The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

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

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

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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

January 8, 2015
by Dan

Creative Characters: Erik Spiekermann


Type designer Erik Spiekermann recently spoke to MyFont’s Creative Characters newsletter about his career and his return to letterpress printing:

I think it’s very appropriate to discuss the new interest in analog technologies, and the ways that young people are now finding to combine the analog and the digital. In fact, the difference between the two is disappearing. As type specialist Indra Kupferschmidt also remarked recently — there’s no longer any reason to make things for the screen that look worse than designs made for print. Anybody who does layouts for the screen must know about type and typography just as well as someone who designs for paper. So what counts is, just like before, how to get the message across. We have the technology, there is no more excuse for a job badly done.

What I find very interesting is the movement of people who are savvy in digital design but are genuinely interested in analog techniques. It is now more than a passing trend; there must be a deeper motive why we are newly interested in the hand-made and the haptic, material and three-dimensional aspects of type and design.

January 8, 2015
by Dan
1 Comment

Glenn Gould and the Gas Mask

In an interview with CBC Radio in 1958, pianist Glenn Gould recounted how he came to play Beethoven in a gas mask. Now CBC Music have turned that anecdote into a charming short film illustrated by designer Heather Collett, and animated by Philip Street and John Fraser:

January 8, 2015
by Dan

Front Row: The Art of Book Cover Design

BBC Radio 4’s Front Row talks to Suzanne Dean, creative director at Random House UK, about the art of book cover design. Dean, who was very publicly thanked by Julian Barnes for her work on his book The Sense of an Ending, has been responsible for more Booker-winning covers than any other designer apparently.

Host John Wilson also chats with designer Matthew Young about the relaunched Pelican Books, while authors Ian McEwan, Tom McCarthy and Audrey Niffenegger, and Telegraph books editor Gaby Wood, share their thoughts on what makes a good book cover.

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January 7, 2015
by Dan

Criterion Designs


Another book for the wishlist (because in a shocking development no one gave it to me for Christmas), Criterion Designs features covers, art, and sketches art commissioned for the Criterion Collection. It looks beautiful…

criteriondesigns_gallery6_large criteriondesigns_gallery9_large

December 11, 2014
by Dan

50 YA Covers for 2014

Like all the best things on The Casual Optimist, this post started life as a conversation on Twitter. The topic this time was the under-representation of YA book designers in all these end of the year cover lists. YA covers are becoming more and more sophisticated, yet my posts this year have rarely featured them, so feel that I am unquestionably at fault here. To make some kind of amends, I thought I would post a selection of 50 YA covers from 2014. Many, many thanks to all the book designers and publishing folk (including my colleagues Alisha, Brooke, and Megan at Raincoast) for their suggestions and assistance. And special thanks to Serah-Marie and Derek at Type Books for letting me browse their shelves with my notebook in hand…

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer; design by Kristin Smith (Dutton / September 2014)

Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters; design by Regina Flath (Simon Pulse / October 2014)

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

Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire; design by Matt Roeser (Candlewick / September 2014)

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour; design by Theresa Evangelista (Dutton / May 2014)

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang; design by Paul Zakris (Greenwillow Books / September 2014)

Far From You by Tess Sharpe; design by Whitney Manger; cover photograph by Yojik (Disney-Hyperion / April 2014)

Firecracker by David Iserson; design by Emily Osborne (Razorbill / October 2014)

Forever by Judy Blune (Reissue Edition); design by Lizzy Bromley (Atheneum Books for Young Readers / April 29, 2014)

Girl Defective by Simmone Howell; design by Debra Sfetsios-Conover; illustration Jeffrey Everett (Atheneum Books for Young Readers / September 2014)

Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond; design and illustration by Neil Swaab ( Skyscape / October 2014)

Half Bad by Sally Green; design by Tim Green / Faceout Studio (Viking Juvenile / March 2014)

The Here And Now
The Here and Now by Ann Brashares; design by Natalie Sousa (Delacorte Press, April 2014)

High and Dry by Sarah Skilton; design by The Heads of State (Amulet Books / April 2014)

