The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

March 15, 2016
by Dan

Lustig Elements Font Revival on Kickstarter

Lustig Elements

Working with the legendary Elaine Lustig Cohen, designer Craig Welsh has launched Kickstarter campaign to revive a font originally designed by Alvin Lustig in the 1930s that they’re calling ‘Lustig Elements’. The project is about halfway to its funding goal, but there are only a couple more weeks to back it, so maybe give them a boost if you are fan of the Lustig’s work (and I know you are!):

March 14, 2016
by Dan

Book Covers of Note March 2016

Much later than usual, here are this month’s book cover selections…

Cambodia Noir design Alex Merto
Cambodia Noir by Nick Seeley; design by Alex Merto (Simon & Schuster / March 2016)

Heads design by Alex Camlin
Heads by Jesse Jarnow; design by Alex Camlin (Da Capo / March 2016)

House Full of Daughters design Cressida Bell
A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson; design by Cressida Bell (Chatto & Windus / March 2016)

How To Slowly Kill Yourself design Greg Heinimann
How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon; design by Greg Heinimann (Bloomsbury / March 2016)

Insignifica design Alban Fischer
Insignificana by Dolan Morgan; design by Alban Fischer (CCM / March 2016)

Knockout design by Matt Dorfman
Knockout by John Jodzio; design by Matt Dorfman (Soft Skull / March 2016)

Latecomer design Doublenaut
The Latecomer by Dimitri Verhulst; design Ross Proulx / Doublenaut (Portobello Books / March 2016)

Lonely City
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing; design Henry Sene Yee; photograph by Jerome Liebling (Picador USA / March 2016)

Love Like Salt design Nico Taylor image Sarah Gillespie
Love Like Salt by Helen Stevenson; design by Nico Talyor; image by Sarah Gillespie (Virago / March 2016)

lover design Neil Lang
Lover by Anna Raverat; design by Neil Lang (Picador / March 2016)

Lust and Wonder cover design Olga Grlic
Lust & Wonder by Augusten Burroughs; design by Olga Grlic (St. Martin’s Press / March 2016)

Paper Tigers design Alban Fischer
Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters; design by Alban Fischer (Dark House Press / February 2016)

Mademoiselle S design Gabriele Wilson
The Passion of Mademoiselle S. edited by Jean-Yves Berthault; design Gabriele Wilson (Spiegel & Grau / February 2016)

Seeing Red design by Anna Zylicz
Seeing Red by Lina Meruane; design by Anna Zylicz (Deep Vellum / March 2016)

Socialist Optimism design Emma J Hardy
Socialist Optimism by Paul Auerbach; design by Emma J. Hardy (Palgrave / March 2016)

Sudden Death design Rachel Willey
Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue; design by Rachel Willey (Riverhead / March 2016)

Trees design David Mann
The Trees by Ali Shaw; design by David Mann (Bloomsbury / March 2016)

Two Family House design Sara Wood
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman; design by Sara Wood (St. Martin’s Press / March 2016)

Weve Already Gone this Far design Lucy Kim
We’ve Already Gone This Far by Patrick Dacey; design by Lucy Kim (Henry Holt / March 2016)

What is Yours design Helen Yentus
What Is Not Your Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi; design by Helen Yentus (Riverhead / March 2016)

When Everything Feels Like the Movies design Ceara Elliot lettering Martina Flor
When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid; design Ceara Elliot; lettering and illustration Martina Flor (Atom / February 2016)

XX design Sara Wood
XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century by Campbell McGrath; design Sara Wood (Ecco / March 2016)

March 11, 2016
by Dan

Design Matters with Tobias Frere-Jones


On the subject of typography, I missed type designer Tobias Frere-Jones on Design Matters with Debbie Millman at the end of last year:

March 11, 2016
by Dan

Edward Johnston: Modest Typographic Purist

Edward Johnston

At The Guardian, Oliver Wainwright considers the work of Edward Johnson, and visits a new exhibition marking the centenary of his famous typeface for London Underground:

Although sans-serif typefaces (letters without the little flicks at the end of their strokes) date back to the 18th century, Johnston’s Underground typeface can be credited with popularising the style. Indeed, it was so influential that it became the typeface from which every 20th-century sans-serif typeface would be measured. As Gill later wrote in admiration, Johnston “redeemed the whole business of sans-serif from its 19th-century corruption”.

