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#ArtDept: The Book Jackets of Chip Kidd


Chip Kidd:

”Never fall in love with an idea. They’re whores: if the one you’re with isn’t doing the job, there’s always, always, always another.”

You kids know Kidd’s work even if you don’t realize it. He designed the covers for the original hardback editions of Michael Crichton‘s Jurassic Park, Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road, David SedarisNaked, plus my many of my own favorites like Donna Tart‘s The Secret History and The Goldfinch.

No one who is in the publishing world would actually say that you can’t judge a book by the cover. The book industry spends a great deal of money hoping that is exactly what readers will do. Artist/Graphic Designer Chip Kidd is probably the biggest star in the rarefied world of graphic design, regarded as our pretty planet’s foremost designer of the special niche of book jackets. In his 30 years at NYC publishing house Alfred A. Knopf, Kidd has created more than 2500 book jacket designs, averaging 75 a year. His always ingenious, vivid, audacious covers helped revolutionize and revitalize the art of book packaging.

I am a big fan and I have wondered about Kidd’s design process. It’s crazy, but it turns out that he reads the book first. Then he says that he uses:

”The magpie method of picking, choosing, borrowing things that have been done before. The process is driven by nothing.”

”A really good book cover has to work regardless of what it’s about, on a visceral and emotional level. I’m a matchmaker, not a pimp. I design jackets that are elaborate versions of name tags at singles parties. I introduce the prospective buyer to the text, and they either hit it off and go home together or they don’t.”

You most likely have many of Kidd ‘s artful covers in your own shelves or piles of books, but I highly recommend Chip Kidd: Book One, Work: 1986-2006, Chip Kidd Book Two: Work 2007-2017, both stylishly designed and richly produced witty volumes that work both as a retrospective of Kidd’s covers gorgeously reproduced in lush color plates and as a history of his career in publishing. Opening to a random page in Book One, I read:

”I did not grow up yearning to become a book designer. What I wanted to be was Chris Partridge on The Partridge Family.”

Kidd writes that the cover of his memoir would be:

”The most pornographic version of The Bible you’ve ever seen.”

I am rather sure it would be a bestseller.

Kidd is married to Joseph McClatchy, a professor of English at Yale and the editor of The Yale Review.

Kidd gives good Tweets, TED Talks, and he has a groovy website.


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