This project was designed by Peter Mendelsund, that now is working as an art director in Schocken, Knopf and Pantheon books, which all are the parts of Random House publishing company. His book jackets are well-known and discussed. He redesigned covers of Fedor Dostoyevsky and Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce and Julio Cortázar, and designed covers for Stieg Larsson, David Leavitt, Adam Gopnik, etc.
He started as a random designer and then was promoted. Tll his thirties, he was earning a living that accompanied piano and played church organ. Once he realised he didn't have enough money and need to find new job. He is from family, where everybody "eats" books, but he was never thinking about design them. So first he designed some CD covers for the studio he worked with as a musician and once he got
a chance to show his work to Knopf's associate
art director Chip Kidd. As now he is saying,
it was really unexpected, he was hired. He was extremely lucky because with the same chances he could find himself washing dishes or making makrame things. He respects books and he is afraid he will loose his job in 5-10 years, because of the Ipads and Kindles. And for sure he knows that rythm is, cause it's quite important for music, and also for typography and graphic design.
His approach is beautiful design, and in his interview with Debbie Millman on designobserver.com he said: "I guess the bottom line it has to beautiful, whatever you think that means,
it has either be stunning or shocking, it has to gravitationally pull you towards, it has to be pretty. I think a lot of things about book jackets, but all
of these things assigned the primary thing, that
it has to be is pretty, it has to catch your eye.
I mean the book, it really does three things:
it advertises itself before you buy it, it obviously contains the text that you read. So, anyway,
the first part of occasion is just sell you the book, so in a way it's a big part of what we designers do, is advertise the thing, so it has to be compelling on some level and then i believe the jacket does other things in consequentially two stages, but you don't get into these stages without the first stage, you got to make the sale. What really makes a great book-jacket that,
i think, that evolves along with the reading of
the text. There is should be ideally some point when a reader reads the book, you've made, while they casually looked at the jacket and there'll be some sort of connection made, that will emerge in that point and then to do a jacket that
will stand the taste of time in a sense that people want it in their houses."1
So, obviously, Peter Mendelsund is designer
who is thinking and not just doing things.
His career is now lasts for 10 years, so if he even pretends on some interviews that he is not good in graphic design history, it's actually not so true, but as every person he has his own tastes and preferences. I found some information about it
in his interview with Christopher Tobias.
"Christopher Tobias: Do you have anyone or anything that has had the most influence on your design work?
Peter Mendelsund: I suppose the Constructivists are a huge influence. Rodchenko, Rozanova,
El Lissitsky, etc. They just utilized type and image ingeniously, playfully, and Alvin Lustig. I'm a big fan of the illustrative, abstract book jacket, of which he was the undisputed American master.
In terms of the living, breathing designers, I guess Jaime Keenan, John Gray and John Gall would be my favorite designers to emulate. The three J's."2
In his blog, http://jacketmechanical.blogspot.it/ there is a gallery of works. All of them very different, but touching, and techniques he uses
to achieve the "prettyness" about which he is talking so much, is very different too. There is
no obvious consistancy in his works. The element
1 Interview Debbie Millman and Peter Mendelsund on Design Matters. May contain mismatch, written from recording. (http://observermedia.designobserver.com/audio/peter-men)
2 An interview with designer. (http://www.designrelated.com/news/feature_view/16)
that unites all his works for me is beauty, that for sure is very unprofessional and subjective definition. But there is a hidden connection between book jacket and content, that opens to you only when you start your reading. Cover is something like a key, but it shouldn't bother you or dictate the rules. One of his approaches is to bring back abstraction in cover design, using illustration, because they don't interfere in your imagination.
essential information on the client
(where, when, field of activity, approach)
Client for re-design Kafka serie of books is particulary Peter Mendelsund and Schocken Publishing House on general, that owns English-language rights on Kafka novels. They were given
to Salman Schocken (the creator of Schocken house) by Max Brod, close friend of Franz Kafka.
