Tag Archives: book cover

Before we get into it, it’s another week of free shipping on Society6 if you follow this link. Enjoy.


And so we have reached the final cover in the Words Matter series. We left this one for the very end because it went through many phases and we wanted to show you a bit of the process that led to the creation of the final version. So, get ready for quite a photo essay this time.

As we have already explained with a few previous projects, we love making use of the fact that we live close by woods and using this in our designs. We’d also had a positive experience with branch typography before and so we wanted to repeat this when working on the cover for Walden, Henry David Thoreau’s classic about leaving society and living independently in a remote, woodsy location. Branches seemed like a perfect material for this theme and so one day we went out and picked enough to arrange the typography.

Walden 1.0 seemed like it would be a simple and straightforward idea, repeating our previous design: we arranged the name as a huge composition in our mostly unused room with the help of tape, blu tack and some Ikea furniture. It looked messy but it worked the way we’d planned.

redesign-walden-04It was spring then so the leaves were fairly fresh and small. In the end we shot the whole name and the photos turned out nice, clean and sufficiently legible. But during editing we realized that it will simply not work because we arranged the letters so horizontally. The cover would have small lettering and a lot of unnecessary background above and/or below it. We realized we would need to re-shoot the whole thing, arranging the letters differently.

redesign-walden-05By the time we returned to this idea, leaves got much bigger. We also began to think that arranging the letters vertically in several lines one above the other might be a tad difficult. So, another idea was born.

Walden 2.0 didn’t work out in the end either but I still think it was a good theory. This time we decided to arrange a flat composition where the letters would have a leafy border around. Not only should it (in theory) look very good but also refer to similar nineteenth century compositions and so make a nice period reference. What didn’t work this time was simply our lack of skills and/or patience.

redesign-walden-09 redesign-walden-06 redesign-walden-10We once read Marian Bantjes’ story of a plant poster: how she started from arranging the actual plants and gave it up because it looked like “a pile of shit” (true quote, I pulled out Pretty Pictures – which I adore – to confirm it) so she ended up working with computer scans. We only realized the truth of this story once we started arranging the border.

redesign-walden-07It looked nothing like we imagined, just a mess of things. Again, we still believe this could be done but it would need some florist experience (and probably a different background color) – the border would require much more patience, attention and, most of all, flower-arranging skills than we could spare. Also, somewhere by that time we realized there was not enough woods for us in this image and we finally hit on the semi-final idea for this cover: the lettering needed to happen in the woods, not in our apartment!

Walden 3.0. We did not dare to arrange the letters literally in the woods. We could simply see the moment when everything is almost ready and a cheerful puppy walked by an oblivious owner runs straight into the middle of the composition. Instead we decided to make the lettering portable with the help of a cardboard frame.

redesign-walden-13We built the frame from an Amazon box with a construction of wire to attach letters to. We fixed the letters with silver tape, blu tack, paper tape and simply everything that would make it more sturdy. It was not a pretty job – but in the end we loved the messiness of it. Even though we originally wanted to remove the scaffolding digitally, it made it to the final cover because they made the whole thing look so much more real and unusual. They also added the symbolic meaning of human influence on the natural world.

redesign-walden-11redesign-walden-12Still unsure of whether the shooting in the woods will pan out, we took some backup inside photos and they turned out alright. This is a completely unretouched version of one of them but it has potential to become a decent cover.

redesign-walden-15redesign-walden-14However, by then we were intent on trying out the idea of using the actual woods as background and so we went out again to create Walden 3.1, which was to become the final version of the cover. Of course, this session couldn’t have been too simple either. Once we got to the right spot, we realized we forgot the camera card. Classic us. (Also, it was alternatively very hot and rainy.) Then, we needed to decide where to place the frame so that there would be good contrast between lettering and the background. It took many, many attempts and a few moments of utter discouragement.

