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10 Questions for Chip Kidd

4 minute read
Michele Orecklin

IS THE FIRST STEP IN DESIGNING A BOOK COVER READING THE BOOK? I don’t have to read every word … but I need to feel that I get a sense of what a particular author’s take is on a subject. The process is very intuitive. You become this filter to interpret how this book should be perceived visually by someone who hasn’t read it yet.

WHAT IF THE AUTHOR DISAGREES WITH YOUR INTERPRETATION? Even if it’s not in their contract, the authors have the final say.

IS THERE ANY SUREFIRE COVER FORMULA THAT CAN MAKE A BOOK A BEST SELLER? No, the only thing a cover can do is entice you to pick a book up. But there are many ways to do that. Whether it’s a naked doll [for David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim] or a dinosaur on [Michael Crichton’s] Jurassic Park, it has to have a visceral appeal and in its own way be appropriate to the title. There are many factors—chiefly, whether it’s a good book. I designed the cover for my own novel [The Cheese Monkeys; 2001], and it didn’t become a huge best seller. If I can’t do it for myself, I can’t do it for someone else.


WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE? It’s funny, because I don’t like those covers aesthetically, but at this point, that calligraphy has become so closely associated with the books that it’s iconic, at least in my mind, so it would be difficult to try to go back.

WHAT DID WRITING A NOVEL SATISFY CREATIVELY THAT DESIGNING DOES NOT? My experience in design school was intense, and I wanted to try to capture that while at the same time making a book in which you actually learn something. So the satisfaction came from hopefully turning the graphic-design process into a compelling narrative. I’m now working on my second novel, which is kind of a continuation. In school you are taught how to solve design problems; the next book is about applying that in the workplace. You’ve learned all these lofty ideals, but then in the real world you have to come down to Earth.

IS THAT WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU? I feel as if I’m in about as purely creative a graphic-design job as exists. It used to be the album cover, but now the music video has replaced it in presenting the image of the artist.

ARE YOU INTERESTED IN DIRECTING A MUSIC VIDEO? Sure, but in some ways, I’m very old-fashioned. I’m a wait-to-be-asked kind of guy, so I wait for the phone to ring.

ARE YOU ALWAYS LOOKING FOR TRINKETS OR FOUND OBJECTS IN CASE THEY LATER PROVE USEFUL? Absolutely. I go to flea markets or antique stores, and when you live in New York City, you can literally find a photograph on the sidewalk of a sofa that’s from, like, 1932 that’s really cool, and you think, That’s perfect for X, or, I’ll pick that up or file it away.

NOW THAT YOU’RE SO WELL KNOWN, IS THERE EVER CONCERN ABOUT YOUR UPSTAGING AN AUTHOR? That’s not my problem. If Giorgio Armani designs a dress for Gwyneth Paltrow for the Oscars, he’s not worried about upstaging her. What I worry about is now that I have a certain reputation, authors will think I can make their book a best seller. But it doesn’t work that way. If I have a reputation, it’s because I’ve been associated with good books that became best sellers. I made my reputation on Cormac McCarthy and Donna Tartt, not the other way around.

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