The approach of Schocken is to give a good,
eye-catching design to books, that they publish.
So, covers need to be redesigned to increase sales, it is publishing house approach, more global one is to create covers, that will become classics of graphic design.
theme and goal
The theme is the covers for Franz Kafka novels and stories. They were chosen for redesign.
As Peter Mendelsund said in one of his interviews, the goal was "to rebrand Kafka".
For me it sounds weird, but maybe i changed
my mind after reading all interviews and articles.
Now that serie counts 8 covers for the following books: "The Castle", "Amerika", "Diaries",
"The Metamorphosis", "The Trial", "Aphorisms",
"The Sons", "The complete stories".
description of the design solution (and technical characteristics if relevant)
There are 8 different covers, each of them has
his own illustration. They also have their own colors and compostition, but they are made in
the same style. The main element of all covers
is eye, that is used in different sizes, colors
and quantities. Main point that differs that design from previous Kafka covers from other designers is using of bright, unusual, positive colors.
Peter Mendelsund used two typefaces. One
of them is serif one, famous Times New Roman
and handwritten one is FF Mister K Pro.
This choice combines the classics with Kafka personality, but in that case FF Mister K Pro deserves more attention. It is based on Kafka drafts writing. I think it has unique style and otherwise it is very versatile. The creation of this typeface was initiated by finish typedesigner Julia Sysmäläinen. The amount of work that designers
have done creating this type is really astonish.
"The manuscripts of the two best known novels The Castle and The Trial were the source
of inspiration for the design of the typeface 'FF Mister K' and their main characters (K., Josef K.) gave it its name.[...] One of the main tasks was the transformation of the writer's eccentric letters with their strong form and size variations into a character set that enables a balanced typographic flow."3 First weights were released in 2008 by FontShop International and since then it was nominated and awarded many times.
Now there are 5 people working on this typeface. Peter Mendelsund used this typeface for book title, changing its position or size on every cover. He is also changing the position of Kafka name from cover to cover, but i, actually, like the way
he put these two types on the cover plane.
He pushes them into communication, and places them to create movement. And they works very good together.
"Also I'm pretty tired of all the nostalgic seventies and early eighties typography out there, especially all the Avant-Garde, Poster Bodoni, ITC Grouch, Bookman Swash kinda vibe.
These days I'm trying to restrict the faces I'm working with to just well-made classics."4
So, probably, the choice of typefaces is obvious, one is "Kafka" typeface and other is classic one, but it works so well due to several hundred ligatures that gives the true impression of real Kafka writing and storytelling.
3 Mister K's genesis (http://ffmisterk.com/the-story)
4 An interview with designer. (http://www.designrelated.com/news/feature_view/16)
Also after publishing books, Peter Mendelsund officially announced that from now they are using FF Mister K Pro for Schocken new logotype, that i suppose is very consistent with what are Schocken books about.
Next question is why Peter Mendelsund uses illustration, not photos? He answers on that question in many interviews,this is one of them:
"I am drawn to abstract illustrated jackets (as most dust jackets were, up until the eighties) because, generally speaking, these covers leave more to the reader's imagination than one using
a photograph will (and, incidentally, the authors who I've informally polled on this issue agree with me). As a result I've tended to work with illustration more than photography, though
I would say that I am trending back the other direction now that jackets are beginning to be predominantly illustrative again."5 For me position is right and i am totally agree. It is the same thing, that usually happens when you first read the book and then see the screening version of novel and all actors look completely different.
Or, that is worse, you see the film first and then you read the book. Film here is like a cover, it dictates you images, that then you can't rid off. Using of simple covers or illustrations really gives reader an additional work to his brain
and especially imagination.
Peter Mendelsund used simple shapes in his illustrations and colors are unexpectacly bright.