redesign-walden-17But finally we took a few photos that we could use. This was obviously not the end of the story (long as it already must seem to you). In fact, Walden was by far the most complicated and time-consuming cover when it came to retouching it. Even the back cover, which is twigs on the ground, took forever, because it’s actually composed from a couple of different photos. But we really enjoyed working on this cover, despite all the small frustrations on the way, and it’s too bad one can’t combine designing with outdoorsy activities more often.

redesign-walden-03redesign-walden-02Oh, as a side note: when we brought our pile of… well, plants to the house to arrange the border this fellow traveled along:

redesign-walden-08It was too lovely a coincidence to ignore so we did place him on the cover (even though as far as we know, nobody noticed yet).


redesign-roman_decline-01One of our first attempts at tangible type was a poster for I, Claudius, where we used the idea of Roman letters shattered into pieces. However, back then we used paper for only a metaphorical illustration of the broken monuments/memories/etc. When revisiting this idea for the Words Matter cover of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – a classic historical study on why the Roman Empire weakened and fell – we wanted to try a more challenging approach: we wanted to use material that would be a more direct illustration of crumbling stone.

Of course, using actual stone might be cool but there were two problems with that. One, it would have to be machine-cut and the project was about manual creation of typography. Two, we probably couldn’t really afford it. However, we found an alternative which proved so, so much fun to work with: clay.

Back in art school we had some experience with clay during a sculpting class. It was a most discouraging experience and the worst part wasn’t even the rumor that the clay we had to use had worms in it (could it really? I don’t know). So we were at best wary of working with clay again but it turned out the kind they sell in arts supply store is very clean and very easy to work with.

redesign-roman_decline-09redesign-roman_decline-11 Once we had the letters ready, we dried them and arranged into the whole composition as designed before. We chose an orange background to loosely evoke ancient art and for its associations with burning but also for the energy it added to the design.

redesign-roman_decline-08 redesign-roman_decline-06 redesign-roman_decline-07 redesign-roman_decline-04Finally, another fun part came. We had to break the letters into smaller pieces. Luckily, they were brittle enough (not something you could expect from actual stone) and you had to simply tap them here and there.

redesign-roman_decline-03This is another cover based on a simple idea and quite minimalistic means so, as you can probably guess, we really like it. It’s always satisfying when the simple solutions pan out and the message comes across easily. Of course, we enjoy a convoluted, poetic solution every now and then but directness often makes for good communication.

redesign-roman_decline-05 redesign-roman_decline-02

redesign-deuxieme_sexe-01Some of the previous tangible type projects we worked on before Words Matter, were actually meant as sketches for this large project. And so the idea of pin typography on a cushion appeared already on this blog, as you might or might not remember. While then it was only a formal experiment, this time we wanted the elements of the composition to relate meaningfully to the work they illustrate, namely The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir – another classic of feminist thought.

While approaching femininity in The Feminine Mystique (here) we focused more on its meaning as defined by a social role. For this cover, we focused more on the physical and sexual aspect of the problem. We wanted to evoke the atmosphere of an elegant bedroom, with the subtle, fleshy color of the pillow and the smooth material underneath it.

redesign-deuxieme_sexe-03The lettering is a feminine script, shaped into a triangle to suggest, together with the pillow’s color, a woman’s body. However, the lettering is not embroidered: it is formed of black-headed pins. This brings additional meanings of pain and discomfort to illustrate the difficulties of the definition of femininity.

redesign-deuxieme_sexe-09redesign-deuxieme_sexe-08Of course, it took a while (and a whole lot of pins we bought for the occasion) to create the whole lettering composition.


redesign-deuxieme_sexe-05 redesign-deuxieme_sexe-04But I think shooting it was more difficult than arranging the pins.

redesign-deuxieme_sexe-06redesign-deuxieme_sexe-02At any rate, we enjoyed working on this project. We felt it included making some less obvious decisions along the way: some alternative solutions we could’ve chosen would have probably subtly changed the meaning and these things are always interesting to explore.

redesign-psychoanalyse-01As Words Matter includes various classics of thought, we knew from the beginning Freud will probably be there. We wondered for a while how to approach this particular writer because while some of the books we dealt with are relatively lesser known, Freud’s writings have become a part of everyday culture. And so in the end we decided to go with that and rely on the simplest, probably even primitive for some, association of Freud and a cigar. Cigar typography didn’t sound too exciting so instead we decided to create ash typography. In this decision we proudly followed in the footsteps of some brilliant designers who had already experimented with powdery substances, such as Marian Bantjes and Danielle Evans.

