Thursday, February 23, 2006

Chip Kidd's book and its covers

I think what first intrigued me about Chip Kidd's Book One - Work: 1986-2006 were the thumbs. I'm always interested by people who model various parts of their bodies, like their fingers or elbows; and I suppose I have a somewhat vain idea that my own hands aren't so unattractive, at least for a bass player. Still, my thumbs look nothing like those on this book cover - they lack that elegant, molded roundness - so I guess I will have to humble my digital pretensions.

Even without those pretensions, this is a book that literally begs to be opened, and it's difficult to resist. After giving in to temptation, you find incredible visual interest on every page, from the layout and script, to the photography and images, and of course the book covers. Book covers have made Chip Kidd famous, and they make this book a great joy to skim, browse, or pore over... um... cover to cover. We've all been warned not to judge a book by its cover, but for many people books serve as affordable visual art objects. A great cover can not only decorate and illuminate the text it binds - it can even provide pleasing decoration for a meager home or apartment. My bookshelf is certainly the most visually appealing thing in my room.

And looking over these covers, I was surprised how many are not just attractive but intimately familiar, memorable and precious. Many of these covers sparked my first interest in a book, that initial curiosity which leads to tentative blurb-checking, inner cover fondling, then complete infatuation, and hours spent sprawled in bed, unable to put it down. Maybe the lust analogy goes a little far, but books really can inspire passion, and I might never have discovered some of my favorite authors, I realized, were it not for Chip Kidd's visually arresting, intellectually engaging designs.

It also renewed my appreciation for the work of designers in all forms. My twin brother Dan is a graphic designer, and while he doesn't do book covers, he and Chip Kidd probably struggle with many of the same issues of clarity and presentation. Ordinarily I am completely oblivious to these issues, so Dan doesn't even try to explain them - as you can see from my blog here, design has never been a strength or a priority of mine. Still though, I can tell when it's done well, and it inspires me to improve the ways I organize space, to refine my use of script and image, to reexamine how form relates to functionality - maybe even to clean my room. Right after I finish reading this gorgeous book.

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