I read some comments, where people say it
5 Behind the Cover: Questions for Designer Peter Mendelsund. (http://www.omnivoracious.com/2009/11/behind-the-cover-questions-for-designer-peter-mendelsund.html)
looks like it is for kids. This combination of colors, simple illustrations, this handwriting typeface. Yes, for sure, colors used are very bright, somehow even more positive, than people usually expect thinking about Kafka novels, even for me. But it was Peter Mendelsund purpose and it has explanation he gave to Debbie Millman:
"Peter: There is some sort of misunderstood,
i'm trying to rebrand Kafka.
Debbie: So you repositioned Kafka as a humorist?
Peter: He is more than that, but he is also that,
but he is not as a pessemist "6
critical evaluation: why is this project interesting? what can we learn from it? relevance of the design solution for the given theme
I really like this redesign. First impression, when
i saw it in one of the blogs was yes, it looks really attractive and well-designed. Than in second impression some sort of contradiction appears. When you see all your life Kafka covers as dark ones, you get your dose of stereotypes how
it should look like. So previous covers of Kafka books work for these new cover in the same manner that new covers work for book. They create you an image, cut off your imagination somehow and now, when somebody says to you: there is a lot of humor inside, it's not only about burocratic stuff and so on, you'll start thinking
6 Interview Debbie Millman and Peter Mendelsund on Design Matters. May contain mismatch, written from recording. (http://observermedia.designobserver.com/audio/peter-men)
about it. So, this approach seems very interesting to me and from this position it gives a lot
to people minds and books industry.
So, cover for me should be eye-catching, i can imagine you go through the huge bookstore and for sure you already read Kafka cause now it's like classics, but then what should push you to buy it? Which percentage of people will buy it just because it is kind of new redesigned edition.
So, they made this trick redesigning all covers, that they have, so now it has this taste of advertising purpose: collect them all. But it's more publishing house marketing and politics to sell more. I can't say definitely i'm agree with this choice of colors, may be people who are free of stereotypes (i'm not sure they exist) can perceive it correctly. So relevance of the design solution stays under discussion.
I know, these colors are about jokes and irony, Kafka is kidding and exaggerating, so it is difficult to understand is it reality or just somebody's imagination in his novels. It is somewhere on
the edge of reality and insanity, and with touching of good humor. So, when i'm thinking about Kafka novels, yes, it's something desperate, something creepy and even frightening.
The idea of using eyes is very very clear.
Eyes are very strong signs. Usually eyes are people, it represents person as unit very well.
Here what he is saying about his choice
"So, as you can see, I've gone with eyes here (not the first or last time I will use an eye as
a device on a jacket-book covers are, after all, faces, both literally and figuratively, of the books they wrap). I find eyes, taken in the singular,
create intimacy, and in the plural instill paranoia. This seemed a good combo for Kafka- who is so very adept at the portrayal of the individual, as well as the portrayal of the persecution of
I really like his comparison of faces and covers,
i found it strong and even showing the attitude
of creator to the object. But, let's go back to eyes.
Here, we have to deal with different connotations.
Eyes unite men and women, young people and old people (eyes are not getting old like skin or hair). Also human eye participates in the communication process, not only getting information, but it also gives a lot. Eyes can show the process of looking or in "The Castle" it shows control.
Peter uses colors to represents different hierarchy. On "The Trial" cover for instance
he used this structure and color to show the pressure on eye, that means pressure on personality, on mind. He highlights the 5 pairs of watching people, and one eye has different color. All blue eyes are like falling down and pushing
the yellow one. It reminds me also stairs, hierarchy in social life. You don't have any power cause you're under so many people. Main hero here just sees everything so badly, that he can't understand that it's just a play, that initiates by himself more than by anybody else, that's why
he got only one eye, not two. Protagonist lives
in his own world, we can't say when we are reading is it the state of mind, is it illusion or this
7 Post about Kafka from Peter Mendelsund blog http://jacketmechanical.blogspot.it/2011/01/kafka.html
world really exists.
