The February installment of our series From the Designers Desk brings you a guest post from the wonderfully talented Yve Ludwig, who has had her own independent design practice since 2012. Prior to that, she was an Associate Partner at Pentagram Design. Her work has won numerous awards and recognition from organizations including the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Art Directors Club, Type Directors Club, Society for Environmental Graphic Design, and Print Magazine.
When my husband and I moved into our new apartment this summer, the movers were not pleased with the number of very heavy boxes we had. The culprit was BOOKS. We are both book people, and we have a hard time parting with any that we’ve purchased. (Once in a while we have to negotiate with each other to pare down our collection. If he chooses five to give away, I’ll give away five too.)
It’s not only that I love to read and look at my books—I love to own them. I like to see them as a group and to feel their physical presence in our home. I’m comforted to know that I have access to all of the worlds that they represent. Art, architecture, and design books are especially appealing in this regard—each one is like an exhibition that I can visit whenever I choose. I also have a soft spot for cookbooks.
So it’s no wonder that as a graphic designer, I’ve gravitated toward book design. I love the role that I play in contributing to lasting culture by designing books. I enjoy the challenge and reward of giving a beautiful and appropriate physical form to important ideas. One of my greatest professional joys is to receive the first copies of a book that I’ve designed and to hold it in my hands. Of course, I feel most satisfied when an author or editor thanks me for creating a fitting vessel for the material.
While I’m a proponent of book design that doesn’t overly assert itself, I do feel that a great design can contribute to the reader’s understanding of the subject—both by giving the book a shape and structure that makes it easily navigable and readable and also by subtly imbuing it with the spirit of the content through the choice of typefaces, color, grid, and layout.
Book design is also especially appealing because it gives me an opportunity to engage deeply with a new body of knowledge. Each time I design a book, I feel as if I am taking a course in the subject. I enjoy the process of digesting the material, understanding its structure, themes, and historical context. There is often a satisfying ‘ah ha’ moment when I move from the discovery process into imagining a form for the book.
I recently designed a monograph for Yale Press on the photography of Ezra Stoller. It was a dream job. After having designed a number of mid-century architecture and design books that featured Stoller’s iconic work, I was well aware of how beautiful and important the book would be.
The volume, which takes a contemporary look at Stoller’s work, includes a series of critical essays upfront and a generous portfolio section that explores the breadth of Stoller’s archive beyond the well-known architectural shots. The challenge for me was to reference the historical context in which Stoller worked while creating a decidedly contemporary space in which the work could be looked at anew. I was pleased to identify a typeface called Graphik, by Christian Schwarz, that perfectly fit the bill. Designed in 2009, it is a beautiful, contemporary typeface based on mid-century modern sans serif typography. Used for the cover, headings, and captions—and paired with Mercury Text by Hoefler & Frere-Jones, a contemporary serif—Graphik provided the perfect anchor for a mid-century-inspired contemporary design. The typography and layout provide a simple yet distinctive frame within which the photography can be studied and enjoyed. The book is now a lasting repository for Stoller’s great work.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of designing two books for Yale Press, each entitled ‘Unpacking my Library‘—one focused on the book-collecting habits of architects and the other on writers. Each book contains a series of interviews with its subjects, as well as images of their home libraries and lists of their top ten books from their collection. I treasure these two books about books. They confirm the continuing importance of physical books in an age of increasing digital reading. I feel confident that there will always be a place for books, particularly illustrated books, in the lives and homes of many people. I’m excited to keep designing—and collecting—them.