Celebrating Book Design at AAUP

Every June the Association of American University Presses holds its annual meeting. In this post, Direct Marketing Manager and Sales Associate Julie Thomson shares one of her favorite aspects of the meeting: attending the annual Book, Jacket, and Journal Show panel where the jurors talk about the designs they selected.

This year’s jurors were:

  • Nola Burger, Designer,Callisto Media;
  • Ned Drew, Professor of Graphic Design & Design History, Rutgers-Newark; Partner,BRED; and co-author of By Its Cover: Modern American Book Cover Design;
  • Renate Gokl, Associate Professor & Chair of Visual Communication Design, Art Institute of Chicago;
  • Simon JohnstonSimon Johnston Design; Professor & Director of Print, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena

The 2015 Book, Jacket, and Journal Show marks the 50th anniversary of this juried exhibition. The jurors selected 46 books, 32 jackets and covers, 1 journal, and 3 digital publications—a new category added this year—as the very best examples of design. You might recall the announcement of the winners from Duke University Press in this post.

Forms of the AffectFor their presentation at AAUP each juror selected five to ten of their favorites to talk about. Simon Johnston began by showing Amy Ruth Buchanan’s design for The Forms of the Affects by Eugenie Brinkema, a winner in the Scholarly Typographic and the Jackets and Covers categories.  He waxed poetic about the details; “the eye, the tear, the drop, the ripple, the forms, the affects.” He singled out his love for the conceptual resonance of the tear and called the design “braveness on the part of the designer.” It was such a beautiful response to this striking cover. After the presentation Ned Drew mentioned that this was a book that he would have talked about if Johnston hadn’t already.

Renate Gokl began her portion by talking about the way designers “develop and draw relationships between form and content to communicate something beyond the subject matter.” She added that this can be meeting the reader’s need, but that it can also be including details that “delight the reader.”

Beautiful DataThe Duke University Press book that she focused on was Beautiful Data by Orit Halpern, a winner in the Scholarly Illustrated category, with an interior designed by Courtney Baker and a cover designed by Natalie F. Smith. Gokl praised the filmic use of images, the consciousness of using the horizontal span, and the use of the color black.

Dillon_pbk_cvr_NS.inddThe favorites selected by Nola Berger included a range of more typographic cover designs, showing examples of great artistic achievement with this approach. Discussing the design for Elizabeth Dillon’s New World Drama, she noted that Natalie F. Smith’s use of two typefaces in the title “conceptually mimics” the illustration used on the cover. Berger also complimented Smith’s use of italics and capitalization to create a texture with the cover type.

A number of judges touched on the conceptual approaches to covers and designs. I think this is an area where university press designers have space to figure out ways to engage with, and respond to, the complex ideas of the books we publish. This is another area where a designer’s choice of type, art, and execution, in relation to a book’s topic can produce delight for the book’s constituencies and audiences.

I also spoke on a panel about cover art, representing book marketing’s involvement in the cover art process. It was chaired by Rob Ehle, Art Director at Stanford University Press; the other presenters were Christie Henry, Editorial Director, Sciences and Social Sciences at University of Chicago Press, and Tom Eykemans, Senior Designer at University of Washington Press. We each spoke about the cover art process from our various perspectives and Eykemans gave a fascinating overview of the history of university press design. Discussing the history and evolution of university press book design alongside industry changes and current practices across our presses, allowed us each to reflect more on our current practices and to provide ideas for new approaches to other presses.

There’s no one way to go about designing a book, but I have to admit that I delight in being around our acclaimed designers, and seeing the ideas and directions that they come up with for our diverse and interdisciplinary books. I’m not alone in this; authors, booksellers, and conference attendees often sing the praises of our designers. Their work is a critical part of the Duke University Press brand.