The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

January 26, 2015
by Dan

The Wolf Hall Fun Book


Tom Gauld.

January 23, 2015
by Dan

Student Editions by Ákos Polgárdi


These rather fabulous typographic covers were designed by Ákos Polgárdi for Európa Könyvkiadó‘s Student Editions series. Works of classic literature from Hungary and around the world, each cover features text from the book as a background pattern.

student-editions-1 student-editions-2student-editions-4 student-editions-3

You can see more of Ákos’ book covers on his website.

January 22, 2015
by Dan

We Were Not Made For This World


Directed by Colin West McDonald, We Were Not Made For This World is a short science fiction film based on the comic strip of the same name by cartoonist Paul Hornschemeier about a robot searching for his creator:


‘We Were Not Made for This World’ was first published in Project Telstar by AdHouse and later collected in Let Us Be Perfectly Clear by Fantagraphics.

January 20, 2015
by Dan

Ladybird by Design


The Guardian‘s Kathryn Hughes visits Ladybird By Design, an exhibition of over 200 original illustrations from the golden age of Ladybird Books:

To enter Ladybird’s world again is to relearn a universe that is both strange yet uncannily familiar. Inevitably the books express the values of their times. In the Peter and Jane series (aka Key Words Reading Scheme), Peter tends to hang out with Daddy in the garage, while Jane helps Mummy get the tea. Fair-haired and blue-eyed, every one in the children’s world looks exactly like them, apart from Pat the dog.

Still, if Ladybird books were conservative on gender and race, they were positively brisk on class. The world of Peter and Jane – and all the other children who appear in the Ladybird universe doing magic tricks, going to the shops, taking batteries apart or learning to swim – is both modern and modest. As illustrated by Berry, Wingfield and Martin Aitchison, the children appear to live in one of the postwar new towns. Their home is probably privately owned but it could conceivably be a newly built council house. Their adventures involve going on a train or to the beach with Mummy and Daddy. There are no prep-school japes here, no solving of improbable mysteries or clifftop rescues.

Perhaps this achievable utopia was a compensatory fantasy for the illustrators who, born around 1920, had mostly known childhoods far harder than this. Busy providing a safe, stable environment for their own little Peters and Janes, men such as Berry and Wingfield showed a world where things were, on the whole, getting better. Modernity increasingly presses into the frame: Jane and Peter eat off a table that looks like knock-off Habitat, Mummy wears slacks and Daddy even starts to help with the washing-up. More disruptive changes, though, are kept at a safe distance. Carnaby Street, with all its troubling freedoms, has no place in the Ladybird world, nor does the cold war or Vietnam.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in the UK, Ladybird Books were slim illustrated hardcover books for children. They were educational, or at least ‘improving’, and so creepy that I think they’ve actually scarred the national psyche. If you are of certain age, the books trigger a shiver of queasy nostalgia — without Ladybird Books the horrifying weird of The League of Gentleman or Scarfolk is just inconceivable — and yet I still think of them fondly. Sort of.
The exhibition, which opens later this week, takes its title from a forthcoming Penguin book called Ladybird by Design. Written by Lawrence Zeegen, Professor of Illustration and Dean of the School of Design at the London College of Communication, the book celebrates 100 years of Ladybird, and examines the social and design history of the publisher. It is sure to be smashing.

January 19, 2015
by Dan

50 Years Since the Great Poet’s Death


Tom Gauld‘s weekly strip is back in The Guardian.

January 17, 2015
by Dan

The Four Undramatic Plot Structures by Tom Gauld


Tom Gauld for The New Yorker.

January 16, 2015
by Dan

Art of the Title: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb


The wonderful Art of Title looks back at the title sequence for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb designed by Pablo Ferro:

Pablo Ferro’s loose letterforms and slack compositions superimposed over aircraft footage represented a distinct departure from American title design of the time. Prior to 1966, the aesthetic of main titles was defined primarily by designers BinderBrownjohn, and Frankfurt and their symbolic geometry, clean typography, and bold graphic forms. The stage was set for Ferro’s strain of ambitious artistry. His lettering, variously squat, long, and lean, allows the footage to peek through, unobtrusive but utterly individual. It was all done by hand, with grease pencil on glass.

In an interview with Pablo Ferro himself, the designer discusses that distinctive lettering:

I tried to do the lettering like it’s usually done in films, but he said, “Pablo, I don’t know whether to look at the lettering or look at the plane. We have to see both at the same time.” I said to myself, oh boy, how could you do that? I remembered that I do my own lettering, just doodling around, thin and tall and things like that, and I thought I’d try that.

