Design Desk

From the Design Desk: AIGA 50 Books/50 Covers

It has been a bookish winter and spring here at Chronicle Books beginning with the “Defined Bindings” show of custom-bound limited editions of John Carrera’s Pictorial Webster’s Dictionary and now the AIGA’s 50 Books/50 Covers exhibition.

After a year’s hiatus due to a schedule snag, we’ve resumed playing host to the longest running (90 years) juried book and cover exhibition in North America. However, beginning this year, the competition and show will run under the auspices of Design Observer and Designers & Books.

As I mentioned in my remarks at the opening reception, Chronicle has brought the 50/50 show to San Francisco (at first to the San Francisco Center for the Book gallery and, since our move in 2007, to our building lobby) for the last ten years.

That ten years has been one of the more momentous decades in modern history: the rise of the cell–and now smart–phone, the iPad, Kindle, Nook and like-devices that have all vied for readers’ attention and pocketbooks. Despite the disruption caused by those technologies, or maybe because of them, the book is enjoying a moment of resurgent popularity.

Nowhere is that more clear than in this edition of the 50 Books/50 Covers show. While our eyes grow fatigued from hours of staring at screens, our other senses yearn for something real we can touch. Books can satisfy that yen. Cloth, foil, stampings, laser and die cuts, paper: coated and uncoated, smooth and textured, hardcover and paperback, these are the physical features that engage all our senses.

From the smallest (La Présence, 6.75” tall) that fits in the palm of your hand to the largest (LA Day, 16.5”) that more than fills your lap, the selected books and covers, led by jury chair and book designer extraordinaire, Chip Kidd, encompass an array of topics and production techniques for which only paper, printing and binding can do to captivate us.

And captivate they did. While we didn’t conduct a head-count, I think it’s fair to say several hundred people came and went over the course of the opening. Teachers from our two local art schools, CCA and the Academy of Art, their students, designers, representatives of the design community and technology firms that surround our old media company plus Chronicle employees past and present were all on hand to celebrate the book.

Some highlights of the show:

Email design by Kelsey Jones, Tina Hardison, Chronicle Books MarCom

Bookmark design by Kelsey Jones, Tina Hardison

Bibliophiles gather in Chronicle Books lobby

Dispatches and Directions: On Artist-Run Organizations in Los Angeles

Interior of Dispatches showing its ad hoc assembly of materials

Teacher and student open Dispatches to view contents

Destroy This Memory by Richard Misrach

Interior, Destroy This Memory

Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space by Alma Ruiz

Interior of Suprasensorial with red gel overlay that reveals text in second language

Interior from Stop the Violence
: Character Studies by Francois Robert

Dutch Heights 1: Highlights of the Arts and Cultural Prizes

1st Fl. 111 N State St. by HeyJ Min

Chump Change and Mooch by Dan Fante

Themes of Psychoanalysis series

McSweeney’s 36th Issue

Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam

And I would be remiss if I did not mention that six Chronicle books were selected for inclusion in the 50/50 show:

Design Research (D|R)

Tartine Bread

Art of McSweeney’s

This Is NPR

The Marvelous Museum

Chicken Big

Michael Carabetta
Creative Director


1 Comment

  • michelleberki April 19, 2012 at 6:32 am

    Hi Michael,

    As an aspiring graphic designer with a love of book and cover design, I'm glad to see that books are still doing well. Personally, I don't think print will ever end, but you never know what the future will hold. I'm just glad that 50 Books/50 Covers is going to carry on even if it's under a new organization.

    As the creative director of Chronicle Books, do you have any advice for aspiring book designers? I recently applied for the Chronicle Books Publishing Design Fellowship, and although I didn't get it, I'm not discouraged. I hope to apply again for the fall fellowship and I'd like to make my portfolio as appealing as possible.

    It almost seems like getting into publishing is a bit of a catch-22. You need experience to get into the field, but if you can't get a job in the field, you can't gain experience.

    Thanks for the post – I love seeing beautiful, inspiring work!

    Michelle Berki


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