World-class book cover designer Peter Mendelsund recently sat down with Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies to speak about his craft. The interview covers the why of a book jacket, why dead authors get the best covers, and the future of physical books. My favorite part was his anecdote on the process he goes through when he designs a cover. We should all beware creating “Frankenstein” designs.
DAVIES: And typically, how many versions will you make up?
MENDELSUND: Before I’ll show a jacket, I’ll tend to make a hundred and up various versions of a jacket for it. And that’s before I show in to an editor or an author. And when I show something, I tend to show one – the one that I think really works. I tend not to show multiple options because that sort of engenders confusion in people. And then there’s this kind of – there’s this kind of thing that happens where people look at the various things you’ve made, and they want to pull the aspects of the various comps that they like and put them together in kind of a – into a kind of a Frankenstein jacket. You know, take the color from this one. And the type from that one. And the imagery from that one. Can you make something out of that? One of the interesting things about jackets is that the material isn’t really transposable in that way. You know, one jacket works well with those components. You know, you bring in a different color, and all of a sudden, everything falls to pieces. So I like to show one thing only when I show the client.
In the last 20 years, there’s no other designer who’s pushed the boundaries of industrial design than Jonathan Ive. His work at Apple has proven that considered design choices are critical to a successful product, as seen by a radical shift in the world toward design-focused first mindset. A few days ago Vanity Fair published the video interview of Jonathan Ive’s talk with Vanity Fair’s EIC Graydon Carter from their recent New Establishment Summit.
The interview is essential in my eyes, with topics covered like worries and joys of being Jony Ive, being a part of a creative team, the birth of a physical object, the seduction of “cool” features, that copying Apple’s designs is theft, and much, much more. My favorite line in the talk is one similar to what he said in the recent Vogue article about him, where he says, “Isn’t that curious? Because if you tasted some food that you didn’t think tasted right, you would assume that the food was wrong. But for some reason, it’s part of the human condition that if we struggle to use something, we assume that the problem resides with us.”
I was first introduced to Japanese painter Yayoi Kusama thanks to the 2007 documentary Marc Jacobs Louis Vuitton, a film which I found to be hugely inspirational and I can’t recommend enough. Since the 60s she’s been spreading her spots everywhere and applying them to literally everything: from canvas to sculptures, on fashionable bags and as a part of sprawling museum installations. Recently she spoke with Sophie Knight for The Telegraph about her life, her inspirations, and the source of her talent (kind of).
Kusama says that all her inspiration comes from within her mind, with no conscious thought, or influence from other artists, most of whom she dismisses (“Picasso painted thousands of pictures in one style, whereas my art covers every kind of idea,” she boasted once.)
“A lot of artists have to draw first with pencil, but I paint directly. Many people ask me, ‘How do you draw that?’ and I just say, ‘Ask my hand!’” she says.
It’s a great piece and a great reminder that no matter what we as creatives have a responsibility to keep on making. If she can get up at 3am and make all day long so can you.
The Financial Times’ How To Spend It section has an in-depth interview/profile on designer of all things Issey Miyake, highlighting his current projects, the variety of his projects, speaking to his peers, his work process, and his own inspirations. The man is 76 so it makes sense that he’s done so much, but the paragraph below is a perfect example of just how much he’s actually working on with his team.
The hub of Miyake’s empire is the Reality Lab department at the Miyake Design Studio. This is where his small team – including textile engineer Manabu Kikuchi, pattern engineer Sachiko Yamamoto and employees who have been working with him since before the Issey Miyake brand launched in 1971 – articulate designs for the 132 5. collection that often have their basis in complex computer-generated 3D shapes by Jun Mitani, associate professor at the Department of Computer Science, Tsukuba University. 132 5. is one part origami, two parts advanced mathematics; the result includes the new Grid cardigan (£645) and skirt (£425) with triangular panels of grey, blue and green. For the 132 5. spring collection, dynamic helix shapes, originally developed by scientists for solar panels orbiting the earth, have been reworked into flat patterns and garments. The process is both difficult and extraordinary – two things that clearly excite Miyake, for whom the journey of creation is as stimulating as the end result.
I wanna’ be like Miyake.
There’s a nice interview over on The New York Times Bits blog with Jonny Ive where he speaks about the culture of Apple and how it’s remained unchanged since Steve Jobs’ passing. Below is my favorite part where he speaks about the importance of focusing on the product you’re trying to build, and I think it’s really great advice that I try to follow in my day job.
One of the values of things I learned absolutely directly from Steve was the whole issue of focus. What are we focusing on: focus on product. I wish I could do a better job in communicating this truth here, which is when you really are focused on the product, that’s not a platitude. When that truly is your reason for coming into the studio, is just to try to make the very best product you can, when that is exclusive of everything else, it’s remarkable how insignificant or unimportant a lot of other stuff becomes. Titles or organizational structures, that’s not the lens through which we see our peers.
There’s a great interview with Kenya Hara over on Japan Times where he speaks about the future of design. It’s interesting to read that Hara’s idea of the future are intrinsically tied to the past, that Japan needs to change in order to move forward.
“I feel the designer’s role has changed in recent years from one of creating beautiful forms or clear identification for brands to one where the designer himself visualizes the possibilities of an industry.” And just to ensure he gets his point across, he restates his position in English. “Visualizing and awakening the hidden possibility of an industry,” he says.
Can creativity change the world? Advertising agency DDB NY would like to think so, as demonstrated in their new campaign for the Smithsonian National Zoo, the Endangered Song. In an effort to spread awareness of the less than 400 Sumatran Tigers left in the world, the two teamed up with rock band Portugal. The Man to manufacture and record a song. Not just any ol’song, but one created to go extinct, unless digitally reproduced. It’s a wholly clever solution, reminding us of creativity’s importance and influence. I was afforded the opportunity to pick the brains of the two creatives behind it all to find out more. Continue reading this post…
The Great Discontent interviews designer John Maeda about his path in life, his mentors, taking risks, and lots of great stuff. This point about being a part of a community caught my eye.
Is it important to you to be part of a creative community?
Creative or not, it’s important to be in a diverse community with people who have different backgrounds and skills. I think that’s why New York is such a great place to live. There’s so much diversity. I’d rather be a creature in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef that is teeming with life of all kinds than in someone’s pond with carp.
Couldn’t agree more. Limiting your learning environment to those like you limits the amount of things you can learn overall.