We started by creating a stencil form to use (predicting, rightly, that ash will not be heavy enough to form letters just by pouring it, which you can do with e.g. sugar) and this was just about the only easy part of the enterprise (the photo shows, of course, a negative of the form).

redesign-psychoanalyse-04But the first big problem came with cigars. We wanted this to be authentic (and we needed the cigar for the photo, too) so we bought actual cigars (the cheapest we could get, mind you) and faced the task of turning them into ashes. Now, we’re very much not smokers so just getting down with a bunch of cigars and smoking them casually was out of the question. Instead we ended up crouching in the porch with matches, a couple of igniters, lighters and candles, hoping very much not to cause a fire (we didn’t) and getting increasingly frustrated. It took us forever to figure out the best way of burning around the cigar (and not burning our fingers) and it still took another forever to get this pitiful (though pretty) amount of cigar ash.

redesign-psychoanalyse-07We had about five such cigars and in the end we persevered through burning them all but I don’t think any other project ever has made me so nauseous – literally speaking, of course, because if we’re talking about figurative nausea, there were many worse designs.

It was obvious from the start that we would never get enough cigar ash for the whole design so we decided to fill the main part of it with actual furnace ash (much less smelly, but much more dirty and unpleasant to touch).

redesign-psychoanalyse-06 redesign-psychoanalyse-05This process only created the bare bones of the design: the letters were barely legible and it took much fine-tuning of the edges to arrive at the result we wanted. Obviously, we could hardly breathe around the composition for fear of huffing and puffing it off the table, so holding our breath was additional fun (and us still dizzy from all the smoke). And then we needed to position ourselves with the camera tripod on the table, over the whole thing. You should have seen us (but not heard because by that point it was indecent with all the swearing).

redesign-psychoanalyse-08As you can see, the cigar was definitely not long and impressive enough to form the final image: that took some photoshopping later.

redesign-psychoanalyse-03This is actually another design we’re really happy with. It starts with an idea so simple it borders on a joke but the somber color scheme and heavy wood (plus heavy typography, evoking 19th-century letters) offset that and bring in the whole masculine, often oppressive world of Freud’s ideas. We find it quite appropriate, considering how psychoanalytic ideas have functioned in society: somewhere between a serious, somewhat depressing theory and a pop-cultural gag. And, of course, a cigar might sometimes be just a cigar but more often, when coupled with Freud’s name, it will also be a most common phallic symbol and that’s how we used it (and also, as a context for the letters to make their material clearer, and a fun place to put the logo, if we’re being very precise).


redesign-feminine_mystique-01The next book in Words Matter series is a feminist classic, a sociological study by Betty Friedan The Feminine Mystique from 1963. The book describes a situation of housewives trapped in their role, with their opportunities limited by what Friedan famously described as “feminine mystique”.

We like working with feminist texts because there is so much iconography to use. Here, we decided to play with what one might imagine as symbols of femininity, particularly of those women constrained to their kitchen and living room. We chose a slightly more complicated but most traditionally feminine technique of embroidery, with the book’s title embroidered on a simple kitchen cloth. This was particularly appropriate in Polish where the equivalent of “cloth” can serve as a disrespectful name for a woman (not a swear word exactly, but definitely offensive). But we feel even without this additional linguistic sense, the very object of a kitchen cloth is sufficiently disregarded to put our point across.

an-il-07As embroidery is not one of our strong suits (or something we would even know how to start) we asked for the help of my mom, who’s been developing her own embroidery technique all her life and agreed to help with the project, transporting our design to an actual cloth. The pink gingham pattern we chose for the background makes the design both casual and girlish. We chose script typography, which can be associated with womanly writing but also with various kitchen- or restaurant-related designs. Finally, we added a simple ornament, which we intended to be between a typical plant ornament and something more, well, anatomical.

