Book Jacket by Chip Kidd

PJay's picture

I admire this book jacket by Chip Kidd. The layout and typeface, Corvinus Skyline by Imre Renner, convey a sense of power in restraint that perfectly suits this work by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. The letters march in a pace that is measured but by no means static. The jacket is a gem.

PublishingMojo's picture

The ultra-condensed font also neatly solves the problem of how to use all that white space when you're designing a portrait-shaped book jacket and the publisher hands you a landscape-shaped piece of artwork (that you're forbidden to crop under the permission agreement from the museum that owns the copyright).

joeclark's picture

It’s a bit expected, is it not?

PJay's picture

If the landscape orientation of the object was a problem, the condensed typeface would help solve it, as you said, Mojo. In this design, the white space is used as a positive element, and the art, the weight of the type and the saturation of the colors are all calibrated to serve the tenor of the book.

PublishingMojo's picture

The two aren't contradictory. It's like sinking a basket and drawing the foul: Chip Kidd solved a practical problem and an aesthetic one in one stroke.

Frank U. Finkelstein's picture

Am I the only one who thinks the letter spacing is way too much? That spreading the condensed face just to fill the horizontal space is a mistake, and that the cover would look better with more wide open white space instead of having it chopped up into fine bits with these staccato knife strokes of type?

I find it totally lacking harmony and good proportion.

Frank U. Finkelstein

5star's picture

Frank U. Finkelstein, I agree. The thin bits of the letter shapes begin to dissolve and the one point perspective formed by the top and bottom text blocks become too dominant. Somber grey tones with the 'busy' imagery make to the whole composition weary. All-in-all I doubt that Breyer is neither weary nor spaced out, lol.

And adding to that, his opinions are clearly worded.

I think this Kidd's jacket is more about creating a one point perspective - as in - Breyer's one point perspective on democracy as a whole, and sacrificed the integral elements of the letter shapes to do so. Which is rather ironic.

n.

PJay's picture

What an uninteresting world it would be if we all agreed (of course, MY judgement is impeccable). How about some more jackets that other people consider well executed and consonant with the subject matter?

joeclark's picture

pjay, Typophile is in bad enough decline without turning it into a Pinterest manqué for book covers, a topic that in itself is linkbait for people who know nothing about design but like to talk about it anyway.

John Hudson's picture

A physical book is an object. Unless you are holding it in your hand, there isn't a lot that you can meaningfully say about its design. Looking at a low resolution thumbnail image of a book cover is no way to comment on its design, especially when it comes to factors directly affected by scale, spatial frequency and visual angle such as type spacing and stroke contrast.

hrant's picture

Photography is always only entertainment anyway.

hhp

J. Tillman's picture

John Hudson, your point is valid. But...

For books that are marketed and sold on the internet, a thumbnail is all many buyers see before they order the book on-line or before they walk into the bookstore to buy or order the book there. That thumbnail version (smaller than the one at the top of this thread) is what sells (or doesn't sell) the book.

The thumbnail is the cover, and deserves its own review. You may not like that, but this is the way we live now.

John Hudson's picture

You buy books based on thumbnails of their covers? Isn't there a proverb about not judging a book by (a thumbnail of) its cover? I buy books based on reviews, recommendations or, at least, publisher descriptions of the contents. As far as I'm concerned, what a book looks like is irrelevant until I'm holding it in my hands. I think the notion of reviewing thumbnails of book covers is stupid. It is not 'how we live now', it is just a waste of time because there is nothing to be said about a thumbnail that tells you anything useful about the book.

Nick Shinn's picture

That’s not true.
The design of the cover gives the reader important cues as to what sort of a book is inside.
When I was working for Harlequin, I discovered that there were many sub-genres of women’s fiction, e.g. Historical, Humorous, Erotic, Chicklit, etc., and these each had a corresponding style of cover.
Whether the author’s name or the title is more prominent tells you how well known the author is.
How “clever” the concept is counts too.
When working for Jim Lorimer, he would set up prospective book covers on a pseudo-bookstore shelf, and see what they looked like from afar: not thumbnails per se, but a corresponding angle of vision. The book had to make a good first impression, across a crowded store, and get noticed enough for someone to pick it up and read the blurb, and perhaps open it and read the contents page or a few paragraphs.