His former student was perhaps driven by the guilt of seeing the success of his own typeface, Gill Sans, which he admitted had been heavily based on Johnston’s work. Promoted and licensed by Monotype, and preloaded into computers, it has become much more widespread than Johnston, which is owned by Transport for London.

“I hope you realise that I take every opportunity of proclaiming the fact that what the Monotype people call Gill Sans owes all its goodness to your Underground letter,” Gill wrote in a letter to Johnston later in life. “It is not altogether my fault that the exaggerated publicity value of my name makes the advertising world keen to call it by the name of Gill.”

Little did it bother Johnston, accidental creator of one of the world’s longest-lasting corporate identities, who was never one for the limelight. When asked to submit a biography for Who’s Who, he was characteristically to the point, listing only three achievements: “Studied pen shapes of letters in early MSS, British Museum, 1898-99. Teacher of the first classes in formal penmanship and lettering, LCC Central School, 1899-1912. Designed block letters based on classical Roman capital proportions (for London Electric Railways), 1916.” But what influential letters they would turn out to be.

The exhibition Underground: 100 Years of Edward Johnston’s Lettering for London opens at Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft in Sussex March 12 and runs until September 11.

johnston roundels


March 8, 2016
by Dan

52 Women Book Cover Designers

If you follow the Casual Optimist on Twitter, you will know that a couple of weeks ago design studio Aishima asked people to tweet about inspiring women graphic designers using the hashtag #celebratewomen. As today is International Women’s Day, I thought I would follow up my #celebratewomen tweets with a visual list of 52 inspiring women book cover designers (one for every week of the year!) — from influential veterans whose work I’ve admired for years to junior designers that have just appeared on my radar.

The names of all 52 designers can be found at the end of the post. With a few more hours in a day the list could easily have been many times longer, so apologies to anyone I have overlooked. Please let me know who you would’ve included in the comments or on Twitter.

Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller; design by Justine Anweiler (Picador / January 2015)

Justine Anweiler

Jane Eyre Clothbound design Coralie Bickford Smith

Coralie Bickford-Smith

Aftermath design Kelly Blair

Kelly Blair

The Wall design Gabrielle Bordwin photograph John Gay

Gabrielle Bordwin

forever design Lizzy Bromley

Lizzy Bromley


Lynn Buckley

Curious design Nicole Caputo

Nicole Caputo


Jennifer Carrow

m train design carol devine carson

Carol Devine Carson


Catherine Casalino

Cat and Fiddle design Allison Colpoys

Allison Colpoys

Stoner (hardback)

Julia Connolly


Eleanor Crow


Lucy Ruth Cummins

First Novel design Suzanne Dean photograph Stephen Banks

Suzanne Dean


Barbara deWilde


Sinem Erkas

Madness So Discreet design Erin Fitzsimmons

Erin Fitzsimmons

Dust to Dust design Alison Forner

Alison Forner

Seating Arrangements design Elena Giavaldi

Elena Giavaldi

barefoot queen design Kimberly Glyder

Kimberly Glyder

Lopsided design by Carin Goldberg

Carin Goldberg


Jenny Grigg

Voices in the Night by Steven Millhauser; design by Janet Hansen (Knopf / April 2015)

Janet Hansen

What the Family Needed

Jennifer Heuer

follow me design Karen Horton

Karen Horton


Linda Huang


Anne Jordan

This Will Be Difficult to Explain design Chin Yee Lai

Chin-Yee Lai

Silvered Heart TBK.indd

Yeti Lambregts


Emily Mahon

first husband

Jaya Miceli

Sixty design by Terri Nimmo

Terri Nimmo

Unabrow by Una Lamarche; design by Zoe Norvell (Plume / March 2015)

Zoe Norvell

Welcome to the Circus design Natalie Olsen

Natalie Olsen


Lauren Panepinto

A Good Book design Ingrid Paulson

Ingrid Paulson


Isabel Urbina Peña

Redeployment design Rafi Romaya

Rafi Romaya

Canada design by Allison Saltzman

Allison Saltzman

Year I Met You design Heike Schussler

Heike Schüssler


Clare Skeats

A Year of Marvellous Ways design by Amy Smithson

Ami Smithson / Cabin

flamethrowers design Charlotte Strick

Charlotte Strick

Toronto Cooks design Jess Sullivan

Jess Sullivan

Longitude design Jo Walker

Jo Walker


Abby Weintraub

Living on Paper design by Amanda Weiss

Amanda Weiss

Barbara the Slut by Lauren Holmes; design by Rachel Willey (Riverhead / August 2015)

Rachel Willey


Gabriele Wilson

Design Megan Wilson, photograph Saul Leiter

Megan Wilson

All the Birds design by Joan Wong

Joan Wong

Summerlong design Sara Wood

Sara Wood


Helen Yentus

  1. Justine Anweiler
  2. Coralie Bickford-Smith
  3. Kelly Blair
  4. Gabrielle Bordwin
  5. Lizzy Bromley
  6. Lynn Buckley
  7. Nicole Caputo
  8. Jennifer Carrow
  9. Carol Devine Carson
  10. Catherine Casalino
  11. Allison Colpoys
  12. Eleanor Crow
  13. Lucy Ruth Cummins
  14. Suzanne Dean
  15. Barbara deWilde
  16. Sinem Erkas
  17. Erin Fitzsimmons
  18. Alison Forner
  19. Elena Giavaldi
  20. Kimberly Glyder
  21. Carin Goldberg
  22. Jenny Grigg
  23. Janet Hansen
  24. Jennifer Heuer
  25. Karen Horton
  26. Linda Huang
  27. Anne Jordan
  28. Chin-Yee Lai
  29. Yeti Lambregts
  30. Emily Mahon
  31. Jaya Miceli
  32. Terri Nimmo
  33. Zoe Norvell
  34. Natalie Olsen
  35. Lauren Panepinto
  36. Ingrid Paulson
  37. Isabel Urbina Peña
  38. Rafi Romaya
  39. Allison Saltzman
  40. Heike Schüssler
  41. Clare Skeats
  42. Ami Smithson
  43. Charlotte Strick
  44. Jess Sullivan
  45. Jo Walker
  46. Abby Weintraub
  47. Rachel Willey
  48. Gabriele Wilson
  49. Megan Wilson
  50. Joan Wong
  51. Sara Wood
  52. Helen Yentus

March 5, 2016
by Dan
1 Comment

Cold Comfort Books


Roz Chast for The New Yorker.

March 4, 2016
by Dan

ABCD Award Winners 2016

Congratulations to all the winners and shortlisted covers at the third annual Academy of British Cover Design Awards! Make sure you read Daniel Benneworth-Gray‘s report on last night’s “shindig” at the Creative Review, but in the meantime, all the winning designs are below:

fox and the star

The Fox and the Star, written, illustrated and designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Particular Books / August 2015)

Young Adult

Asking For It design Kate Gaughran
Asking For It by Louise O’Neill; design by Kate Gaughran (Quercus / September 2015)

Sci-Fi / Fantasy

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar; design by Ben Summers (Hodder / March 2015)

Mass Market

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum; design by Jo Thompson; illustration by Maricor/Maricar (Mantle / March 2015)

Literary Fiction

Memoirs of a Dipper design by Gray318
Memoirs of a Dipper by Nell Leyshon; design by Gray318 (Fig Tree / June 2015)

Crime / Thriller

Whisky Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer; design by Richard Bravery (Penguin / June 2015)


egg design by Clare Skeats
Egg by Blanche Vaughan; design by Clare Skeats (Wiedenfeld & Nicolson / March 2015)

Series Design

Great Northern design James Paul Jones
Great Northern? by Arthur Ransome; design James Paul Jones; illustration by Pietari Posti (Vintage / March 2015)

Classics / Reissue

Far From the Madding Crowd design Sinem Erkas
Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy; design by Sinem Erkas (Orion / September 2015)

Women’s Fiction

I Love Dick design by Peter Dyer
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus; design by Peter Dyer (Profile Books / November 2015)

You can see all last year’s winners here.

March 3, 2016
by Dan


why so glum

Tom Gauld for The Guardian

February 27, 2016
by Dan

From Thomas Mann to Amazon — The Art of Literary Publishing in New York

The Millions has a long, but very interesting (and, at times, surprisingly blunt) essay by veteran Doubleday editor Gerald Howard on editing and literary publishing in New York:

At the simplest, most basic level, I’ve been reading for a living for 37 years. I arrived at New American Library with a literary and intellectual sensibility formed by the unruly rebellions of the ’60s and the spiritual deflations of the ’70s, with a taste for the novelists and thinkers who had either helped to cause or best reflected and interpreted those rebellions and deflations. I’ve read thousands of books and proposals since then, and I believe I am a better reader than I was at age 27 — I know more because I’ve read more and my judgments are (I sure hope) better informed and more mature. But at the primal level where reader meets text and experiences emotions ranging from boredom and impatience to I-love-this-and-have-to-have-to-publish-it excitement, I think I am still that young man in the hunt and on the make, always searching for the big wow. This process takes place in the private arena of the mind and is entirely unrelated to the corporate arrangements of my employer. It is, quite literally, where I live, where I feel I am most myself.