For me this Peter's phrase also explains his choice: "To signal the genre. Each genre has its own tropes. For instance: murder weapons, blood, or shadowy trench-coated figures, etc. can signal mystery novels, with serif type for the more literary mysteries, and sans-serif type for
the harder-boiled mysteries. Being a good designer means knowing what these tropes are and knowing how to deploy them in a way that doesn't make the finished product a cliché."8
So, i have hypothesis: if he decided to take eyes as main signs at first, that suits very well his demands, using of black color would make
it totally a cliche, that was used many times before. Black eye looking on you it's George Orwell, not Franz Kafka.
So color is very important.
We see Peter uses only one kind of eye, just changing the color on different covers, we understand different meaning regarding to composition, aditional elements and position. Everything works together very well. So,
the choice of the eye as the main element
and this style of abstract illustrations and colors for me is reasonable. I feel how he is picking up
the idea and present it in very subtile way.
8 Under Cover: Peter Mendelsund and "The Snowman"(http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2010/12/under-cover-peter-mendelsund-and-the-snowman-1.html)
connections - if any - with other historical or contemporary projects
I found a lot of interviews, where Peter Mendelsund actually gives a keys to better understanding of choices he made. For sure eye is such a strong element, that first things that comes to mind are connected to it, not to colors. But despite it is strong, it actually was already used and will be used many times. But it doesn't mean there is a connection, so i decided not to put the pictures of all eyes i found.
The logo of CBS television television designed by William Golden in 1951 has really simple shape, but still looking good in nowadays. The approach was "looking at the world", but when you know what the politics of main channels are now, that they are corrupted, bribed, and so on, i find it somehow paranoid.
As and inspiration for Peter Mendelsund of course were works of Paul Rand, guru of american graphic design and american
William Golden, 1951
modernism. Kafka covers are very close to his bright colors and simple graphics.
Poster for IBM, Paul Rand,
I really like Paul Rand's choice to show 30 influental designers on Idea Special Issue Cover. I think the signs used here are almost
the same as on Kafka covers and also
the way the signature of Paul Rand looks
and and typeface FF Mister K Pro are very similar.
In this interview he is sharing his memories
and gives a hint to his inspiration object:
"FYD: Any favorite LPs or book covers growing up? Did you hit the museums, enjoy motion
and chaos? Were you a pop cultural guy or
more avant garde?
PM: My parents had a copy of Alvin Lustig's New Directions "Amerika" jacket on their shelves when I was a kid, and I was ineluctably drawn towards it. It only took me thirty-five more years
to discover why. I was dragged to museums as
a kid, but never particularly enjoyed it. I was
the musical one in the family, all the others- my dad, mom, sister- were more visually inclined."9
9 Peter Mendelsund. http://fromyourdesks.
Idea Special Issue
30 Influential Designers of the Century, Paul Rand,
Alvin Lustig design is colorful and abstract.
He also did the cover for Kafka book Amerika.
It seems that Peter Mendelsund took a huge part of inspiration out of it.
He used handwritten text on covers, the same Peter does for his Kafka design. Abstract illustration doesn't bother you imagination,
the same goal was mentioned by Peter Mendelsund. There is an eye even on the portrait of Alvin Lustig.
Franz Kafka, Alvin Lustig, 1946
So, as a conclusion, I'd like also to put the quote, that is very flattering, but explain the personality of Peter Mendelsund perfectly. It is quote from Knopf's associate art director, Chip Kidd: "Peter is that rarest of artists," says Kidd, "a self-taught graphic designer whose skill and instincts seem to indicate that he had many years of formal training, chained to the feet of Paul Rand and Alvin Lustig. In fact, if he were their love child it would not surprise me."1 It's hard to disagree.
1 From Covering Bach to Covering Books: Peter Mendelsund '91's Journey. (http://www.college.columbia.edu/cct/nov_dec08/alumni_profiles3)
Alvin Lustig, 1956
scuola politecnica di design
visual design: history and critical views