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Anatomy of Design by Mirko Ilic, Steven Heller

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43
ANATOMY OF DESIGN
Designing one’s own design monograph—the testament to a life’s work (or
portion thereof)—can be an overwrought self-conscious act. Yet because the
monograph is such personal document, its design arguably should be an
extension of the subject’s sensibility and, therefore, not simply a neutral
vessel but an added expressive statement that both complements and
supplements the retrospective material. Chip Kidd’s eponymous 2006 volume,
optimistically subtitled Book One, is just such a high-intensity production.
Known for pushing the proverbial boundaries of book jacket design—from
purely illustrative to conceptually pictorial and typographical—Kidd probably
could not have designed a book about himself without radically playing with
the verities of design. For Kidd, the book jacket has always been a canvas for
creating illusions either in two-dimensional space or, frequently, using die-cuts
and slip-sheets to simulate three dimensions.
For this monograph he took a few production (and perhaps marketing)
risks, more akin to artist books than commercial trade books. Produced as a
long horizontal (which is not easy to shelve), the paper-over-boards book cover
actually covers only half the length of the pages. The short-cut case leaves the
rest of the pages to flap (so to speak) in the wind. But whether this approach
succeeds or not is almost irrelevant to what Kidd has metaphorically achieved.
One-half of this volume is a conventional book, while the other is a
demonstration of his hubris—as though he is saying to the reader:
I can take
even the most prescriptive media form—the book—and make it novel (not in the
literary sense, but in the “what can be done that has yet to be done” sense).
Yet, in truth, the categories of “book as object” and “book as illusion” are
not entirely novel. Kidd employed various pictorial conceits—for instance, that
date to early-twentieth-century book and poster design, when photo manipulation
was the rage. The book photographed as an object sitting in another book—a
modern adaptation of the trompe l’oeil painting—is a common means of toying
with viewer perception and adding depth to the flat page surface. In this case,
Kidd wittily made the book-within-the-book rather petite, evidenced by the large
thumbs holding open the otherwise demure title page spread, perhaps
suggesting that his collected works are also small in comparison to the history
of book design. But once inside, the scale of the jackets and covers is almost
always full-sized and actually rather crammed together.
The hands (and fingers) holding the book-within-a-book thus form a
visual chestnut—which isn’t to say the approach lacks effect but rather that it
might prompt a déjà vu or two. Nonetheless, it is a clever means of revealing
the human presence, albeit disembodied, in imagery that is object oriented. The
hands also serve as an ersatz frame for the pictorial elements being held,
which optimally draws the viewer into seeing the images as more than mere
pictures but as artifacts as well. Kidd takes the hand-holding motif a step
further in the postcard/invitation announcing publication of his monograph,
where he (or some high-priced hand model with flawless digits) is
photographed holding the title page with him holding the book. Convoluted? It
could be more so if it were done ad infinitum, like a dual mirror effect. Actually,
the picture of the real hand with normal-sized thumb holding the photograph
with its super-sized thumb is the equivalent of graphic design slapstick, and for
some reason this always evokes a smile in the eye.
In addition to these combined cover conceits, Kidd’s monograph takes
another risk—which might be called the kitchen sink design style—in credibly
displaying his work. As noted, the interior is jam-packed with layers of material
that in many ways is counterintuitive to Kidd’s own high degree of elegant
reductionism, but it also challenges the reader’s appreciation. Contrasted to the
simplicity of the title and title page, the cramming of large covers, sketches,
and other visual ephemera convey a kind of scrapbook aesthetic. While the
words and pictures are related, seamless integration is rejected in favor of
oversaturation, and marginal white space is at a premium, as though Kidd is
suggesting there just weren’t enough pages for his swollen oeuvre.
Chip Kidd: Book One
Designer: Chip Kidd
2006 Chip Kidd: Book One, book
ad: Mark Melnick d: Chip Kidd p: Geoff Spear
Known for pushing the proverbial boundaries of book jacket design—from
purely illustrative to conceptually pictorial and typographical—Kidd probably
could not have designed a book about himself without radically playing with
the verities of design.
Are these my hands?
Book-in-a-book
Small cover, big book
Saturated spreads

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