The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

October 8, 2015
by Dan

Jamie Keenan on Book Cover Design

Little Apple design Jamie Keenan

Book designer Jamie Keenan talks to Shiny New Books about his design process and designing the covers for Pushkin Press’s Vertigo imprint:

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.

October 8, 2015
by Dan

Designing Books with David Pearson

Filmed at D&AD Judging 2015 earlier this year, David Pearson talks about designing books, and picks out some of 2015’s best examples of the art:

David designed the cover of this year’s D&AD annual, and he recently talked to It’s Nice That about that process:

“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.”

The result is pretty spectacular…


October 7, 2015
by Dan

Book Covers of Note October 2015

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…

Anything You Want design Zoe Norvell

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers; design by Zoe Norvell (Portfolio / September 2015)

Beatlebone design Rafi Romaya
Beatlebone by Kevin Barry; design by Rafi Romaya (Canongate / October 2015)

Beauty is a Wound design John Gall
Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan; design by John Gall (New Directions / September 2015)

Best American Non-Required design Eric Nyquist
The Best American Non-Required Reading 2015; cover art by Eric Nyquist (Mariner / October 2015 )

The US cover, designed by Darren Haggar is on the left; the UK cover designed by Suzanne Dean is on the right.

Bream Gives Me Hiccups design Jean Jullien
Bream Gives Me Hiccups design by Jean Jullien (Grove Atlantic / September 2015)

Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry by Paul Goldberger; design by Peter Mendelsund (Knopf / September 2015)

Double Life of Liliane
The Double Life of Liliane by Lily Tuck; design by Abby Weintraub (Grove Atlantic / September 2015)

(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)

Fates and Furies
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff; design by Rodrigo Corral and Adalis Martinez (Riverhead / September 2015 )

Dream Factory design Jim Stoddart
The Great British Dream Factory by Dominic Sandbrook; design by Jim Stoddart (Allen Lane / October 2015)

killing and dying
Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine; cover art and design by Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly / October 2015)

Laurus design Gray318
Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin; design Gray318 (Oneworld / October 2015)

Music mfor Wartime design Lynn Buckley
Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai; design by Lynn Buckley (Viking / June 2015)

Negroland design by Oliver Munday
Negroland by Margo Jefferson; design by Oliver Munday (Pantheon / September 2015)

Nest design Jon Klassen
The Nest by Kenneth Oppel; cover art by Jon Klassen (Simon & Schuster / October 2015 )

No Such Thing as a Free Gift design James Paul Jones
No Such Thing as a Free Gift by Linsey McGoey; design by James Paul Jones (Verso / October 2015)

Only Forward design Stuart Bache
Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith; design by Stuart Bache (HarperCollins / May 2015)

Paulina and Fran illustration Kaethe Butcher typography Nina LoSchiavo
Paulina and Fran by Rachel B. Glaser; illustration Kaethe Butcher; typography Nina LoSchiavo (Harper Perennial / September 2015)

PawPaw design by Kimberly Glyder
PawPaw by Andrew Moore; design by Kimberly Glyder (Chelsea Green / September 2015 )

Rise of the Novel design by James Paul Jones

The Rise of the Novel by Ian Watt; design by James Paul Jones (Vintage / October 2015)

Scorper design by Dan Mogford
Scorper by Rob Magnuson Smith; design by Dan Mogford; illustration by John Vernon Lord (Granta / October)

Season of Trouble design by David Gee
The Seasons of Trouble by Rohini Mohan; design by David A. Gee (Verso / October 2015)

Trans Design and illustration Joanna Walsh
Trans by Juliet Jacques; Design and illustration by Joanna Walsh (Verso / September 2015)

October 4, 2015
by Dan

The Inner-Space of J. G. Ballard’s High-Rise

high-rise design Darren Haggar

design by Darren Haggar

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.

October 3, 2015
by Dan

Yellow: The Collected Book by OFF LIFE


Front and Back cover

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 Kickstarting Yellow, 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.


Supermundane in Yellow

Supermundane for Yellow

Neasden Control Centre for Yellow

Neasden Control Centre for Yellow

October 2, 2015
by Dan

The Pelican Shakespeare Series Design by Manuja Waldia


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.”



September 29, 2015
by Dan

Mrs Tittlemouse joins the Suffragettes

Mrs Tittlemouse joins the Suffragettes Tom Gauld

Tom Gauld.

September 29, 2015
by Dan

Tim O’Brien Series Design by Jo Walker

Tim OBrien series

As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, designer Jo Walker recently redesigned the covers of Tim O’Brien’s classic Vietnam war novels If I Die in a Combat Zone, Going After Cacciato, The Things they Carried, and Northern Lights for 4th Estate in the UK. The series uses a single, searing photograph of a burning Vietnam village taken in 1965 by photographer Dominique Berretty spread over the four covers. The effect is extraordinary, and the design is an interesting contrast to Cardon Webb‘s (also brilliant) typographic covers for the US editions, published by Broadway.

You can read more about Jo’s design process for the series on the 4th Estate blog.

Northern Lights
If I Die in a Combat Zone
The Things They Carried
Going After Cacciato

September 28, 2015
by Dan

More Noam Chomsky Designs by David Pearson

Rethinking Camelot design David Pearson

I posted David Pearson‘s first four Noam Chomsky covers for Pluto Press back in January. Now, the next four books in the series have been released.

The typeface is apparently Druk, designed by Berton Hasebe for Commercial Type. At the Creative Review, David talks about his design of the series.

Propaganda design David Pearson

September 23, 2015
by Dan

At the Bookbinders

satin island limited editionThe London Review Bookshop visit Shepherds bookbinders in London to watch them put together a special limited edition of Tom McCarthy’s Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel Satin Island (yours for only £185):

September 22, 2015
by Dan

Magical Items for Fantasy Writers

magical items for fantasy writers by tom gauld

Tom Gauld.

September 21, 2015
by Dan

Adrian Frutiger: His Type Designs Show You the Way

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.

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