The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

September 19, 2014
by Dan

Self Initiated: Stanley Chow


Like their first film about illustrator and typographer Daren Newman, the second short in the ‘Self Initiated’ series by the folks from Manchester-based Daylight is about a local talent.

Even if you don’t immediately recognize Stanley Chow‘s name, you will have seen his illustrations for The New Yorker, Wired, and Entertainment Weekly among other places. Most likely, you have have seen his portraits of pop culture icons online too. In the film, Chow talks about his process, inspiration, and doing the work he loves:

You can buy prints of Stanley Chow’s work from his print shop.

September 19, 2014
by Dan

50 Books / 50 Covers 2013 Winners


If you’re an American book designer you probably know already that the winners of the 2013 Fifty Books / Fifty Covers show were announced yesterday.

Organized by Design Observer in association with AIGA and Designers & Books,  50/50, which recognizes the best work in contemporary book and book cover design, dates back to 1922, and is the oldest continuously operating graphic design competition in the United States. It is what you might call a ‘big deal.’

Of course, you can always quibble with lists like this — there are a some covers from last year that I loved that aren’t winners. But it’s wonderful to see book designers get some deserved recognition, and there are some great covers on the list that I overlooked.

Here are a few of my favourite 50 Covers winners that weren’t on my own 2013 list (nor in my postscript):

9780199811809-Thomas Ng
The Aesthetic Brain by Anjan Chatterjee; design by Thomas Ng (Oxford University Press)

No One is Here Except All of Us by Romana Ausubel; design by Gray318 (Riverhead)

Personae by Sergio De La Pava; design by Isaac Tobin (University of Chicago Press)

Shady Characters by Keith Houston; design by Jason Booher ((W. W. Norton & Company)

This and Other Plays by Melissa Gibson; design by Helen Yentus and Jason Booher (Theatre Communications Group)

September 18, 2014
by Dan

Mac Barnett: Why a good book is a secret door

I’m all about the charming videos today… In this recent TED Talk, Mac Barnett, award-winning author of Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale ProblemExtra Yarn, Telephone and the forthcoming Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, talks about childhood and making stories come alive:

September 18, 2014
by Dan

Alan Kitching and Monotype


Well, this is absolutely lovely — a short film about letterpress typographer, designer, artist (and accordion player) Alan Kitching, and a set of posters he created with Monotype to celebrate the centenary of five influential designers born in 1914: Tom Eckersley, Paul Rand, FHK Henrion, Josef Müller-Brockmann and Abram Games:

(via David Pearson)

September 11, 2014
by Dan

NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual Reissue


If you’ve been on Twitter for past couple of days you’ll have no doubt noticed that the design community (or the sizeable type-obsessed segment of it) is very excited that designers Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth, founders of, have started a Kickstarter project to reissue the 1970 NYC Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual by Unimark’s Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda as a full-size, limited edition book:

Every single day, millions of New Yorkers rely on the subway to get around the city, and you can’t use the subway without encountering the signage designed by Unimark. Over the years many changes have taken place (such as the switch from Standard Medium to Helvetica), but it is a testament to the quality of the work that, 44 years later, the signage holds up.

And perhaps on a deeper level, the signage has given the subway a voice. When a lot of people think of New York City, these signs pop into their head. We feel a tremendous responsibility to publish not only an important piece of design history, but an important part of New York City’s history.

Even if you can’t afford the book itself — it starts at $133USD if you live in Canada, more if you are in the EU —  you can back the project for as little as $3, and the project’s video featuring Pentagram‘s Michael Bierut on the graphic standards manual is well worth watching:

You can also see scans from a copy of the manual discovered the basement of design firm Pentagram in 2012 on

September 9, 2014
by Dan

Type Safari with James Victore

While I’m posting typography videos, this is pretty fun too — designer James Victore tours around Brooklyn and Queens (in a jeep!) passing judgement on the local signs and street typography:

And if this is your thing, The Makeshift Society is organizing a series of evening events in Brooklyn about type and type design with a host of great speakers. (I guess we all need to move to Brooklyn!).

(via SwissMiss)

September 9, 2014
by Dan

Dan Rhatigan on type…Type on Dan Rhatigan


This is kind of amazing… Type designer Dan Rhatigan talking about his love of type, and his typographic tattoos:

And if you didn’t catch all that, Dan helpfully posted a list of his tattoos (as August 2014) on his website:

  1. R from unknown wood type
  2. & from Poetica by Robert Slimbach
  3. ü from Meta Bold by Erik Spiekermann
  4. s from Fette Fraktur
  5. K from the old Krispy Kreme logo
  6. g from Baskerville, based on types of John Baskerville
  7. § from Champion Gothic Middleweight by Jonathan Hoefler
  8. 7 from Century Oldstyle Bold by Morris Fuller Benton
  9. y from Cooper Black Italic by Oswald Cooper
  10. W from Whitney Bold by Tobias Frere-Jones
  11. z from Stilla by François Boltana
  12. r from Maple Medium by Eric Olson
  13. 2 from Ingeborg Block by Michael Hochleitner
  14. w from Actium Black Italic by Gerben Dollen
  15. a from Dolly Italic by Underware
  16. e from Sodachrome (Left and Right) by Ian Moore and Dan Rhatigan
  17. Y from Banco by Roger Excoffon
  18. Å from Leyton by Ian Moore
  19. C from De Little 30-Line 196
  20. H from Calypso by Roger Excoffon
  21. é from Gill Sans Ultrabold (Gill Kayo) by Eric Gill
  22. B from Festival Titling by Phillip Boydell
  23. ø from Bell Centennial Bold Listing by Matthew Carter

