Chip Kidd: Book One: Work: 1986-2006, by Chip Kidd

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Do you recognize any of these book covers? Then you know of Chip Kidd’s work.

I first became aware of Chip Kidd when I picked up a book with a striking cover at the library a few years ago. The book was The Cheese Monkeys, and I enjoyed the hilarious over-the-top antics of two art students and a wacky graphic design prof. The jacket copy informed me that Kidd was a leading book cover designer, and so I started keeping an eye out for his work.

Earlier this summer, I visited the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, where they were having a “Design Triennial” to celebrate great design from the past three years. One of the displays was Chip Kidd’s book covers – he had published a retrospective of his work over the past twenty years. I flipped through the book and really liked it. I finally bought it last month when I had an Amazon gift certificate to use.

It’s great. 400 pages of beautiful images of book covers, with a paragraph of commentary from Kidd on each page explaining what he was trying to do. You can see the care and detail which Kidd puts into each and every one of the covers that he designs. I really liked that he includes preliminary sketches, first drafts, and failed attempts of certain covers. By seeing what didn’t work, the reader gets a much better sense of why the final cover does work. It was also great to see his designs for a collection of an author’s work in one place, so that the common design elements popped out.

He also includes great quotes from the authors that he has worked with expressing awe and admiration that Kidd can capture the souls of their books in a few well-designed graphic elements. One memorable account is from a first-time novelist who hated the cover designs that her publisher sent her. Her publisher said “Go to the book store, find a few covers that you like, get the designers’ names, and we’ll go hire one of them to design your cover.” She went to the store, picked four completely different covers so she could get a range of designers, and then found out that all four were designed by Kidd.

While I don’t have an instinct for graphic design myself, I really enjoyed reading about the process that Kidd uses to get his ideas. Sometimes it’s serendipity – while reading the book, he’ll come across an object at a rummage sale that suits the book’s content perfectly. Sometimes it’s hard work – several attempts before converging on one that everybody likes. He will do whatever suits the book’s content best – look at some of the different approaches he uses:

As my experience of finding The Cheese Monkeys demonstrated, a book often is judged by its cover, and can influence somebody to pick up a book they might not otherwise have. If you love books and are interested in graphic design, I’d recommend this book. Come flip through my copy if you’re curious.

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