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Posts Tagged ‘design’

Criterion at Thirty

October 27, 2015 | by

CriterionDesigns_BBS_coversI’d always thought that designing new packaging for a classic film was like designing a jacket for a new edition of a well-known book: both are associated, in the popular imagination, with familiar, even beloved, graphics. If the designer strays too far from the original vision, the potential for public outcry is high. But where a book offers visual freedom—our minds are free to imagine the scenes and the various characters—a movie comes with a profusion of visual material that’s not soon forgotten. There’s the original theatrical poster, and then, of course, there’s the very film itself, and all the iconic images we associate with it. For designers, translating a director’s vision is hard enough the first time. How do you do it again?

The Criterion Collection is known for its impeccable taste in classic and contemporary films, and for the artful packaging that puts these films in a much-needed new light. Late last year, I sat down with their head art director of more than a decade, Sarah Habibi, and designer/art director Eric Skillman, who were celebrating the recent publication of a book they’d produced at breakneck speed in time for Criterion’s thirtieth anniversary: Criterion Designs, an illumination of their process in imagining some of the collection’s most successful projects. Read More »

Beauty at the Cash Register, and Other News

October 19, 2015 | by

From the cover of Design for Point of Sale.

  • Weimar Berlin is “typically presented as a nonstop freak show of grotesque transvestites and mutilated war vets, lumpen Brechtian beggars and top-hatted industrialists, Charleston-crazed floozies, effete gigolos, and brazen rent boys”: imagery at once bolstered and challenged by “Berlin Metropolis: 1918–1933,” an exhibition at Neue Galerie. “Drawing on 350 well-chosen examples displayed in six jam-packed galleries arranged by Richard Pandiscio (who also designed the handsome catalog), the survey summons up the fast-paced, jittery, but scintillating atmosphere of a wide-open world city that attracted foreign hedonists enticed by its louche nightlife.”
  • Chris Ware’s new illustrated essay is about why he loves comics, in a very, very, very big-picture sense: he invokes neuroscience, linguistics, and cosmology. “Really, when one comes right down to it, in the end, that’s all we have. Our memories! Not to bum anyone out, though … As organisms on a planet that’s bifurcated by a daily passing dance between shadow and radiation, comics are, like, the perfect art form!”
  • Today in midcentury design nostalgia: Ladislav Sutnar’s Design for Point of Sale, a 1952 guide inflected with the ideals of the Bauhaus, is “easily the most exquisite book about supermarket store displays ever created.” Here, at last, is your chance to master that most delicate art: retail. Sutnar—who was also the guy who told Bell Telephone to put area codes in parentheses, a major advance in telephone-number design—gives us “page after page of beautiful layouts with ample white space, as well as his architectural renderings of point-of-purchase display spaces.”
  • While we’re stuck in the fifties, go ahead and answer these questions: In a first edition would you prefer a soiled original binding to one in morocco? What great country has never produced a great painter? Would you like to see more of our public buildings decorated by artists? What is the origin of the romantic conception of love in the Western world? Name several of the leading nineteenth-century antagonists of revealed religion. These are drawn from The Cultured Man, a 1958 book of quizzes that aimed to elevate mankind by asking him not just about facts, but about his attitudes. Its author, Ashley Montagu, believed that “a person considered ‘cultured’ would not just be able to readily summon facts, but also to access humane feelings,” and that nothing could access these feelings quite like a good quiz.
  • On Percival Everett, whose new collection of stories, Half an Inch of Water, extends his satirical purview: “He rarely does publicity, doesn’t write reviews, and doesn’t read reviews of his own work; he is probably not coming soon to a bookstore near you. His novels tend to be both choppy and dense, with chapters broken up into one- or two-page scenes that are riven with philosophical asides, interpolations from outside texts, wordplay, classical allusions, self-interrogations, metafictional interjections, and the occasional photograph, drawing, mathematical equation, or semiotic square … Everett’s novels suggest that the self is a patch job, a cognitive illusion. It’s no surprise, then, that the shift to the third person in his short fiction feels like a kind of liberation, a sweet relief. And if the price of that shift is a loss of intimacy or immediacy, the reward is composure and lucidity —which, it turns out, are not the same as comprehension. You can see something clearly and still not know what to make of it, or even what it is.”

The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic

August 24, 2015 | by

Oskar Garvens, 1925.

