TED Talks Every Book Blogger Should Watch: Chip Kidd on why Designing books is no laughing matter

I track down TED Talks that would be of special interest to the book blogging community ... and they become a jumping board for personal musings, including yours!

Despite many readers not wanting to judge a book solely by its cover, covers obviously matter. Why else would publishers pour in money to get books professionally designed?

I personally love good design in general so naturally a cleverly designed book can make me sit up and pay attention. Sometimes a great cover will make me pick up a book -- it's the first impression and whether we like it or not, first impressions matter.

Chip Kidd is a brilliant book designer and he explains why his job is a three-fold responsibility. I wish that more book cover designers would take on the same mantra. Watch, laugh (yes, this is hilarious!)... and learn!

This talk is about 19 minutes but I was laughing so much I felt like it was much shorter.

Chip Kidd at approx. 2:47: [..] "OK. Lesson one. Listen up." And he covered up the picture and he said, "You either say this," and then he covered up the word, "or you show this. But you don't do this." Because this is treating your audience like a moron. (Laughter) And they deserve better.

I have a distaste for literal covers. Like this. I know I can dig up more examples. And yes I feel it's moronic to have a literal cover. If Kidd says this is Design 101, I wonder why so many book covers are disasters? Ugh.

CK at 8:01: But if you think about it, from my head to my hands to his leg. (Laughter) That's a responsibility. And it's a responsibility that I don't take lightly. The book designer's responsibility is threefold: to the reader, to the publisher and, most of all, to the author. I want you to look at the author's book and say, "Wow! I need to read that."

Now that I think about it, the permutations from a book design have upped -- think about all the bookish and literary themed stuff out there!

As for responsibility, I always thought the reader was foremost (I'm self-centred, ok?). Kidd captures it pretty simply: it should be attractive that the reader wants to read it. Note, not pick up, but read. (Besides, who wants to read an ugly looking book? Or open up a book expecting one thing based on the cover ... and getting something totally different - happened to me many times!)

It's interesting that he points out that he feels a huge responsibility to the author. I can see where he is coming from as a designer. One thing that sticks out in my mind is that Kidd obviously reads the books he designs. Designing should be logical. If a cover doesn't embody what's in its pages, most readers will notice the disconnect.

CK at 11:05: A book cover is a distillation. It is a haiku, if you will, of the story. [...] All of these solutions derive their origins from the text of the book, but once the book designer has read the text, then he has to be an interpreter and a translator.

Here's a quick round-up of all the books Kidd mentions in his talk. I've only read Jurassic Park (who hasn't?) though I've read some of these authors' other work.

I find Kidd's explanation of how he came out with the design for these books clever, fascinating ... and an extremely varied and involved process. He has obviously read these books and then he builds the covers based on the storyline or concepts. He also waxes poetic about the tactility of design, and how people naturally will "interact" with the cover and the book itself.

CK at 13:22: Do you know what John Updike used to do the first thing when he would get a copy of one of his new books from Alfred A. Knopf? He'd smell it. Then he'd run his hand over the rag paper, and the pungent ink and the deckled edges of the pages. All those years, all those books, he never got tired of it. Now, I am all for the iPad, but trust me -- smelling it will get you nowhere. 

Calling all book sniffers out there, you're just like John Updike! Again, Kidd stresses that books are a multi-sensory experience and it's apparent that he is among those who will extoll the values of the physical book. A man after mine own heart!

Based on this talk I have a renewed appreciation for what goes into the iconic book cover design!

What are your thoughts about book cover design? How much do covers matter to you? 

What are some of your hated book covers because they're overly literal? Do you have some hated covers on loved books?

Sound off on this funny talk!

Chip Kidd's website
Chip Kidd on Wikipedia
Chip Kidd interviewed at Penn State (Youtube)

(I am not affiliated in any way with TED Talks. Photo for header: unsplash, TED logo from ted.com)

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall