One could take a couple classes in typography and learn enough to be proficient. Understanding terms such as ascender, descender, san serif, pica, grotesque, classical, roman, etc is important for anyone who calls themselves a designer. But then one could go deeper, become a master of type and build an entire career.
Today I am writing about the latter of the two -- type master Jessica Hische.
A couple of years ago.. well.. probably a lot of years ago.. I was in Powell's Bookstore in Portland, Oregon. And for those of you who are not familiar with Powell's, it is one of the few independent and very large bookstores in the country that has survived the Amazon bookstore take over. You can literally get lost in this homegrown, block-long multi-floor behemoth.
In 2013, Hische designed a collection of books with Penguin Books called the Drop Cap Series which features 26 books (one for each letter of the alphabet) from a famous work in literature. The letter on the front of each cover is the first letter of the authors last name. And the detailing alludes to the narrative itself.
These books stopped me dead in my tracks upon first seeing them. They were so beautiful and vivid that it took my eyes a minute to adjust. when I investigated further and discovered each of the books was a classic novel, my heart filled with love for this entire concept. In the photo above, you see the design for Jane Eyre by Charolette Bronte. The "B" in the design is surrounded by flames, a nod a character in the story who is a pyromaniac. This detail perfectly sets the mood for Jane Eyre dark feminist theme.
In Candide, Voltaire writes about a man who is struck with a series of horrible events. Hische took the visual of lightening to merge to ideas: 1.) the letter "V" for Voltaire and 2.) the old saying "lightening never strikes twice in the same place" This is a brilliant visual for the story and omg that purple! Can you believe it?!
One of the things I appreciate about design and in particular type, is its connection to literature and history. In typography is a lot of what we do is hundreds of years old. Words like kerning and tracking, points and picas come from the printing press that was invented in 15th century. Move-able type, illustration from woodblock printing, book binding, and paper making all stayed relatively consistent until the Industrial Revolution improved the press standards and invention of photography changed the game with illustration.
Hische and Penguin do a fabulous job as tipping the hat to the old tradition of book making by excluding photos and focusing on the excellence of type within the pages and with the illuminated letter on the cover while adjusting the style to fit in a modern context with saturated colors. This idea suits me just fine as I imagine my library of books full of illustrious colors that help express the content of these wonderful stories.