Discovering Chip Kidd

I am not someone who regularly watches TED talks.

Which is odd, because I watch a lot of other things on YouTube. I guess there’s something about a single speaker walking around on a stage without a podium that makes me think “IT’S ONE OF THOSE HIPSTER SELF-HELP GURUS! RUN! RUN, YOU IDIOTS!”

“You’ve got to reparadigm the ideation of your self-worthment algorithm to embiggen your gross outcome optimizering potentiality matrix.”

But the few TED talks I have stomached have, thankfully, not been like that (though I hear there are a few that fit the bill). And recently, I discovered one that I enjoyed immensely. I was startled and overjoyed by the quality of the presentation, but particularly I was enamored with theĀ subject of the presentation, which was book design.

Who is Chip Kidd?

Book design is not really in the same discipline as writing a book or even illustrating a book. A book designer isn’t necessarily an illustrator (though he may work with many illustrators). Rather, what a book designer does is plan out a physical form for a published book to take. The book designer is interested in creating an attractive object for the customer to buy.

I had never heard of Chip Kidd before.

I should have, but I hadn’t.

He is the designer responsible for some of the most famous book covers you’ve ever heard of. And he is particularly remarkable not only because he understands good book design but because he can also teach it. This became apparent to me as I watched his lectures, some of which are published by TED, and some of which aren’t.

Perhaps the biggest reason he captured my attention is that I am always looking for practical answers to even the most esoteric subjects. Anyone who can explain a complicated art form in a practical manner has an advantage over me. It’s the easiest way to influence my opinion.

And I am so taken with Mr. Kidd’s perspective on book design (and without any particularly creative idea for my typical monday blog post) that I decided to simply provide links here to his videos, as they are each worth investigating on your own, and I cannot possibly paraphrase anything he says in a better, more approachable way. Some of them are fairly long, but they are all worth watching.

So, for your viewing edutainment, here are the three Chip Kidd videos that I found to be most useful:

TED talk: The Hilarious Art of Book Design

This video was my introduction to Mr. Kidd, and was enough to give me a favorable impression of him.

It also reveals some of the more famous books he has designed over the years. It gives a good, if incomplete, sense of his career and history.

TED Talk: The Art of First Impressions — in Design and Life

This one is perhaps less entertaining than the previous video, but it’s also informative in ways that the first one isn’t. I was blown away by how much creative choice is poured into designing a book cover.

MacEwan University Presentation: Chip Kidd Explains his Process

Perhaps the most entertaining video of them all, though it only concerns a single book.

My Takeaway

After watching these videos, it’s hard for me to consider what I am currently trying to do, which, in case you are new to the blog, is get a novel published.

Seeing Mr. Kidd’s presentations has impressed upon me the need for a competent book designer. I will be lucky if I get a designer with even a tenth of Mr. Kidd’s expertise, chutzpah, and discernment. I ask myself if that’s too much to hope for.

I’m lucky to have reached a point in my life where I’ve mellowed with age, because otherwise this would be the most stressful period in my entire existence. Knowing that so much depends not only on my own competence and aesthetic, but the competence and aesthetic of the people I choose to work with is daunting, even if it’s also exciting.

More than anything, I just want to enter that world, be part of the scene, and put good stuff on the market. That I have gained a greater appreciation for the process—everything that happens in the background—from these presentations has made me value them, and I believe you may also find value in them.