A look at the art movements of the 20th century lists everything from Art Deco, Cubism and Dada to Surrealism, Op Art and Pop Art, but it often skips over the one movement that embodied the youth culture of the mid-century – the psychedelic images of the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps no one influenced that period more than John Van Hamersveld, the southern California surfer-cum-designer whose “Endless Summer” movie poster became emblematic of the sun-drenched surfer culture. Van Hamersveld, who recalls being paid $150 for the poster, took a photograph of the film’s opening scene and converted it into sunset silhouettes by reducing each color to a single tone and giving each shape a single, hard edge. Van Hamersveld went on to design more than 300 record album covers for virtually every major rock star in the ‘60s. For aging baby boomers, Van Hamersveld illustrations are as much a symbol of the times as Beatles tunes, protest marches, acid-trips and love beads. Van Hamersveld’s iconic images are presented in his latest book, “John Van Hamersveld: 50 Years of Graphic Design,” released in June.
Celebrated Dutch book designer Irma Boom continues to push the boundaries of book design by defying the conventional use of publishing materials and printing. Boom’s special edition for Chanel No. 5 is loaded with images and text and uses absolutely no ink. The sheets are completely white and blind embossed throughout. The result is sensual, intriguing, ethereal and haunting, like the best fragrances. Boom’s approach to book design is that of a fine artist. In fact, of the more than 250 books she has designed, more than 50 are in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Boom created this limited edition book for the No. 5 Culture Chanel exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
Designing a book cover is an exercise in balance. The image or graphic has to distill the story without giving away the plot. It has to create “shelf presence” to entice shoppers to pick up the book for a closer look. It has to avoid false advertising, but can’t be boring, even if the content is. It should give shoppers a sense of the genre – suspense, sci-fi, romance, self-help, current events – but imply that the author has a unique and fascinating take on the subject. While it is true that “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” it is also true that you can design a cover that makes shoppers want to buy the book. This video from Random House features interviews with book designers from its publishing groups (Random House, Knopf Doubleday and Crown) providing insights into the complex process of creating compelling, eye-catching and meaningful book cover jackets.
At age 68 when Kit left his partnership at Pentagram after 23 years to set up his own independent studio, we discussed how it would give him the luxury of doing what he wanted to do simply because he wanted to do it. Since I’m not that far behind him in years, I understood the importance of the question, “if not now, when?” Speaking for myself, when I fantasized about becoming a writer in high school, I didn’t have corporate brochures and power point presentations in mind (not that I’m complaining). Our quasi-serious venture, Hirasuna + Hinrichs Special Projects – or as Kit calls it “Hinrichs + Hirasuna Special Projects” – was intended to set aside a small portion of our time and energy to focus on the topics we found of compelling personal interest, whether it was profitable or not. We promised to take turns choosing the topic, since the things that interest me don’t necessarily interest him, and vice versa. Our first project is “Obsessions,” a series of small perfect-bound books on things that fascinate us, even though others may find that inexplicably odd. Kit’s collection of alphabet postcards, an offshoot of his passion for typography, launches the series. We also agreed that the production value must live up to our high standards – i.e., nothing cheesy. This is why it was printed beautifully by Blanchette Press on Sappi McCoy Silk.
Print or digital? That’s a debate that is roiling the publishing business. Here’s an example of a book that can live comfortably in both realms. Back in 2000, New York-based Brazilian designer Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich created a charming ABC picture book as a present for his then two-year-old daughter. Known for integrating typography into his illustrations, deVicq called his book “Bembo’s Zoo,” after an elegant serifed font named for the 16th century poet, Pietro Bembo. DeVicq used the Bembo typeface to create a zoo full of alphabet animals, from Antelope to Zebra. He spelled out the creature’s name in Bembo and then rearranged all the letters in the name into the shape of the animal. It was all Bembo all the way through, and irresistibly clever!
A few years later, deVicq took this exercise a step further by building an interactive website that featured animation (by Mucca design) and sound (by Federico Chiell). The zoo roared to life. It was a natural design evolution, from the word for the animal, to the animal figure built out of those letters, to jungle and ocean sounds, including the yodeling cries of Tarzan. Imaginative, fun and educational. (Click on the illustration above to start the animation.)