The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

May 22, 2014
by Dan

Getting to the Point: Arrows in Book Cover Design

As I was collecting images for my recent posts on triangles and book covers, I started thinking about the use of triangle’s directional cousin, the arrow. Inspired by a vintage cover design by Elaine Lustig and Jay Maisel, I thought I’d gather a selection of recent book covers that use arrows as part of their design.

I’ve spent far too long on this already, but I am sure I have forgotten some corkers. Please let me know what I’ve missed in the comments. I also have to say thanks to all the designers who helped me with this, especially Catherine Casalino, Richard Green, and (the very patient) Jason Ramirez who all dug deep into their archives for me.

The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman; design by Pablo Delcán (Pantheon January 2014)

The Act of Love by Howard Jacobson; design by Catherine Casalino (Simon & Schuster March 2009)

Adventures in the Orgasmatron by Christopher Turner; design by Marina Drukman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux June 2011)

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb; design by Jamie Keenan (Random House November 2012)

The Arc of War by Jack S. Levy & William R. Thompson; design by Isaac Tobin (University of Chicago Press October 2011)

Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe;  art by Edel Rodriguez (Penguin January 2010)

The Bug by Ellen Ullman; design by Jamie Keenan (Picador February 2012)

Buried on Avenue B by Peter de Jonge; design by Ian Koviak / The Book Designers (HarperCollins October 2012)

Busted by Edmund L. Andrews; design by Gray318 (W. W. Norton July 2009)

Caribou Island by David Vann; design by Nathan Burton (Viking February 2011)

Dealmaking by Guhan Subramanian; design by Ben Wiseman (W. W. Norton October 2011)

The Debt Delusion by Mehdi Hasan; design by James Paul Jones (Vintage Digital July 2011)

The Enchanted Wanderer by Nikolai Leskov; design by Peter Mendelsund (Knopf March 2013)

Six Easy Pieces by Richard P. Feynman (Penguin July 2011)

The Meaning of it All by Richard P. Feynman (Penguin September 2007)

Design by Jim Stoddart; model design & construction by Andy Bridge

Give Me Everything You Have by James Lasdun; design by Julia Connolly (Vintage February 2014)

How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson; design by David A. Gee (Riverhead September 2014)

Hush Hush cover art 1
Hush Hush by Steven Barthelme; design by Christopher Brian King (Melville House October 2012)

One on One by Craig Brown; design by Jo Walker (Fourth Estate September 2011)

Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin; design by Rodrigo Corral Design (Farrar, Straus & Giroux April 2012)

The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll;  design by Shepherd Studio (Oneworld May 2013)1

The Perpetual Race of Achilles and the Tortoise by Jorge Luis Borges; design by We Made This (Penguin August 2010)

Rebound by Stephen J. Rose; design by Jason Ramirez (St. Martin’s Press May 2010)

The Rise & Fall of the Great Powers by Tom Rachman; design by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich (Dial June 2014)

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk; design by Rodrigo Corral Design (W. W. Norton April 2010)

Dwight Yoakam by Don McLeese (Texas Tech University Press April 2012)

If I Was a Highway by Michael Ventura and Butch Hancock (Texas Tech University Press Feb 2011)

Design by Lindsay Starr

Warlord by Carlo d’Este; design by Richard Green (Allen Lane April 2009)

May 20, 2014
by Dan

Gerhard Steidl Interview — The Talks

The Talks has a nice new interview with German art book publisher Gerhard Steidl:

Most of the publishing houses in the world are owned by shareholder companies and their interest is to make profit. My publishing house is a private business. I founded it in 1968 and it is still owned by me. It is a family business. It is a Manufaktur and we don’t set any limits on cost. A Steidl book is always made in Germany, in Göttingen, in Düstere Straße 4 and there is a guy, Gerhard Steidl, who is hands on. So, believe it or not, I oversee every sheet that tumbles out of our press. This craftsmanship and this know-how we bring to every one of our babies, our books, makes a huge difference compared to the production processes of other companies.


Steidl was, of course, the subject of the 2010 documentary How to Make a Book with Steidl:

May 16, 2014
by Dan

Steven Heller and 100 Classic Graphic Design Journals on Design Matters

In his annual visit to Design Matters, Steven Heller talks to Debbie Millman about design journals, his new book 100 Classic Graphic Design Journals (co-authored with Jason Godfrey), and the future of design magazines in print:


You can also read a short interview with Heller about the book at publisher Laurence King’s website.

May 15, 2014
by Dan

The Great Discontent: Paul Sahre


You can be as happy or as miserable doing design as anything else you decide to do. It doesn’t matter what it is; it only matters that you commit to it. Do you care? Can you commit? That’s it. I don’t necessarily believe graphic design is any better or worse than other careers you can choose, but I do think the dedication has to be there. Yes, there is the dignity of work, but—and maybe this is just selfishness—whether you’re a plumber, a policeman, or an architect, if you don’t look forward to going to work in the morning, that’s really sad. That’s where a lot of people end up for various reasons.

Illustrator and designer Paul Sahre recently spoke to The Great Discontent about his work. It seemed like as good an excuse as any to post just a few of his book covers.


(NB: I really should add that cover for Satantango to this post)

May 14, 2014
by Dan

William Burroughs Series — Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich

Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich recently redesigned a series of classic William S. Burroughs novels for Grove Atlantic with rather splendid “acid colors and Blue Note jazz graphics”:



The books in the series include Junky, Naked LunchThe Adding Machine, Nova ExpressThe Ticket That Exploded, and, published this month, The Soft Machine.

May 12, 2014
by Dan
1 Comment

Book Covers of Note May 2014

Another month, another selection of beautiful book covers…

The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin; design by Jo Thomson (Mantle May 2014)

The Bees by Laline Paull; design by Steve Attardo (Ecco May 2014)

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige; design by Ray Shapell (HarperCollins April 2014)

Englightenment 2.0 by Joseph Heath; design by David A. Gee (HarperCollins April 2014)

Goodbye To All That by Robert Graves; design by Matthew Young (Penguin May 2014)

Karate Chop by Dorthe Nors; design by Carol Hayes (Graywolf February 2014)

Lunch at the Shop: The Art and Practice of the Midday Meal by Peter Miller; design by John Gall (Abrams April 2014)

The One and Only by Emily Giffin; design by Jennifer Heuer (Ballantine May 2014)

The Other Language by Francesca Marciano; design by Ben Wiseman (Pantheon April 2014)

Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell) by Jane McAlevey; design by Gray318 (Verso Books May 2014)

Vanishing by Gerard Woodward; design by Jamie Keenan (Picador UK March 2014)

Young Skins: Stories by Colin Barrett; design by James Paul Jones (Jonathan Cape March 2014)

May 7, 2014
by Dan

Nicholson Baker: “Wrapping Sentences Around Things”

This made a couple of people in my Twitter feed very, very happy today – author Nicholson Baker talking about writing, design and the influence of his parents, who both studied at Parsons School of Design in New York, at Lingua Franca: The 2014 D-Crit Conference at the School of Visual Arts last week:

As Michael Bierut noted on Twitter, Nicholson Baker’s father was a graphic designer who worked for the great Erik Nitsche! Who knew?

(via @acejet170)

May 7, 2014
by Dan
1 Comment

Le Quartanier Série NOVA by Catherine D’Amours


Catherine D’Amours of Pointbarre Collective recently got in touch to tell me about NOVA, a series of ten novellas she designed to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Montreal-based publisher Le Quartanier. Opting for a minimalistic grid and a sober sans-serif font, Catherine designed ten illustrations and typographical stamps for the covers and, as you can see, the results are quite beautiful.




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