Designing for persistence DEC 05 2006
Took in The Art of the Book lecture at the 92nd Street Y last night. Milton Glaser, Chip Kidd ("a modern day Truman Capote" I heard him described as afterward), Dave Eggers, with Michael Beirut moderating. One of the most interesting comments came late in the proceedings from Dave Eggers, who described one of the main goals of the McSweeney's design staff as attempting to design the books as well and as beautifully as they could as objects so that people would be compelled to save them. That way, even if people didn't have time to read them soon after purchase, they couldn't bear to throw/give the book away and would instead put it on their shelf in the hopes -- McSweeney's hopes, that is -- that the buyer would at some point pull it down off the shelf and give it another try.
This design goal runs counter to the design process behind most contemporary book jackets, which are engineered almost entirely for the purpose of eliciting in the potential buyer a "buy me" reaction within two seconds of spotting them. McSweeney's, as a champion of authors, wants the writing to be read while most major publishing companies, as champions of their shareholders, want books to be purchased. People buying books is important to the goal of getting the writing within them read, but McSweeney's emphasis on designing books to last in people's homes is a clever way to pursue that goal after the sale.