Once the embroidery was ready, it turned out it took many attempts to arrange the cloth properly. We wanted the impression of a cloth casually dropped somewhere, without any second thought, so that is looks like the valueless object that it is. Here are three of many more attempts we rejected (on our all-purpose Ikea table):

redesign-feminine_mystique-04Whether we actually dropped the cloth, hoping for a random natural arrangement or tried to arrange the folds ourselves, we weren’t happy with the result because the top part took too much attention. These arrangements were not terrible but still not what we had in mind, so eventually we settled on something much simpler.

redesign-feminine_mystique-03What we like about this cover is that we think we managed to reflect the subversive nature of Friedan’s title, its irony. It is also always exciting to employ a traditional technique in a meaningful way, which was actually one of a few points that we tried to make in Words Matter project.


Jane Jacobs by re:designAs you may have noticed, we love working with Lego whenever we get a chance and so we gleefully worked them into the Words Matter series. Jane Jacobs’s book The Death and Life of Great American Cities is a classic work on urban planning, including the criticism of modernist urban thought for its lack of focus on human needs. We found Lego blocks to be a great material for this one because of their modular, grid-based character, which illustrates well modernist ideas but adds a playful element to the composition.

Obviously, building letters of Lego was fun but it didn’t go as easy as you might think. In fact, the final construction is our the second attempt. The first one looked like this:

First attemptIf you compare it to the final version, you will see that the letters were broader and lower and we didn’t feel they reflected the height of the cities well enough. While the erosion of some of the letters was visually interesting, we thought they started to resemble ruins, which was too strong an association. Finally, the round bits were too dominant, making the material too obvious. And so we disassembled the whole construction and started again to finally reach this:

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by re:designWe covered most of the letters with flat white blocks (and we did have to raid all the sets for these) so that they looked more abstract and added some extra pieces for the greater sprawl of the composition. In fact, there was one more aspect to the design, as this image will clearly show you:

redesign-cities-03We thought grayness was a very important part of the design but our Lego collection is not nearly extensive enough to include that many blocks in one color. And so it took some post-processing to reach the result we wanted. However, we did want to share the colorful version because we feel it looks fun (and gives you some idea about our process).

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by re:design


The Golden Bough by sir James George Frazer is a classic of anthropological and mythographic writing: a book in which Frazer examines early religious beliefs and how they influenced contemporary customs still to be found in folk culture (well, contemporary to him anyway). Also, unlike many such works, it has a very pretty, evocative title, which partly influenced its inclusion into the Words Matter series and resulted in one of our favorite of all these covers.

In fact, we approached the design twice: at first we wanted to use mistletoe as appearing on one of the classic editions of the book but not only is mistletoe hard to get by outside of the Christmas season but also the one we did find didn’t look all that impressive in the end. So instead we settled on oak branches with their extremely characteristic (and pretty) leaves. We picked a lot of them and then we spent some time spraying them golden.

We were quite happy with the decision to go with oak because not only is it way more striking visually (sorry, mistletoe) but its symbolic meaning is also very powerful.


We did a die-cut lettering in a piece of golden paper, in art deco-like typography whose simplicity doesn’t distract from the whole idea and which is very elegant.

redesign-goldenbough-05And then we arranged the leaves and the letters in such a way that the leaves come out from under the writing, illustrating the staying power of myths and how they permeate our culture. It looks fairly simple, but arranging the composition took quite some time and required quite a few decisions.

As happened so often with this series we turned out very happy with the result exactly because of its simplicity.

redesign-goldenbough-04 redesign-goldenbough-03redesign-goldenbough-08 redesign-goldenbough-06


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