes the world. In Ballard’s fiction, nothing is taken at face value.
In High-Rise and Concrete Island especially, Ballard examines the flip side to what he called the “overlit realm ruled by advertising and pseudo-events, science and pornography” that The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash mapped out. Under-imagined or liminal spaces, such as multi-storey car parks and motorway flyovers, act as metaphors for the parts of ourselves that we ignore or are unaware of. His characters are often forced to assess the physical surroundings and, by extension, themselves rather than to take them for granted.
Back in November 2014, the team behind free bi-monthly comic anthology OFF LIFE asked 52 artists to illustrate 52 weeks of news. Now, with the 52 weeks nearly up, editor Daniel Humphry, art director Steve Leard, and production manager Sarah Hamilton are KickstartingYellow, a hardback collection of every piece from the year with additional interviews and commentary. Contributors include Jean Jullien, Hattie Stewart, Supermundane, Stanley Chow, and a whole host of other talented illustrators. OFF LIFE’s goal is £10,000. You can support the project here.
Continuing with the recent series design theme here on The Casual Optimist, creative director Paul Buckley let me know about new set of covers for the Pelican editions of Shakespeare. The covers were designed by newcomer Manuja Waldia, who studied Graphic Design at NIFT, New Delhi and the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. Waldia has been commissioned to design the entire series (which is a lot of book covers!), and as a Paul said, “she gives the last two male icon artists to do that (Milton Glaser and Riccardo Vecchio) a run for their money.”
The New York Times obituary for type designer Adrian Fruitger who died at the age of 87 on September 10 in his native Switzerland:
The son of a weaver, Adrian Johann Frutiger was born on May 24, 1928, in Unterseen, near Interlaken, Switzerland. As a youth he hoped to be a sculptor, but his father discouraged him from plying so insecure a trade. Apprenticed to a typesetter as a teenager, he found his life’s work.
In 1952, after graduating from the School of Applied Arts in Zurich, Mr. Frutiger moved to Paris, where he was a designer with the type foundry Deberny & Peignot, eventually becoming its artistic director. There he created some of his earliest fonts, among them Président, Méridien and Ondine; in the early 1960s he founded his own studio in Paris.
Commissioned to create signage for airports and subway systems, Mr. Frutiger soon realized that fonts that looked good in books did not work well on signs: The characters lacked enough air to be readable at a distance. The result, over time, was Frutiger, a sans serif font designed to be legible at many paces, and from many angles.
One of Frutiger’s hallmarks is the square dot over the lowercase “i.” The dot’s crisp, angled corners keep it from resolving into a nebulous flyspeck that appears to merge with its stem, making “i” look little different from “l” or “I.” (For designers of sans serif fonts, the gold standard is to make a far-off “Illinois” instantly readable.)
For more on Frutiger and his work, there is an interesting interview with the designer in the spring 1999 issue of Eye Magazine.