As for the editing of those books that wow me when happy circumstances dictate that I get to acquire them, that process too takes place in a private arena. When I encounter a sentence that is inelegant or ungrammatical or inefficient or ambiguous in meaning, or a scene in a novel that is implausible or overdone or superfluous, or a plot that drags or goes off course or beggars credulity, or a line of exposition that falls short of the necessary clarity, or feel that some subject is missing and requires coverage, I point those things out to the author and with a carefully calculated mixture of firmness and solicitude suggest ways they might be remedied. I do this usually at nights and on weekends, sometimes on my bus ride to and from work, very occasionally in my office on slow days with my door closed (yes, I have an office with a door that closes), with a complete absence of business calculation beyond the largest context — that a book that is bad or just not good enough is a book that will embarrass me and my employer and be poorly received and will not sell.

But as I read those submissions and edit those manuscripts, on another cognitive plane I am reality testing what I am reading. What other books — the fabled and often tiresome “comp titles” — are like this one, and how did those books sell? (We are always fighting the last war.) Is it too similar to something we published recently or are publishing in the near future, or to a book some other house has or shortly will publish? Are there visual images in the book that might be utilized on the cover? What writers of note can I bug for prepublication blurbs? Is there something about the author, some intriguing or unusual backstory, some charisma radiating off the page (and maybe the author photo? Don’t act so shocked) that suggests that he or she will be a publicity asset? What might a reasonable advance be, given the amounts that have been paid recently for similar books, or might reason for some reason be thrown out the window? (A friend and colleague of mine refers to this feeling as “Let’s get stupid.” More on this matter shortly.) What colleagues in the company, in the editorial department, in marketing, publicity, and sales, could I ask to read the book to drum up support for it? What is my “handle” going to be — the phrases or brief sentences that briskly encapsulate a book’s subject matter and commercial appeal? These and all sorts of other questions will be popping up in my brain, and inevitably there is some crosstalk and bleed-through between the two cognitive spheres. If you want total purity in these matters, go join an Irish monastery and work on illuminated manuscripts, not a New York publishing house. Or at the very least a quiet and scholarly and well-endowed university press.

Well worth reading from beginning to end, the essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century edited by Travis Kurowski, Wayne Miller, and Kevin Prufer (to be published by Milkweed Editions in April 2016), which on this evidence of this alone will be essential reading for publishing folks1.

February 27, 2016
by Dan

Why McNally Jackson Books Thrives

The New York Business Journal looks why McNally Jackson is thriving, while other the city’s other independent bookstores are disappearing:

most literati agree that independent book stores are an endangered species in high-rent New York. See what’s happening right now with the St. Mark’s Bookshop, which was forced to move once and now is preparing to close for good. Or look at what’s already happened to Gotham Book Mart, Biography Bookshop, Bank Street Bookshop and even the chain store Borders Books. All are shuttered. Even Barnes & Noble has closed three large outlets in Manhattan (Astor Place, Chelsea, Lincoln Center).

But something special is brewing on Prince Street in NoLita because McNally Jackson is packed. The café is booming, the self-publishing arm is prospering, and the nightly literary events, are popular. McNally Jackson is the prime example of what it takes for an independent bookstore to succeed: operating as a triple threat of bookstore, café and publisher.


February 24, 2016
by Dan

“Awesome” is the New “Massive”

The New Yorker‘s ‘Comma Queen’ Mary Norris considers (mis)use of the words “massive” and “awesome”:

February 22, 2016
by Dan

Gramercy Typewriter — Family Business Since 1932

The latest short film in Huck magazine’s ‘Family Business’ series visits Gramercy Typewriter Co., the father and son typewriter repair shop in New York:

You may remember that Gramercy Typewriter Co. was the subject of another short documentary a couple of years ago

(via It’s Nice That)

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