Brain Pickings

Famous Designers on Design: 5 Beautiful Book Covers

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What the hate of Helvetica has to do with Nine Inch Nails and a three-legged lemon juicer.

It’s often said that the true measure of how famous you are is how many books you’ve published in your area of expertise. Surely enough, when it comes to design, the most iconic designers have bookshelves worth of design wisdom they’ve bestowed upon us mere mortals.

Today, we look at how well they’ve put their money where their mouth is with our selection of the five best covers of books by the world’s most famous designers.

PAULA SCHER

For a designer whose career was shaped by the violent hate of the Helvetica typeface, Paula Scher has done quite well for herself, becoming one of the most iconic magazine and theater graphic designers of our time.

Make It Bigger, a much-detested client refrain for all graphic designers, is a delightful exercise in switching sides: A look at design from the vantage point of the business community it serves. The indisputable stride-stopping power of the cover, as we cringe at its intentionally awkward grotesqueness, makes the book’s point before we’ve even opened it.

(On a bit of an aside, we’re be remiss to talk about Scher without mentioning her phenomenal Maps project — do check it out.)

DAVID CARSON

David Carson is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking magazine design and his passionate affair with typography. In trek: david. carson. recent. werk, Carson does what he does best — he sweeps us up with unexpected typography and hurls us into nearly 500 pages of turbulent impact with graphics that tug at our most polarized gut reactions.

carson

The book also includes Carson’s work for Nine Inch Nails, whose design sensibility we’ve praised before, so we’re tres happy.

PHILIPPE STARCK

Philippe Starck is, in our subjective opinion, the designer who has made the most dramatic, convincing leap between greatness and genius. (In what’s easily our favorite TED talk to date, he shares profound insight about the distinction between the two.)

His self-titled book, Starck, captures every ounce of genius and quirk and revolutionary vision of the eccentric French, revealing over three decades of his groundbreaking work. The cover itself is brilliantly appropriate — personal and odd — as every piece of Starck’s design work is so loudly stamped with the designer’s quirky personality.

starck

From Starck’s infamous three-legged lemon press to the fast food shop in Nimes, Starck also includes architectural projects, furniture, and interior design. Mostly, it fully lives up to the promise of the cover design — to take us on a journey into the liberty of vision, to help us believe again that as designers, we’re bigger than the sum of our work because every piece of creativity we offer to the world is deeply and unmistakably infused with our own unique personas.

KARIM RASHID

Karim Rashid‘s prolific work in interiors, fashion, furniture, lighting, art and music has landed him multiple MoMA gigs and just about every cultural praise there is. But he is perhaps best known for his advocacy of “democratic design” — the idea that even the best of design should be accessible to the masses.

Driven by that conviction, his book Design Yourself is a brave exploration of design’s role as a social actor rather than a mere aesthetic feature.

rashid

From socialization to work to sex, Rashid dispenses radical advice on how to handle the self, all framed by the breadth of his user-centric work. Essentially, Design Yourself is a book about optimization — optimizing all areas of life, from the aesthetic to the spiritual, in a way that leaves our physical, emotional and cognitive environment in a better state than we found it in.

STEFAN SAGMEISTER

Stefan Sagmeister is often considered the most important living designer. His design has helped define some of music’s most iconic personal brands — Lou Reed, David Byrne, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones.

Things I have learned in my life so far grew from a list in Sagmeister’s diary from his year-long commercial hiatus. The book is a reflection on life, being human, and the meaning of happiness, all communicated through the medium of design at its most powerful.

In Things I have learned in my life so far, the very medium is just as playful and enticing as the message — Sagmeister’s relationship with design doesn’t unfold on the first page, it begins at the book’s cover itself.


Things I have learned in my life so far invites us to come along for a rollercoaster ride of tongue-in-cheek facetiousness and profound human truth, all reflected on through deeply impactful imagery and brilliant typography.

On a final aside, more confirmation for Sagmeister’s brilliance: He is one of the few cultural icons who have spoken at TED not once, but twice – both talks are more than worth the watch.

Update: That’s thrice now — we had the pleasure of seeing his third TED talk at TEDGlobal in July 2009.

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