By Hannah Bennett
Last Tuesday, some fellow classmates and I were invited to attend a Book Industry Guild of New York event entitled “What Inspires You? Mediation on Jacket Design.” The Book Industry Guild of New York is “a member-operated professional organization composed of professionals from every aspect of the book publishing and book manufacturing industries.” As students and non-members, we felt a little timid as we entered the halls of Random House and took our seats for the panel, but we were instantly welcomed by the friendly people that we met on the way.
The evening consisted of three speakers, all prominent Art Directors and Jacket Designers, who came prepared with entertaining slideshows about what inspires them creatively. The first speaker of the night was Krista Vossen, the Associate Art Director for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. She began by describing her path to graphic design, and then described her current work at Simon & Schuster, which involves overcoming the inherent challenges of working with middle-grade books and trying to make age-appropriate jackets that appeal to both genders. Her description of YA jacket trends was hilarious, especially when she described how she used the “big dress trend” but “downgraded to a poofy skirt” for Poison Princess. In the end, her inspiration was in large part the city of New York, where she said, “inspiration hits you in the face.” However, she also emphasized the importance of clearing one’s head for true creative inspiration.
Next up was Greg Kulick, the Associate Art Director for Blue Rider Books (Penguin Group, USA). Like Vossen, Kulick began his discussion of inspiration by taking a look at his earliest influences. For Kulick, his early artistic influences were tied to skateboard culture and punk music. The intense graphic style of the skateboard artwork certainly had an influence on the jacket designs Kulick eventually created. Kulick also discussed his transition to a management role and how that affected his creativity. What inspires Kulick now? “Giving work to other people,” was his tongue-in-cheek answer. However, the ability to delegate has opened up Kulick to work on new projects, such as getting to produce photo shoots. In a roundabout way, delegating truly has been a source of inspiration.
The last speaker of the night was the ever-vibrant Chip Kidd, who has garnered a certain celebrity status among jacket designers for both his inspired designs and his exuberant personality. Kidd, who recently did a TED Talk in which he talked about some of his most famous designs, is the Associate Art Director at Alfred A. Knopf. He looked at the subject of inspiration in several ways, discussing both his challenges, such as the crisis of redesigning a book last minute, and his successes, like the beautiful cover design of IQ84 by Haruki Murakami. But after 25 years at Knopf, Kidd maintained that what inspires him is the text. Another life-long inspiration for Kidd has been comics and graphic novels – as he said, he is a “professional Batman fan.” In what was definitely the most entertaining part of the evening, Kidd discussed what it was like to write an original Batman graphic novel, entitled Batman: Death by Design. Kidd showed pages of the graphic novel and narrated a scene from it, doing all the voices of the characters, including the Joker and the female roles. Despite his great success as a jacket designer, it’s possible that Kidd missed his true calling of becoming a performer and comedian.
The entire evening was, for lack of a better word, inspiring. So perhaps I should take a shot at answering the question of the evening: ‘what inspires you?’ Well, creative people who work with books and are passionate about their jobs inspire me, as a student of publishing. An organization that seeks to educate people about the book industry, and in doing so allows students to attend one of their excellent events, is certainly an inspiration. And also, I’m going to have to agree with Chip Kidd and say Batman.