We did a test and it worked! Stanley filled the screen with my lettering. It was perfect! You could see the plane and you could see the lettering at the same time.

Coincidently, Vienna-based foundry FaceType actually released a typeface inspired by Ferro’s lettering called Strangelove Next a few years ago. I’m sure I’ve seen it on a couple of book covers.

January 15, 2015
by Dan

Noam Chomsky Series Design by David Pearson

Layout 1

Designer David Pearson has created some rather nice typographic covers for the UK editions of Noam Chomsky available from UK publisher Pluto Press.

Layout 1

In addition to the talented Mr. Pearson, Pluto Press’s design manager Melanie Patrick kindly let me know that the publisher is currently working with designers such as David Drummond, David Gee, Jamie Keenan, Dan Mogford, and Jarrod Taylor. You can see some of the results on their new Tumblr Pluto Press Covers, including this slick (ba-dum ching!) cover for the forthcoming Artwash by Mel Evans, designed by Mr. Keenan:


January 14, 2015
by Dan

Aaron Draplin on Logo Design

I doubt most of you don’t need advice on how to design a logo (or maybe you do? Who knows?), but Aaron Draplin enthusing about design is always fun. In this video for, Draplin talks about his design process for logos, and even manages to talk about a few of his favourite books along the way:

January 13, 2015
by Dan

Portrait of a Letterpress Printer

Portrait of a Letterpress Printer is a short documentary about William Amer, a letterpress printer and instructor based in Rockley NSW, Australia. I have serious shed envy…

January 12, 2015
by Dan

Books Covers of Note January 2015

January’s selections include some of this month’s new releases plus a few stragglers from 2014 that were undeservedly overlooked last year:

Against the Country by Ben Metcalf; design and illustration by Leanne Shapton (Random House / January 2015)

A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor; design by Janet Hansen (Knopf / January 2015)

Brave New World
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley; design by Scot Bendall & Richard Carey / La Boca (Vintage / November 2014)

Fifty Mice by Daniel Pyne; design by Alex Merto (Blue Rider Press / December 2014)

The First Bad Man by Miranda July; design by Mike Mills (Scribner / January 2015)

GB84 by David Peace; design by Christopher King (Melville House / November 2014)

Hall of Small Mammals by Thomas Pierce; design by Grace Han; cover art by Kate Bergin (Riverhead / January 2015)

The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini; design by Henry Sene Yee (Picador / November 2014)

I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel by David Shields and Caleb Powell; design by Chip Kidd (Knopf / January 2015)


Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet; design by Chris Welch Design (W. W. Norton / November 2014)

Trouble in Paradise By Slavoj Žižek; design by Richard Green (Allen Lane / November 2014)

Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm; design by Paul Buckley (Viking / January 2015)

The Veiled Sun by Paul Schaffer; design by David Drummond (Véhicule Press / January 2015)

Weathering by Lucy Wood; design by Greg Heinimann (Bloomsbury / January 2015)

X by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon; design by Matt Roeser (Candlewick Press / January 2015)

January 12, 2015
by Dan

2015 Design Awards

Happy New Year!

Now that all the amateur ‘best of 2014′ lists are out of the way, it’s time for the professionals submit their covers to the actual design competitions. Last week 50 Books / 50 Covers opened for entries. Meanwhile the closing dates for this year’s Australian Book Design Awards and ABCD15 in the UK are fast approaching…

50 Books / 50 Covers

Design Observer announced the opening of the 50 Books/50 Covers competition for books published in 2014. The competition will accept online entries from January 7, 2015 to March 18, 2015. See the guidelines for more details.

View the 2013 50 Books and 50 Covers 


If you live in the United Kingdom, the Academy of British Cover Design (ABCD) has announced the opening of its second annual cover design competition. Books published between January 1 and December 31 2014 by any designer based in the UK are eligible. All entries must be received by the 31st January 2015.

View the winners of ABCD14

Australian Book Design Awards

The Australian Book Designers Association (ABDA) has also announced the 63rd Australian Book Design Awards. The awards are open to any book designed and published for the first time in Australia between 1 January 2014 and 31 December 2014. Entries close on Friday 23 January 2015.

View the winners of the 2014 ABDA Book Design Awards

%d bloggers like this: