The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

August 3, 2017
by Dan

David Pearson on Books and Typography

At the Monotype blog, Theo Inglis talks to designer David Pearson about his career and his type-centric approach to book covers:

We are increasingly being urged to create objects of desire and the cover obviously plays a key role here, especially when a book is aiming for pride of place in a bookshop. Designers visit them regularly, to note the common visual language of related or competing titles. It can be a source of frustration then, when presenting a contrasting or conflicting design aimed at standing out, only to be asked to produce a copycat cover intended to hitch on the success of the latest best-seller. Booksellers often create themed displays dedicated to the latest hot trend, see Hygge for example. Publishers are all-too aware of this and often the pursuit of a like-for-like cover is their priority… Being allowed to use ‘just type’ will always be dependent on what books are blazing a commercial trail… Jon Gray’s cover for Swing Time and John Gall’s for Norwegian Wood, to take two current examples, prove to publishers that the mass market can handle bold, type-driven design and so this approach will be validated for a time. 

You read my 2009(!) Q & A with David here

July 21, 2017
by Dan

The Only Place You Can Get a Decent Cup of Coffee

Tom Gauld for New Scientist

July 20, 2017
by Dan

50 Books / 50 Covers Winners 2016

AIGA and Design Observer announced the results of the 2016 50 Books | 50 Covers competition while I was on vacation. You can find all the book selections here, and the cover selections here.

I always look forward 50 Books | 50 Covers announcement. It feels like the industry standard. It’s the cover design list that really seems to matter to book designers in North America, and it’s the one I always compare my own list to.


There are always great covers among the winners that are new to me, and this year is no exception. But here are a few random observations about this year’s the cover selections: there a lot of typographic/type-only covers; academic publishers are well represented; there are some surprising omissions (although the jury can only judge what is submitted); a couple of the selections are… well, a little problematic; it is a very male list.

I’m interested to hear what other people thought of this year’s winners.  

July 18, 2017
by Dan
1 Comment

Book Covers of Note July 2017

Something… something… vacation… something… jetlag…. something… inbox… something… Oh look! It’s July’s book covers!1

Album for the Young (and Old) by Vera Pavlova; design by Janet Hansen (Knopf / April 2017)

Amanda Wakes Up by Alisyn Camerota; design by Kimberly Glyder (Viking / July 2017)

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson; design by Steven Leard (Oneworld / July 2017)

The Conference of Birds by Attar, translated by Sholeh Wolpé; design by Jaya Miceli (W. W. Norton / April 2017)

Equipment for Living on Poetry and Pop Music by Michael Robbins; design by Thomas Colligan (Simon & Schuster / July 2017)

Flesh and Bone and Water by Luiza Sauma; design by Lauren Peters-Collaer (Scribner / June 2017)

Fly Me by Daniel Riley; design by Lucy Kim (Little, Brown & Co. / June 2017)

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed; design by Yeti Lambregts (Tinder Press / July 2017)

Goodnight Boy by Nikki Sheehan; design by Edward Bettison (Oneworld / July 2017)

The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins; design by Pete Adlington (Canongate / July 2017)

The cover of the US edition, designed by the aforementioned Thomas Colligan for Scribner, is an interesting compare and contrast:

Hello Sunshine by Laura Dave; design by Jennifer Heuer (Simon & Schuster / July 2017)

Hollow by Owen Egerton; design by Matt Dorfman (Counterpoint / July 2017)

I Must Belong Somewhere by Jonathan Dean; design by Dan Mogford (Weidenfeld & Nicolson / May 2017)

(This would be a nice addition to this old list of maps on book covers)

Investigations of a Dog by Franz Kafka, translated by Michael Hofmann; design by John Gall (New Directions / May 2017)

Kompromat by Stanley Johnson; design by James Paul Jones (Oneworld / July 2017)

The Lawn Job by Chuck Caruso; design by La Boca (Cloud Lodge Books / July 2017)

A Life of Adventure and Delight by Akhil Sharma; design Peter Mendelsund (W.W. Norton / July 2017)

The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof by César Aira; design by Rodrigo Corral; lettering by June Park (New Directions / June 2017)

And as this is two stories in one, you get a fancy back cover too…. 

The covers of the UK editions of César Aira’s books The Little Buddhist Monk, The Proof, and The Seamstress and the Wind, published separately by And Other Stories, were designed by Edward Bettison:

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz; design by Will Staehle (Harper / June 2017)

Shark Drunk by Morten Strøksnes; design by Oliver Munday (Knopf / June 2017)

(Much as I love Oliver’s cover — particularly his choice of type — it immediately reminded me Tom Lenartowicz’s minimalist Jaws design)

Smoke by Dan Vyleta; design Mark Abrams; illustration by Alejandro García Restrepo (Anchor / June 2017)

Mark Swan‘s design for the UK hardcover, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, was one of my favourite covers of last year (I liked the book a lot too!)… 

Storming Heaven by Steve Wright; design by David A. Gee (Pluto Press / July 2017)

The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman; design Helen Crawford-White (Ebury Press / June 2017)

Things To Do When You’re a Goth in the Country by Chavisa Woods; design by Adam Lewis Greene (Seven Stories Press / May 2017)

Under the Skin by Michel Faber; design by Rafi Romaya; illustration Yehrin Tong (Canongate / July 2017)

What It Means When A Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah; design by Jaya Miceli (Riverhead / April 2017)

Writing Not Writing by Tom Fisher; design by  Anne Jordan and Mitch Goldstein (University of Iowa Press / July 2017)

June 29, 2017
by Dan

Typographic Terminology A to Z

A nice animated guide to typographic terminology:

(via Quipsologies)

June 28, 2017
by Dan

ABDA Awards Interview

I talked to the Australian Book Design Association about book cover design and judging this year’s ABDA Awards:

I think we’re seeing a more global approach to covers as a result of publishers deciding to hold on to the international rights for their books, and designers and publishers (not to mention authors and readers!) being more exposed to covers from other markets through the internet and international travel. But it is still surprising how different covers from different countries can be. The contrast between British and American covers can still be quite striking.

In Canada, where I live, we are geographically very close to the US, and we get books from both the US and the UK, so domestic covers tend to be a bit of a hybrid, with a handful of designers and publishers trying to do something unique. I get the sense that the situation in Australia is similar, although there may be more willingness to experiment with covers than in Canadian publishing, which can be quite conservative when it comes to book design.

June 27, 2017
by Dan

SPINE Interview with Suzanne Dean

Designer Holly Dunn talks to Suzanne Dean, Creative Director at Vintage Books and one of the UK’s leading cover designers, for SPINE Magazine:

June 16, 2017
by Dan

Book Covers of Note June 2017

Hey June, don’t make it bad, take a sad book and make its cover…

The Angry Chef by Anthony Warner; design by Steven Leard (Oneworld / June 2017)

The Answers by Catherine Lacey; design by Gray318 (Granta / June 2017)

Columbia Road by Linda Wilkinson; design by Clare Skeats (September Publishing / June 2017)

The Courage of Hopelessness by Slavoj Zizek; design by Richard Green (Allen Lane / May 2017)

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong; design by Matt Johnson (Scribner UK / June 2017)

The Idiot by Elif Batuman; design by Suzanne Dean; illustration by Aino-Maija Metsola (Jonathan Cape / June 2017)

The colourful UK cover is an interesting contrast with the cover of the US edition, designed by Oliver Munday for Penguin:

The Illustrious House of Ramires by Eça de Queirós; design by Joan Wong (New Directions  / June 2017)

The Lure of Greatness by Anthony Barnett; design by Mark Ecob (Unbound / June 2017)

Marriage of a Thousand Lies by S J Sindu; design by Kimberly Glyder (Soho Press / June 2017)

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan; design by Tyler Comrie (Scribner / June 2017)

A welcome addition to the books on book covers genre

My Soul Looks Back by Jessica B. Harris; design by Lauren Peters Collaer (Simon & Schuster / June 2017)

The Never King by James Abbott; design by Neil Lang (Tor / May 2017)

Neil’s embossed metallic silver cover for Selfie by Will Storr (Picador / June 2017) is also kind of great (and hilarious), but impossible to show well online:

Pages for Her and Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg; design by Justine Anweiler (Picador / June 2017)

The Song and the Silence by Yvetter Johnson; design by Jonathan Sainsbury (Atria / May 2017)

Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash; design by Karl Engebretson; illustration George Boorujy (Coffee House Press / June 2017)

White Fur by Jardine Libarie; design by Elena Giavaldi (Hogarth / May 2017)

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge; design by Greg Heinimann (Bloomsbury / June 2017)

X by Chuck Klosterman; design by Rachel Willey (Blue Rider Press / May 2017)

June 13, 2017
by Dan

The Appointment

Tom Gauld takes a look at editing process for The Guardian

Tom’s recent comic ‘Editor’s Letter’ for the New York Times Magazine‘s ‘New York Stories‘ comic strip issue is also great: 

Tom illustrated a story by Andy Newman called View Finder, and provided other incidental illustrations and lettering for the magazine, but the cover was illustrated by Bill Bragg who also, you may remember, illustrated the cover of Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo, published by Faber earlier this year.  

You can read more about the issue at Creative Review and It’s Nice That.

May 29, 2017
by Dan

Australian Book Design Awards Winners 2017

Anonymous Designer

Congratulations to all the winners of the 2017 Australian Book Design Awards, which were announced on Friday in Sydney. I was honoured to be the international judge this year (even if some of my favourite covers didn’t win!).  

Allison Colpoys

May 25, 2017
by Dan

Gerhard Steidl is Making Books an Art Form

Photograph by Mark Peckmezian for The New Yorker

Rebecca Mead’s long profile of publisher Gerhard Steidl for The New Yorker is a wonderful, fascinating read:

Each Steidl title is unique, printed with a bespoke combination of inks and papers. But to the informed eye, and the informed hand, a Steidl book is as distinctive as an Eggleston photograph. Unlike another German art publisher, Taschen—which is known for reproducing risqué images by the likes of Helmut Newton in enormous formats that would crush most coffee tables to splinters—Steidl produces books that invite holding and reading. Steidl dislikes the shiny paper that is often found in photography books, and prefers to use uncoated paper, even though it takes longer to dry and thus makes a printing cycle more expensive. He opts for understatement even with projects that would tempt other publishers to be ostentatious. “Exposed,” a collection of portraits of famous people by Bryan Adams, the rock star turned photographer, has no image on its cover. Bound in blue cloth, the book looks as if it might be found on a shelf in an academic library. Steidl wants his creations to satisfy all the senses. When he first opens a book, he holds it up close to his nose and smells it, like a sommelier assessing a glass of wine. High-quality papers and inks smell organic, he says, not chemical. To the uninitiated, a Steidl book smells rather like a just-opened box of children’s crayons.

I love this part about the attention to the detail:

Designing a book’s packaging is a process Steidl particularly relishes. “He wants to pick the cover, he wants to pick the endpapers,” [Robert] Polidori told me. “He treasures this limited one-on-one time with the artist. It’s almost a love act.” Sometimes Steidl indulges in a brightly colored ribbon for a bookmark, like statement socks worn with a formal suit. He pays attention to elements that barely register with most readers, such as the head and tail bands—colored silk placed where the pages attach to the spine. “It’s a tiny bit of fashion,” Steidl said. “With Karl [Lagerfeld], it is the buttons. With me, it is the head and tail bands.” For Gossage, he chose black bands and black endpaper, to contrast with the colored ink on the pages. The endpaper was made from cotton, and would cost thirty cents per book, as opposed to the seven cents it would cost if he used offset paper. “Using the cheaper one saves significant money for the shareholders,” he said. “But I am the only shareholder.”

May 16, 2017
by Dan

Poets with Cellphones

Stephen Collins for The Guardian

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