House of Ivy and Sorrow
House of Ivy and Sorrow by Natalie Whipple; design by Erin Fitzsimmons (Turtleback Books / April 2014)

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch; design by Sinem Erkas (Indigo / January 2014)

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson; design by Theresa Evangelista  ( Dial / 2014)

Into the Grey by Celine Kiernan; design by Matt Roeser (Candlewick / August 2014)

Jackaby by William Ritter; design by Joel Tippie / Jdrift (Algonquin Young Readers / September 2014)

Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid; design by Natalie Sousa (Harlequin Teen / July 2014)

like no other
Like No Other by Una LaMarche; design by Emily Osborne; cover illustration by Michael Kirkham (Razorbill / September 2014)

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira; design by Andrew Arnold (FSG Books for Young Readers / March 2014)

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern; design by Amelia May Mack (Chronicle Books / June 2014)

My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins; design & illustration by Jim Tierney (St. Martin’s Griffin / October 2014)

No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale; design by ​​Michelle Taormina (HarperTeen / January 2014)

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith; design by Lucy Ruth Cummins (Simon & Schuster for Young Readers / September 2014)

Paper Airplanes by Dawn O’Porter; design by Maria T. Middleton (Amulet / September 2014)

Playing for the Commandant by Suzy Zail; design by Matt Roeser (Candlewick / October 2014)

Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland; design by Lucy Ruth Cummins; cover art by Luke Lucas (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers / March 2014)

The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz; design by Tanya Ross-Hughes; model photo by Ali Smith; title type by Mario Hugo (Hyperion / April 2014)

Ruin & Rising by Leigh Bardugo; design by Jen Wang (Henry Holt & Co. / June 2014)

The previous two books in the series, also designed by Jen Wang:

Salvage by Keren David; design by Sophie Burdess (Atom / July 2014)

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern; cover art by Ann Shen; design by Alison Klapthor (HarperTeen / June 2014)

Schizo by Nic Sheff; design by Kristin Smith (Philomel /September 30, 2014)

Since You’ve Been Gone by Megan Matson; design by Lucy Ruth Cummins; photography by Meredith Jenks (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers / July 2014)

Smart by Kim Slater; cover illustration by Helen Crawford-White / Studio Helen (Macmillan Children’s Books / June 2014)

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton; design by Matt Roeser (Candlewick Press / March 2014 )

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy; design and illustration by Annemieke Beemster Leverenz (Balzer + Bray / 2014)

This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready; design by Karina Granda (Simon Pulse / April 2014)

Tape by Steven Camden; cover art by Keri Smith (HarperCollins Children’s Books / January 2014)

Tease by Amanda Maciel; design by Erin Fitzsimmons (Balzer + Bray / April 2014)

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki; design by Jillian Tamaki & Colleen AF Venable; cover art Jillian Tamaki (First Second / May 2014)

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han; design by Lucy Ruth Cummins; photographer Anna Wolf (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers / April 2014)

Trouble by Non Pratt; design by Lucy Ruth Cummins; illustration by Dermot Flynn (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers / June 2014)

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu; design by Elizabeth H Clark (Roaring Brook Press / June 2014)

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank; design by Rachael Cole; cover art Elinor Hills (Schwartz & Wade / August 2014)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart; design by Angela Carlino (Delacorte Press / May 2014)

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski; design by Elizabeth H Clark; photography by Ali Smith (FSG Books for Young Readers / March 2014)

Winterkill by Kate A. Boorman; design by Maria T. Middleton; illustration by Shane Rebebschied (Harry N. Abrams / September 2014)

The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss; design by Matt Johnson (Simon & Schuster Childrens Books / April 2014)

Thanks all


December 8, 2014
by Dan

Series Book Covers 2014

In the past, I’ve often included a few series designs in with my favourite covers of the year. This year, I saw so many great covers that were part of a series, I thought a they deserved a post of their own…


Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes; design by Nathan Burton (Alma / 2014)

