‘Dominique’ by Eugene Fromentin. Copyright 1948; No print date (circa 1952-53). Grove Press dust jacket on an imported hardcover originally published and printed by The Cresset Press (London). Cover design by Roy Kuhlman.
‘America Day by Day’ by Simone de Beauvoir. Grove Press, 1953. Hardcover. Cover designed by Roy Kuhlman.
Kuhlman is best known, of course, for the brilliant mid-century modern book covers he designed for Grove Press. The site is not comprehensive — at least not yet — but given the number of covers and other pieces Kuhlman must have designed over his career that is, perhaps, not surprising. Archiving his work must be a massive undertaking. Hopefully there is much more to come.
If you’re unfamiliar with Brownjohn’s work, I would also recommend picking up a copy of Sex and Typography, Emily King’s book on the designer published by Princeton Architectural Press a few years back.
This is another one of those posts that started out on Twitter — a flippant tweet from me sparking a conversation about books with cassette tapes and vinyl records on their covers. It turns out that putting a record on a cover has become quite popular. Unfortunately the composition of many of these covers is often strikingly similar, even if the tone/intent is different.
design and illustration Chloe Cushman
design Michel Vrana
design James Paul Jones
The combination of clunky retro-future technology of cassettes and the DIY aesthetic of mix tapes, on the other hand, provides a richer vein of inspiration…
The Art Behind the Tape by Marshall “DJ Mars” Thomas, Djibril Ndiaye, Maurice Garland, and Tai Saint-Louis; design UnderConsideration (2015)
Writing for The Guardian, Simon Garfield (Just My Type), visits the first UK retrospective Dutch designer and curator Willem Sandberg:
“This is printed on wallpaper, very asymmetric … an amazing thing really,” Fraser Muggeridge, the curator, says as he shows me his collection of Sandberg ephemera in his studio in London’s Smithfield. It is a space Sandberg would have admired, with its display of promotional work for emerging artists and galleries crowding in from the walls. “I don’t think he was trying to make the most perfect work, but it was always free-spirited and arresting.” His letters were highly sculptural, revealing negative space; at first glance a torn “T” becomes a sideways “E”. They speak of his obsession not only with making intricate objects by hand, but also with solid branding: his graphics for the Stedelijk created a look and mood for a museum that today would require a huge budget and corporate pitching.
Astonishingly, most of Sandberg’s catalogues and posters were a sideline, designed in the evenings and at weekends. Sandberg was the director of the museum from 1945 to 1962, and his close relationship with the local state printer produced an identity that transformed the Stedelijk into one of Europe’s first truly modern galleries. He created what he liked to refer to as an “Anti-Museum”, rejecting the traditional dark and hushed rooms and creating something bright and accessible, a place of social interaction. He championed young artists, and he succeeded in attracting people who had barely set foot in a museum before. There was a shop, a learning centre and a cafe, all brave innovations in the middle of the century. As was Sandberg’s scheme to get the Stedelijk a little more noticed in the city: he painted the entire building white.
Jason Booher, designer and art director of Blue Rider Press and Plume, talks to Penguin Random House blog The Perch about the book cover design process:
A design can be thought of as a set of constraints or parameters. In book design, these consist of things like the conceptual literary content of the book, what makes the book unique in the context of other similar books or all books, how the author is (or is not) known, the expectations of the book from the point of view of the author/editor/sales force/readers, the context of book jacket in the contemporary moment, the context of book jackets in the last 10 (or even 20) years, visual pop culture. Or something that is obvious and not obvious is working with type is very difficult. And it perhaps the most specialized thing that graphic designers bring to that general problem solving into form.
Jason also describes how he approaches a book cover:
There’s a combination of reading the manuscript, and listening to the editor talk about the book. As an art director, I have to dip into almost all the of the books to see what they are like before deciding to whom to give each title. As a designer (if I’m working on that title’s jacket) it’s always different with every book. But as a general process I will read the book, and think and sketch, and sketch, and reread, work though a number of ideas, throw most of them out, stay with others, reread, take a walk (much harder when you are also the art director), try to come up with something new. Those are the first steps.
And how he works with other designers:
When I work with a freelancer (as well as with my in-house designers), I like to see what they come up with without any input from me. Not only are you more likely to get something special and surprising, something you couldn’t have thought of yourself (which is why art directors work with a variety of freelancers in addition to their in-house staff), but you are sending a signal of trust. If a designer knows what “kind” of design they are expected to deliver, they might not push very far or hard. But if they take ownership of being the first arbiters of what the package of the book might be, there is more of a chance for something brilliant. I’m just trying to maximize the talent I have working with me.
With my in house staff, it is similar but there might also be a concept that is floating that we will work with. Or occasionally I’ll work with one designer or my whole team to come up with ideas together. That’s an exception though, and cover design is generally a sole enterprise in the initial stages. Then it becomes a collaboration when I see comps, and goes from there.
When the house of Knopf launched in 1915, publishing was a gentleman’s pursuit—amateur, clubbish, WASP, and above all, male. Blanche and Alfrednavigated this casually anti-Semitic world, holding themselves aloof from their alcoholic, philandering competitor, the “pushy Jew” Horace Liveright, founder of the Modern Library and publisher of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Over the years there would be female secretaries, copywriters, reviewers, and editors at Knopf. There would be women in charge of little magazines and the children’s-book divisions of big publishers. But there would be no other woman in the publishing industry with the status of Blanche Knopf—either in the 1920s, when she signed Langston Hughes and Willa Cather, or in the 1950s, when she celebrated Albert Camus’s Nobel prize and oversaw the translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. And despite it all, although her husband swore he’d put her name on the masthead, he never did…
…For the Knopfs, marriage proved much more difficult than publishing. In Claridge’s hands Alfred Knopf takes his place in twentieth-century literature’s crowded pantheon of assholes—his great loves were the American Southwest, expensive wine, and the ritual humiliations of his friends, his family, and most of all, his wife. One after another, acquaintances and co-workers attest to a relationship that today we’d call toxic; a stew of jealousy, incompatibility, violence, and—just when it couldn’t get worse—yearning affection.
The actual process of designing a book jacket is more than just reading the book and making a beautiful image with your favorite font and slapping it on the front. A good cover should represent the spirit of the book and celebrate what makes that book unique. So then why do so many covers fall for the same visual clichés as so many other covers? Go on down to your local online book dealer and you’ll see bargain bin stock photos adorned with tiny endorsements about how this book is so, so much better than other one you’re about to click on. In order to get a book cover approved you have to get the sign off from the art director that you’re working for, the marketing department, the author, the editors, sometimes even the author’s spouse, their milkman, or their next door neighbor. It’s a nimble game of politics that you have to play to get the vision that you have for a cover into the bookstore. And it’s a game where design is often the loser. The publisher wants the book to sell, the designer wants the book to look good, and the author wants the cover to match their vision of what the cover of their book should be. And almost always, these three are at odds. There is a lack of definition for “what looks good” and a shaky science as to “what will sell” and authors are so close to their books it can be difficult to find out what it is that they actually want. The language of aesthetics and the aesthetics of language need to trust each other. It’s important for designers to be more acclimated with what it is that a publisher is looking for as to what will sell. Compromising that business by stretching your typefaces to the point of unreadability may not do you any favors. Ultimately it’s the author’s book, and they know it far better than you do, so really it’s their opinion that matters the most, even if they are not familiar with the fundamentals of good design.