Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Design of the times

Read Phil Baines's Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005 on Saturday. It's a fascinating look at the cover designs of Penguin books over the last seventy years and the personalities behind them, including latter-day typography heroes Jan Tschichold, Hans Schmoller and Germano Facetti.

Obviously, it's mainly a visual read, but there are some top anecdotes in there too. And you know I love anecdotes...

The 1947 company-wide design reforms
It was a design based on sound principles and well-tried practices, although [text designer] Hans Schmoller, like Jan Tschichold before him, had to repeat the same insistent instructions about 'optically even letterspacing' time after time. Schmoller gained a reputation for his fastidiousness and ability to notice minute variation of detail. He earned the nickname Half-Point Schmoller, 'The only man who could distinguish between a Bembo full point and a Garamond full point at 200 paces.' (p52)

Marshall McLuhan's The Medium is the Massage
"…the title was a mistake. When the book came back from the typesetter, it had on the cover 'Massage' as it still does. The titled should have read The Medium is the Message but the typesetter had made an error. When Marshall McLuhan saw the typo he exclaimed, 'Leave it alone! It's great, and right on target!" Now there are four possible readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: 'Message' and 'Mess Age', 'Massage' and 'Mass Age'." (Eric McLuhan) (p144)

John Berger's Ways of Seeing
The book's design was particularly disliked by Hans Schmoller. "Is this meant to be centred?" was written angrily across cover proofs returned to the designer, and when the printed book was placed on his desk, he promptly hurled it across the room in disgust. (p176)

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