I’m surprised the brilliant Mr Kidd designed this dreary, unimaginative cover, though it is well-crafted and presumably on the money. (Perhaps he designed a really cool concept, but the client would have none of it?)

Frank U. Finkelstein's picture

What Mark Twain said about Wagner's music must be applicable here too;
Chip Kidd's design is better than it looks.

hrant's picture

A book cover can give good cues or bad cues - it's really the luck of the draw. For one thing it tends to be designed by somebody besides the person who did the actual book (which is sad) and often with zero input from the author. So I find it's better to [try to] ignore the cover.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Nick, I'm not debating that a cover can provide useful information, especially when part of a differentiated series from a publisher, as in the Harlequin example you give. What I am saying is that thumbnails of designs are not a worthwhile subject of design critique, especially not at the level of type stroke contrast as was happening in this discussion (the hairlines of the type in the image are greying out, whereas in the real object they would have the same stroke density as the main stems). I suppose one can make some general comments about concept and layout, but even there is is difficult to judge the real impact of the physical object from a small, low-res pixelated image.

Nick Shinn's picture

And of course embossing and foil!

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Not a chip of Chip’s block, this one… Pretty lame, actually. Ah well, *anyone* can have an off-day.

Nick Shinn's picture

Right, it’s not the kind of thing that would belong in a “best of” selection by the best book jacket designer of our time, e.g.
http://www.amazon.com/Chip-Kidd-Monographics-Veronique-Vienne/dp/0300099...
His designs are generally quite dramatic, with clever concepts.
This Breyer book has a tombstone layout, and no concept!
—which is plain to see, even in a thumbnail.

However, given the serious content of the book, perhaps it was decided that a “creative” cover was counterproductive. As Bob Gill put it when discussing such content, you shouldn’t get creative if your text is “Cure for cancer discovered”.

hrant's picture

Right. This BTW is why expressive (for example chirographic) fonts are no good for newspapers. You don't want a buxom blonde reading you the news, you want a balding middle-aged man.

hhp

PublishingMojo's picture

@ Frank and Neil: In the early 90s, you used to see a lot of wide letterspacing used with condensed fonts. Quark xPress was everybody's new toy, and they were letterspacing because Quark made it easy, not because it was the best design solution. At the time, I hated it. I thought making the type skinny and then putting wide spaces in it was like running the air conditioner with the windows open.

I guess I've mellowed with the passing years. Now I look at a book jacket like this and think, "That's not how I would have done it, but you know, it works."

Nick Shinn's picture

You don't want a buxom blonde reading you the news, you want a balding middle-aged man.

Unless it’s a sports channel, where you have both.

JamesM's picture

> they were letterspacing because Quark made it easy

Yep, design trends are often influenced by the capabilities of designers' tools.

5star's picture

^Maybe the case, I don't think so tho. A bad design is still a bad design - no excuses required.

n.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

I thought the whole wide spaced condensed motif had been around for quite a while. I kinda like it actually.

Nick Shinn's picture

…they were letterspacing because Quark made it easy…

Well, it would have been a no-go if it was difficult, but the technology to incrementally adjust letterspace in text blocks existed before DTP.

In fact, as a substantial trend it began in the UK in the mid 1980s, as a reaction against the status quo of tight fitting.

The look of amply letterspaced all caps, centred, denotes a serious read, e.g.

Queneau's picture

Just my 5 cents, as is said already, Cip Kidd does brilliant work, but this one is a bit unimaginative. It's not ugly, but it looks quite oldfashioned, or classical but not in a great way. It seems very conservative and serious, but perhaps thats just the thing for this book. But if someone told me its from the 90s, I would not question it...

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