Compared to other aspects of the book arts—typography, binding, tooling—the dust jacket is a pretty recent innovation. Depending on whom you ask, it was born either in 1833, to adorn an English novel called Heath’s Keepsake, or it was an earlier, French invention, a maturation of the yellow paper jackets their softcover books often came wrapped in.

In any case, the dust jacket didn’t come to Germany until around 1900—but by the birth of the Weimar Republic, nineteen years later, German artists were doing incredible things with the medium. The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic is a catalogue of the Jürgen and Waltraud Holstein collection, comprising the covers of a thousand books published between 1919 and 1933 by some 250 houses in Berlin. Between the two world wars, the city enjoyed an astonishing expansion in its book production and its libraries: from 1920 to 1927, about three hundred new publishing houses emerged, many of them intent on printing books that experimented with the latest advances in art and design. As Steven Heller explains at Design Observer, there was a practical reason for the design boom, too: Read More »

The Magazine of the Southwest

July 17, 2015 | by


From Desert’s masthead.

Nicole’s staff pick from earlier today reminded me: I’ve been meaning to draw attention to the riches of’s Magazine Rack, a clearinghouse for defunct, forgotten, and abstruse periodicals from decades past. Anyone interested in media and design will find something diverting here. They’ve amassed a stupefyingly diverse collection, including such celebrated titles as OMNI (once the best sci-fi magazine around) and more … specialized fare, like The National Locksmith, Railway Modeller, and, of course, Sponsor, the magazine for radio and TV advertising buyers. All of these have been carefully digitized, and they’re free.

The best discovery I’ve made so far is Desert Magazine, a monthly dedicated to everyone’s favorite Class B Köppen climate classification. A journal of the Southwest with a conservationist bent, Desert dates to 1937 and ran for nearly fifty years, ceasing publication in 1985. Its founder and longtime publisher, Randall Henderson, died in 1970, well before I was born, but I like the cut of his jib. (Probably the wrong metaphor—few occasions for sailing in the desert.) In any case, he sounds like a copywriter from the J. Peterman Company: Read More »

“Isn’t It Nice?”

April 22, 2015 | by

In the age of the List, comparing editions of Lolita has become a national pastime. (That may be overstating the case. But there are at least two such lists in existence.)

But I hasten to say: this is not mere hackery! Or, if it is, it is a sort of hackery endorsed by one Vladimir Nabokov himself! In this clip (part of a longer film, well worth watching when you have the time) the author displays all the foreign editions of Lolita with the unself-conscious pride of a greedy baby.

(Incidentally, I'm pretty sure the elderly Turkish Lolita he references is this specimen, rivaled in unsexiness only by the somber, vaguely Keene-ish child who graces the 1963 French edition.) 

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.

Anatomy of a Cover: The Complete Works of Flannery O’Connor

April 10, 2015 | by


At the time of her death, at age thirty-nine, Flannery O’Connor had published only two novels, thirty-one short stories, and a small book’s worth of literary criticism and critical essays. “In most English classes,” she once wrote, “the short story has become a kind of literary specimen to be dissected.” O’Connor, of course, was referring to her readers experiencing the work, not picking it apart in a writers’ workshop. That same principle drove Charlotte Strick and June Glasson in their recent redesign of the covers of O’Connor’s five books. Strick, the former art director of Farrar, Straus and Giroux and current coprinciple of the design firm Strick&Williams (as well as the art editor of The Paris Review), approached Glasson, an illustrator, about the project in 2013. Four of the five redesigned jackets have been released, with the last coming next month.

Glasson and Strick met through happenstance—a journey that began at a doctor’s office. “Years ago,” Strick says, “while absentmindedly flipping through a magazine in my doctor’s waiting room, I serendipitously stumbled upon a piece about June. I thought her work had a strange, seductive and unique beauty all its own.”

In 2012, Strick commissioned Glasson to create illustrations to accompany an essay by author Rich Cohen about French-American pirate Jean Lafitte and 1800s piracy in New Orleans, which appeared in The Paris Review no. 201. This collaboration triggered Strick’s art-director instinct, and she returned to Glasson when it came time to reenvision O’Connor’s works. “June is capable of imbuing her paintings with a curious maleficence,” Strick told me. “She seemed up for the task of tackling O’Connor.” Read More »