Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Discussion Point 2 - Chere

Discussion Point 2 : Select two innovative typographic designers - one pre-digital (1984), the other contemporary. Provide a brief comparative analysis of their contributions to typographic practice supported by relevant examples of their work

Sarah Wyman Whitman vs Barbara deWilde

(Noticing how all the featured designers mentioned in the online lecture were male, I eventually found the book Women in Graphic Design and came upon these two designers.)

Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904) pioneered the role of artist-designer in the book industry and in the process revolutionized trade bookbinding. A highly-regarded Boston artist and socialite who gathered around herself a salon comprised of many of the city and region’s best-known writers, she adopted the role of mediator between her author friends and the publisher George Mifflin, whom she knew socially. Her work echoed the Arts and Crafts Movement that viewed art and life as inseparable; she wrote that “all forms of labor are beautiful and sacred because…it all has the stamp of nobility, being essential to the world’s need.” As Betty Smith has noted, Whitman became “the first professional woman artist regularly employed by a Boston publisher to give their mass-produced book covers a sense of simple elegance through line, color, and lettering.” (Boston Public Library)

Possibly in reaction to the rather overwrought covers that were the norm in the 1870s and 1880s, Whitman reduced book decoration to the essential. Although she designed "special" editions in vellum with gold stamping, the majority of her work for the mass market employed two colors of cloth and a single color of ink for stamping. The production costs for Whitman's book covers were probably quite low when weighed against their effectiveness as advertising tools. (Library of Rochester)

Sarah Whitman covers from the gorgeous flickr set (Boston Public Library)

It would be hard to overstate the impact of Barbara deWilde on contemporary book cover design. Alongside Carol Devine Carson, Chip Kidd and Archie Ferguson, Barbara’s designs not only defined the bold, visual aesthetic now commonly associated with Knopf, but helped reinvent American book cover design in the 1990′s.

Barbara left book publishing in 2000 to become the design director of Martha Stewart Living – where she successfully implemented a redesign of the magazine, but returned to Knopf  seven years later and created more characteristically distinctive book cover designs, including the jacket for the Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. (The Casual Optimist, 2012)

Source: Women in Graphic Design (Breuer & Meer, 2012)

Further book jacket design from deWilde

Both designers display masterful use of negative space that helps provoke a sense of  'specialness'; it imbues the book with an aura of something a little extraordinary. It makes the viewer curious and compels one to pick up the book. This sense of elevation would probably not be as effective if not for the existing sea of unremarkable book covers, in both their respective time frames. Both also display considered materiality; in Whitman's case cloth was carefully selected, as with colour, and in her letters she displayed a keen consideration for the story contained within the pages. In deWilde's book jacket work, especially in the 90s, what set her work apart were plastic yet plush jacket materials; a trend that remains popular in bookstores today. All in all looking at the work of these designers has been thought provoking.


Breuer, G., & Meer, J. (2012). Women in graphic design 1890-2012. Jovis Verlag Gmbh.

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