Sunday, June 7, 2009

Chip Kidd--The Master of Design Disaster, and More

Meet the rock star of Book Jacket Design

If you haven’t heard of Chip Kidd, well now you will. And the only reason I learned about him was because, as a designer myself, I was curious enough to find out who designed McCarthy’s Border Trilogy book covers. Not because I liked the designs, but because I found them…odd. Not odd in a bad way, but just strange enough to make me want to look into the story behind the designer.

His oddest cover of the trilogy is the first, from All the Pretty Horses. Every time I looked at that cover on the internet, I couldn’t make out the imagery. It looked like some kind of furry, freakish Teradactile, belly-up, wanting to take a bite out of something. (I know, I need help.) Of course, the image was just not large enough to figure it out. But when I got the book, I was amazed at the composition of this image. It was, of course, the mane of a young pony and what had appeared like the beak of the Teradactile was the pony’s ears. Why couldn’t I figure that out to begin with? Good question. I think it was like one of those Rorschach Inkblot Tests. Like when you look at the Batman logo, sometimes it looks like a pair of large fangs, sometimes it looks like, well, the Batman logo. It all depends on which image you see, the negative or the positive.

Okay, you get the idea. I’m delusional. The point is, opposites attract, meaning that unlike my designs, which are more like reality taken into another dimension, Kidd’s designs, for the most part, are very abstract, unconventional, and to me, disturbing. And I mean that in the sense that they’re so unusual, they make me uncomfortable, and I’m referring to my mind’s eye, as a designer.

Kidd certainly breaks every rule in the design book, over and over again. Of course you have to know the rules in order to break them. And I think it’s safe to say that Chip Kidd does not aspire to be the next Da Vinci or Michaelangelo of the modern art world. He’s very happy being Chip Kidd, the rebel, anti designer. Have you seen Tarantino’s Death Proof? There’s an interesting comparison, right there. (BTW, Tarantino’s upcoming Inglorious Basterds is sure to become a masterpiece.)

So let’s get to the real question. How do book cover designs influence your decision to buy the book? Or do they have any influence at all? I’ve never bought a book just because of its cover, I think. Although, book covers weigh-in as far as my decision to buy certain stories. Although, as an art lover, I’ve been tempted to buy a book just because of the cover artwork. Too many to mention, though. But the story does come first. It’s just so much better if I really like the cover. It makes my buying decision so much easier. And there you have the reason behind alluring covers. They help sell stories. If I had money to burn, I suppose I would collect thousands of books just for their cover artwork, but for the most part, I don’t. There are a few exceptions that I couldn’t resist and will remain unmentioned. (Go ahead writers, burn me at the stake.)

That in no way suggests that I’m putting art over literature. Although, I will buy a book based on its cover art, even if the story is not a genre that I usually read, as long as the story has something to offer that is useful to me. That said, I’m a stickler for Literary Fiction.

So here’s the thing. Many people do buy Chip Kidd’s cover designs for the sake of the art, not so much the story. Why? Because Chip Kidd is a brand unto himself, and his artwork is collectible. Yes, his art is hideous at times, “monstrously ugly” in the words of the late John Updike, but Kidd has managed to break through the stereotypical world of design and has become an icon of sorts to those who appreciate the Avant Garde. Not a bad position to be in if you’re a graphic designer.

But not all of Kidd’s jacket designs are hideous. I especially like, Celluloid Skyline, for James Sanders, Hard Rain for Tim Riley, and Augusten Burrough’s cover for Magical Thinking, to name just three.

So who is Chip Kidd, after all? Glad you asked. He’s more than a graphic designer. He’s also a writer and a musician. (Cool music too. He might have missed hi real calling—so far.)

Bottom line: Chip Kidd is a brave man. Check out this hilarious video to see what I mean.

Here’ his website:


So What's going on for next Monday? I'm delving into one of my favorite topics, Impulse Buying (yes, I'm preaching to the choir again) only this time I'll talk about another aspect about buying decisions that also influences the impulse purchase and how you can apply it to marketing your book. See you then.