September 12, 1964– Chip Kidd:
“Never fall in love with an idea. They’re whores: if the one you’re with isn’t doing the job, there’s always, always, always another.”
You kids know Kidd’s work even if you don’t realize it. He designed the covers for the original hardbacks of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, David Sedaris’ Naked, plus my many of my own favorites like Donna Tart’s The Secret History and The Goldfinch.
No one who is in the publishing world would actually say that you can’t judge a book by the cover. The industry spends a great deal of money hoping that is exactly what readers will do. Artist/Graphic Designer Kidd is probably the biggest star in the rarefied world of graphic design, regarded as our pretty planet’s foremost designer of the special niche of book jackets. In his 30 years at NYC publishing house Alfred A. Knopf, Kidd has created more than 2000 book jacket designs, averaging 75 a year. His always ingenious, vivid, audacious covers helped revolutionize and revitalize the art of book packaging.
I am a big fan and I have wondered about Kidd’s design process. It’s crazy, but it turns out that he reads the book first. Then he says that he uses:
“The magpie method of picking, choosing, borrowing things that have been done before. The process is driven by nothing.”
“A really good book cover has to work regardless of what it’s about, on a visceral and emotional level. I’m a matchmaker, not a pimp. I design jackets that are elaborate versions of name tags at singles parties. I introduce the prospective buyer to the text, and they either hit it off and go home together or they don’t.”
Kidd’s many influences include graphic design legends Alvin Lustig from the 1940s and 1950s, and Peter Saville, who did super album covers in the 1970s through 1980s. Kidd also is inspired by Soviet era Russian propaganda art. Kidd learned that often the best style is no style.
“A signature look is crippling. Often, the simplest and most effective solutions aren’t dictated by style.”
I guess Kidd’s signature look is smart, striking, sly, bold design.
Crichton’s Jurassic Park is a perfect example what he does so well. It is probably Kidd’s best known cover, with its illustration of a dinosaur skeleton that then became the central image of the hugely popular film’s own marketing campaign.
Kidd puts together and writes his own books too. He then provides the covers. His first book was Batman Collected (1996), a volume for those with a proclivity for that Caped Crusader. Since then he has edited and designed other superhero coffee-table collections, including Superman (2001) and Wonder Woman: The Complete History (2012). Kidd’s first novel, the screwy, comic The Cheese Monkeys (2001) is a slightly disguised story of his time studying design under a sadist professor at a Penn State. His second work of fiction, The Learners (2008), is a sort of sequel to The Cheese Monkeys with an intriguing exploration of the interplay between words and images and how we relate, and again, it is funny. His newest, Judge This (2015) is lighthearted examination of the importance of first impressions in design and in life.
In 2015, Kidd published Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and The Art Of Peanuts, a collection of the art of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, curated with the cooperation of the late artist’s wife. Kidd spent a week exploring in Schulz’s studio. The concept for the book’s design promises to make the reader feel as if they are rifling through Schulz’s sketches and drawings.
You most likely have many of Kidd’s artful covers in your own shelves or piles of books, but I highly recommend Chip Kidd: Book One, Work: 1986-2006. Stylishly designed and richly produced, this witty volume works both as a retrospective of Kidd’s renowned book covers gorgeously reproduced in lush color plates and as a memoir of his career in publishing. This autumn, Rizzoli will publish Chip Kidd Book Two: Work 2007-2017, with introductions by Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman and Orhan Pamuk!
“I did not grow up yearning to become a book designer. What I wanted to be was Chris Partridge on The Partridge Family.”
I am glad that didn’t work out. I am such a big admirer of Kidd’s striking covers. They serve as objects of art. I really dig Kidd’s writing as well. He is one more example of how God does not spread out her gifts equally; they are given in clumps, because Kidd is simply overflowing with talent and ideas. He is even in a rock band. Plus, he is cute.
“One of the great advantages to designing book covers is that you don’t ever have to have an idea, much less a thought, ever, in your head. That is the author’s job.”
Three years ago, Kidd married his longtime partner, Yale professor and noted poet, J.D. McClatchy. The couple has residences in Manhattan and Stonington.
He gives good Tweets, TED Talks, and he has a groovy website.
Kidd has stated that the cover of his own memoir would be:
“The most pornographic version of The Bible you’ve ever seen.”
I am rather sure it would be a bestseller.