When I was in college, I rigorously adhered to neat and minimal aesthetics. “Sean,” Lorraine Wild said, “Try loosening up. Do something that isn’t polite.” Lou Danziger told me, “Do something ugly.” Since I couldn’t understand this, they suggested I take a year and study in the fine art department. Theoretically, this would lead to a creative epiphany and I would be flinging depressing paint colors around a room. It all started fine, and I made some big expressive paintings of Patsy Cline. On the next iteration, I added text to create an image/text narrative. Then I decided the image wasn’t necessary, so I painted only the text. Finally, I didn’t like the hand-made expressive quality of the text; it seemed forced. So I typeset the text in 8 point Bodoni and mounted it to the canvas. By the end of the year, I had come full circle and was creating minimal type driven work.
I am in awe of those who can work with complexity and decoration and maintain a sense of rigor. So often, this approach can lead to something sentimental and feel like an overwrought Get Well card. Like all good design, a sense of joy is critical. Jessica Hische’s covers for Barnes and Noble Classics are a great example of this. The intricacy of detail is countered by a clear sense of order. The result is something that has an emotional connection to the viewer. You may not have owned a worn copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but Jessica’s cover looks like the one you would have had next to your bed. The reality of something is never as important as our memory. These covers tap into our own narratives and remind us that books are treasured. I also appreciate that Jessica said I was like a “really cool Uncle,” as opposed to “my ancient grandfather.”