Designer: Ed Cornish
Typefaces: Berthold Akzidenz Grotesk and Impact
Publisher: Project sponsored by Faber and Faber, but these designs were never published
Here is a great series designed by Ed Cornish. When I first saw these, I thought these were extremely unique covers. The more I learned about their creation, the more unique they became to me. Though not final covers, I think they merit being examined closely. Thanks Ed, for sharing your process and thoughts on design. I want to go spend hours in the darkroom now… love that smell.
These covers were designed as a response to the 2009 D&AD student award brief for typography, sponsored by Faber and Faber. The brief instructed us to "use typography to create a series cover design for Faber Film's range of books that reflects Faber and Faber's long history of typographic excellence". The range was also to be "Print on Demand", a service which Faber has recently used for the range of Faber Finds books, which feature unique, randomly generated covers, so the potential for customisable or unique covers was there.
I took inspiration from the perspex tile lettering commonly used in cinema signage. My commute to university takes me past Genesis cinema in Whitechapel, East London, which provided the bulk of inspiration. The cinema has ended up mixing two slightly different sets of letters together in its signage, one typeface slightly bolder than the other, and all the letters sit on a wobbly bassline where little attention has been given to spacing. All these typographic faux-pas give the signage a distinct naive personality which is fairly unique to cinema, making it seem ideal for a typographic book covers on film.
It became clear early on that I would have to remove myself, quite a bit, from the design process if I was to make the covers look convincingly naive and clumsy. To achieve this, I printed out the letters onto acetate at relatively small sizes, and constructed the negatives, letter-by-letter, in the darkroom directly on top of light sensitive photographic paper. It was a painstaking task, but it meant that by the time I had all the letters on the page I was too relieved to fiddle around with details and exposed the paper as soon as I could. The fear that one more shudder of the hand or heavy breath could push all the letters out of place (which happened a few times) also helped me turn off my designer's instincts and stopped me from worrying about the details.
I also wanted to mimic the chaotic arrangement of the type in the Genesis cinema signage, so on the covers I didn't worry too much about alignment or where the type would end up. I just started putting the words down in random places until I got something I liked. I carried this over to the spines where I put the titles in different places, so that when together, they resemble closely the cinema signage that inspired them. I thought the type gave the series a distinct identity, so it seemed unnecessary to include the series title on the spine (we were not given any of the author names with the brief, which gave me one less thing to worry about). The title of the book in the signature typographic style with the Faber and Faber logo seemed to say everything that needed to be said.
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My tutor was keen on keeping the covers black and white so the categories were differentiated by arrangement and cropping of type rather than colour. The Trainspotting screenplay cover, has distorted type in the corner to evoke a turning page. Malle on Malle, a title from the "Directors on Directing" range, has larger, cropped type to suggest the framing of a shot by a director. And The Pitch, one of the titles focusing on technique, has a diffused half-tone pattern in the centre to echo a spot light, focus pull, or transition between shots. These techniques and characteristics could be applied to other titles in their respective categories. There are 7 categories in the Faber Films range, which would all need their own variation on the style, but the competition only required to show how the style could be carried accross 3.
One of my initial ideas was to re-print the photogram onto acetate again for the front cover, so that the first page would be visible underneath and the material of the cover would reference the material of the letters that inspired it. My tutor vetoed this idea after seeing the photograms and joked that he had seen more student book covers printed on acetate than paper. At the time I was quite keen on the acetate cover idea, but in hindsight I'm really glad he pushed me away from it. I think I was drawn to acetate because I felt that the idea for the cover was so simple it needed a little twist or gimmick to elevate it, but now I think it would have cheapened the whole book and would have unneccessarily over-complicated it. Also, printing the image onto acetate would have removed alot of the subtle tones in the photograms, which I feel is partially what makes them appealing.
These covers were not nominated or shortlisted for the awards, and after seeing what won and re-reading the brief now, I see that they are not really what the judges were looking for. Also, as the idea behind them is so simple and clear, I imagine a lot of other covers with similar concepts were submitted.
I feel that the covers and the idea are so simple that there's not too much I can really say about them. A lot of the outcome was down to happy accident and from me removing myself from the design process. I'm not even sure how much credit I can take for them! One of my favourite happy accidents was that the larger letters on the Malle on Malle cover came out more transparent than the smaller ones, and created a pleasant depth of field. It's also one of the few projects I've done recently where I don't really have any preparatory sketches because I deliberately wanted to improvise as much as possible for the cover and keep planning to a minimum. I don't often get excited by craft, and find the recurring "computer vs. craft" debate quite boring, but I have to admit that it was refreshing to experiment and work outside of the digital realm on this project. I know that if I tried to create the same effect on the computer I would probably have restrained myself too much and worried about how naive and clumsy the covers would turn out. But, this was impossible using my little acetate letters in the darkroom. I just hope that another brief comes along in years to come that means I can get off the computer and get back into the darkroom and have some more fun with photograms.
09.15.09 // Courtney Baker said:I think these are just lovely, and I especially love the cover for Trainspotting. I remember hating doing photograms in school—but you've used them so effectively!
09.15.09 // Ian said:Judges know not what is good. These are very very nice and would be a perfect addition to any shelf. I just like the fact that this was done mostly by hand. It gives it a feel that is hard to duplicate digitally.
On the student front, this is rad.