In another recent video, Dan talks about the design of Monotype’s Ryman Eco, “the world’s most beautiful sustainable font”, which apparently uses 33% less ink than standard fonts:

This promotional video for Ryman Eco is also nicely done:


September 3, 2014
by Dan
1 Comment

Book Covers of Note September 2014

It’s hard to believe it is already September, but here we are… time for another round of book covers!

If you’re new to this feature, each month I collect together new and recent covers that have caught my eye in the previous few weeks. Although the focus is on books released in the current month, the posts also include covers I’ve missed earlier in the year. You can find the previous month’s posts here.

Thanks (as always) to my local bookstores — Type Books on Queen West, Book City on the Danforth, and Indigo Bay & Bloor — for fighting the good fight (and their wonderful displays!).

Abbott Miller: Design and Content; design by Pentagram (Princeton Architectural Press / September 2014)

Polygraphe_Samuel Archibald
Arvida by Samuel Archibald; design by Catherine D’Amours / Pointbarre (Le Quartanier / August 2014)
Polygraphe_Samuel Archibald_mech
(this is an obvious miss from last month’s post about maps. Sorry Catherine!)

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel; design by Rodrigo Corral Design; photograph Demurez/Glasshouse (Henry Holt / September 2014)

The City Under the Skin by Geoff Nicholson; design by Oliver Munday; photograph by George Baier IV (FSG / June 2014)

(Another one that should have been in the maps post. And yes, that really is someone’s back apparently)

The Establishment by Owen Jones; design by Richard Green (Allen Lane / September 2014)

Forensic Songs by Mike McCormack; design by Jason Booher (SOHO / July 2014)

God Telling a Joke by David Margoshes; design by David Drummond (Oolichan Books / May 2014)

Hack Attack by Nick Davies; design by David Drummond (Faber & Faber / August 2014)

The Histories by Herodotus; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin Classics / September 2014)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; design by JP King (Penguin / August 2014)

Lippy by Bush Moukarzel; design by Jason Booher (Oberon Books / August 2014)

The Most Dangerous Animal of All by Gary L. Stewart with Susan Mustafa; design by Jarrod Taylor (HarperCollins / June 2014)

(I’m not endorsing the content of this book at all, but the red acetate cover does need to be seen in person to be fully appreciated)

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty; design by David High / High Design (W. W. Norton / September 2014)

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland; design by Keith Hayes (Algonquin Books / May 2014)

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle; design by Timothy Goodman (FSG / September 2014)

Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyers; design by Christopher Brian King (Melville House / September 2014)

You by Zoran Drvenkar; design by Kelly Blair (Knopf / August 2014)

September 2, 2014
by Dan
1 Comment

The Art of Comics: Chris Ware


Cartoonist Chris Ware is interviewed by Canadian journalist Jeet Heer in the latest issue of The Paris Review as part of the magazine’s ongoing ‘The Art of Comics’ series. You can read a short excerpt online:

It was the Peanuts collections in my grandfather’s basement office that really stayed with me through childhood and into college. Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy, and Lucy all felt like real people to me… I’ve said it many times before, but Charles Schulz is the only writer I’ve continually been reading since I was a kid. And I know I’m not alone. He touched millions of people and introduced empathy to comics, an important step in their transition from a mass medium to an artistic and literary one.

September 2, 2014
by Dan

BUONA LA PRIMA! An Exhibition of the Best Italian Book Design


Italian design journalist Stefano Salis has kindly let me know about BUONA LA PRIMA!, an exhibition he has curated for the Artelibro Festival in Bologna later this month. For the exhibition, a committee of 15 professionals in the field of editorial graphics has selected the best Italian books covers published published in the past year. All 45 finalists (three for each judge) can be viewed on the Artelibro website, and visitors can vote for their favourite.


In addition to the prize assigned by popular vote, the jury of experts will also award a ‘Critics Prize’ to the best cover, in conjunction with the votes expressed by Ricardo Franco Levi, President of Artelibro, Romano Montroni, President of the Italian Center for the Book, and Giovanni Gregoletto, bibliophile and owner of Cantine Gregoletto that sponsor the exhibition.

The two winners will be announced on Sunday, September 21 at 12:30, with a toast at Palazzo Re Enzo.
BUONA LA PRIMA! opens Friday, September 12th at 6pm, in the Biblioteca d’Arte e di Storia di San Giorgio in Poggiale.

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