By Zuzana Licko and Rudy VanderLans
By Zuzana Licko and Rudy VanderLans
NOT-SO-NEW-OBSESSION: VAUGHAN OLIVER
The above images are excerpts from “Visceral Pleasures,” a book composite of Vaughan Oliver’s music packaging and design over the past few decades.
The majority of the work included pre-dates the computer but as you go through the pages, you begin to see subtle differences. With the digital work there’s a change, not necessarily in composition or style, but in color usage, visual effects and subject matter.
Outside the interest of that shift, the book is a great collection of the work that helped define graphic design in the UK in the 1980’s — everything from minimalist design to grunge typography to the layering of elaborate textures.
Which is to say that it’s all really interesting and worth a look.
Buckley, who is admittedly averse to interviews in person or via phone, was gracious enough to answer some of my questions via email about this new collection, which took him several years to compile. I hope to make this a regular monthly Five Questions column for Imprint.
Growing up, were you taken aback by Penguin book designs? What was the first cover that caught your eye?
I honestly cannot say that I had any Penguin moments as a child—until the age of 13 my reading consisted solely of science fiction and anything on biology. Though I do remember my first book cover eureka moment … I was 12 and we had just moved into my stepmother’s house, and everything was new to me. Upon exploring the garage I came upon a huge open box full of pulp books from the ’50s. They really grabbed me and I remember going through them one by one. There were easily 300 books in this box that probably held the washer or dryer; each cover was more insanely fabulous than the next. Not long after, no doubt to make space, that box was thrown out without much thought, which makes me nuts to think about. I fantasize that if I had those books today, I’d somehow create a wall with them, maybe behind a sheet of plexiglas that goes edge to edge, floor to ceiling, and just stare at this beautifully odd spectacle of books.
As a desiger, what was it about Penguin paperbacks that drew you in initially, before you started working for the company?
In this regard, my path was an incredibly lucky one. I was working as both a freelance illustrator and designer and had just come back from a three-month trip through Central America and was looking for something steady just long enough to get my finances back in shape. Through a sister of a friend, I landed an interview at New American Library (NAL) and was immediately hired as a junior mass-market designer. In the next room over, they were doing trade books, and that felt like a much better fit to me. The art director took a liking to me, and two months later, hired me to work on the Dutton and Plume imprints. Soon after I started, NAL merged with Penguin, and the Penguin art director inherited me. He rapidly shook off these new employees, but I was tenacious and put up with everything he threw at me and was the only one that clung on—and I’m still here. So to answer your question, like much in life, I just wound up here; but once I did, I very quickly realized what an amazing place I was in, and I was not leaving. No publishing house has the cachet that Penguin does, and that was very hard-earned on their part. We do the best books and embrace great art and design and the people working on this imprint are wonderful and smart and funny. I was simply extremely lucky.
How did the idea for Penguin 75 come together? How hard was it to narrow the book down to 75 selections?
I am very aware of how much product gets put out there that is completely unnecessary, be it music, movies, books, whatever—it seems that for every good piece of culture we experience, we are bombarded with 99 pieces of redundant crap. I’ve been in the industry for awhile, and of course want to show off the great work we do here, but was not going to put out yet another design book and take your money—you can get that in any annual. To me, often more interesting than the covers are the stories, the psychology that created all the variables that led to this cover over the 20 other proposed covers. So with that in mind, I thought it would be a great idea to have the designer or artist and the author comment on the same cover and what they had to go through to get there. This is a book that has never been done before, and it will appeal to a broader audience than your regular design-book-buying crowd. Anyone interested in art and literature will enjoy this. I pitched the idea to Penguin’s publisher, Kathryn Court, and she liked the idea so much that she asked me to put it on the fast track and complete it in time for our 75th anniversary. Which I did, but it almost killed me! Hence the 75 in the title. Yes, it was very hard to narrow it down to 75 covers—extremely difficult. You must find not only the best covers, but also the best stories and the best authors and artists who are willing to participate. To have all these amazing people give me quotes for the book was truly amazing and so much work to gather and edit, and curate, but I’m very glad I went through it. I learned a ton and have a product I’m very proud of.
Was it easier or harder than you thought it would be make this book work?
It was so much harder than I thought … it was insanely hard. Some authors were too busy, would say “ok” and then not return emails, or gave me comments on the wrong book. Some editors refused to ask certain authors or to let me ask them. Some contributors simply had nothing interesting to say or would not discuss the problems they may have had with their cover due to fears of insulting the designer or author or publisher, etc.—even though they were told repeatedly to let it fly, that’s what the book is about.
On average, what percentage of the initial cover designs are rejected by the author, editor or publisher of the project? As the art director for a lot of these titles, would you say you’re usually happy with the compromises that are made on both ends to end up with the best, most viable cover for said book?
There is no average. It’s mostly an editor-to-editor thing. Some truly get the creative process and respect that a great cover can be the first impulse, whereas I have one editor who cannot be satisfied till every angle has been explored, every stone turned over, and until you hate every project you do together. On the author side, you can have authors whose work you just love, but they just don’t enjoy your aesthetic and force you into a cover you are not proud of. And then there are those that love everything you do, so at the end of the day, it all balances out. Within the Penguin imprint though, we do pretty well, as everyone is extremely supportive of good design and respects the marketing value of distinctive covers on the books. So within the Penguin imprint, I’d say we have a 50/50 batting average right out of the gate, which is pretty good. To be a book designer, you need a very thick skin or the rejections on work you are proud of can really wear you down. Yes, I am generally happy with the compromises—a book is a collaborative effort where many have things at stake, and all involved want it to do well. When you see a book where the designer left his or her credit off, that is an example of where the compromises spun out of control.
(The original article can be found here.)
NOT-SO-NEW-OBSESSION: RYAN BESCH
Outside the obvious Masters-of-Music-Design, White Bicycle, Buffalo can’t really tout many rockstar designers.
Who needs to though, when the ones you do have are as talented as this?
Ryan Besch keeps a pretty low profile in the city but you’d never guess, judging by his work. Check out his site if you feel like being majorly impressed.
I keep doing this. I keep finding bands and thinking,”Omigod! New music! This is great!” Then I look in to them more and realize that I’ve already heard them, already liked them and just hadn’t thought to research them sooner.
Okay, this is a straight-up Car Post. The above is a sample video from the “Porsche by Design” post that’s mentioned here. Watching that reminded me of this blog and that reminded me of this post which reminded me of this awesome weekend NPR show…
And then I tumbled down the rabbit hole and realized that I became my dad somewhere back there….
I’m determined to go to this. The North Carolina Museum of Art is hosting an exhibition called “Porsche by Design" and it’s supposed to be really cool.
Between October 12, 2013 and January 20, 2014, the museum will house 22 automobiles that are on loan from the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. You can go in, see the cars, watch videos and basically marvel at the beauty of the machine.
Cue excitable dance.
Excerpt from “Good Night and Good Luck”
To this day, I have yet to find a better call-to-action on the importance of creative innovation with new technology. The time period had the focus here set around the television but watching this video to the end, the last lines could work just as well for social media, smartphones, the internet, etc.
It’s just interesting.