Alma Classics; design by Nathan Burton (Alma / 2014)

A Winter's Tale

A Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare; design by Michel Vrana (Broadview / 2014)

Broadview Shakespeare; design by Michel Vrana (Broadview / 2014)


Nova Express by William Burroughs; cover art by Julian House (Penguin Classics 2014)

The Cut-Up Trilogy by William Burroughs; cover art by Julian House (Penguin Classics 2014)


Snapshots–Nouvelles voix du Caine Prize; design by David Pearson (Éditions Zulma / 2014)

Éditions Zulma; design by David Pearson (Éditions Zulma / 2014)

Wolf Haas; design by Christopher Brian King (Melville House / 2014)

My Fellow Skin

My Fellow Skin by Erwin Mortier; design by David Pearson (Pushkin Press / 2014)

Erwin Mortier; design by David Pearson (Pushkin Press / 2014)


After You with the Pistol by Kyril Bonfiglioli; design by Richard Green; illustration by Luke Pearson (Penguin / 2014)

Charlie Mortdecai by Kyril Bonfiglioli; design by Richard Bravery illustration by Luke Pearson (Penguin / 2014)

Tim O’Brien; design by Cardon Webb (Broadway / 2014)


Cloudstreet by Tim Winton; design by Adam Laszczuk; illustration by Josh Durham (Penguin Australia / 2014)

Penguin Australian Classics; design by Adam Laszczuk; illustration by Josh Durham (Penguin Australia / 2014)


Greek and Roman Political Ideas by Melissa Lane; cover design by Matthew Young; logo design by Richard Green (Pelican 2014)

Pelican relaunch; cover design by Matthew Young; logo design by Richard Green (Pelican 2014)

Regeneration by Pat Barker; design by Mr Foxx

Regeneration by Pat Barker; design by Mr Foxx (Penguin / 2014)

Penguin Essentials; design various (Penguin / 2014)


Letters from a Stoic by Seneca; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin Classics 2014)

Penguin Pocket Hardbacks; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin Classics 2014)

Les fantômes fument en cachette by Miléna Babin; design by David Drummond

Les fantômes fument en cachette by Miléna Babin; design by David Drummond (Les Éditions XYZ / 2014)

Quai No. 5; design by David Drummond (Les Éditions XYZ / 2014)

Sicilian Uncles

Sicilian Uncles by Leonardo Sciascia; design by Dan Mogford (Granta / 2014)

Leonardo Sciascia; design by Dan Mogford (Granta / 2014)1


August 1914 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; design by Oliver Munday (FSG / 2014)

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; design by Oliver Munday (FSG / 2014)


Authority by Jeff VanderMeer (US); design by Charlotte Strick; Illustration by Eric Nyquist (FSG / 2014)

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (US); design by Charlotte Strick; Illustration by Eric Nyquist (FSG /  2014)


Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (UK); design by Jo Walker; illustration by Kai and Sunny (Fourth Estate / 2014)

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (UK); design by Jo Walker; illustration by Kai and Sunny (Fourth Estate / 2014)


Ukojenie by Jeff VanderMeer (Poland); cover art by Patryk Mogilnicki (Otwarte / 2014)

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (Poland); cover art by Patryk Mogilnicki (Otwarte / 2014)


City of Saints & Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer backlist; design by Crush Creative (Tor / 2014)

Jeff VanderMeer backlist; design by Crush Creative (Tor / 2014)

Verso Radical Thinkers; design by Rumors (Verso / 2014)


The Battle of AP Bac by Neil Sheehan; design by Joan Wong (Vintage / 2014)

Vintage Shorts; design by Joan Wong (Vintage / 2014)


Fleur de Cerisier by Aline Apostolska; design by David Drummond (VLB éditeur / 2014)

Vol 459; design by David Drummond (VLB éditeur / 2014)

M. D. Waters; design by Jaya Miceli (Plume / 2014)


Art and Lies by Jeanette Winterson; design by James Paul Jones (Vintage / 2014)

Vintage Winterson; design by James Paul Jones (Vintage / 2014)

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