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Responses by Jon Dowling, cofounder, Counter-Print.

Background: The book Big Type started as a bit of a joke. My wife Céline Leterme and I used to work in branding agencies in London before setting up our own studio and moving on to publishing later in our career. Whenever we would work on identities, there would often be a “big type” option proposed to the client. I think “big type” is shorthand for a particular style of design that designers can all immediately bring to mind.

Like many others, I’m drawn to projects such as these as they are so eye-catching and celebrate the beauty of type. I don’t think it’s a project I could—or should—intellectualize; Big Type is a big, fun book of type-related identity design.

Design thinking: I like book covers that can work at a small size, as they are often purchased via a phone screen. We also try to create covers that allude to what is inside the book, so an expressive use of large typography was also a must. As such, the cover almost designed itself after we found the typeface Quench by the foundry MyType.

Inside and out, we wanted to play with scale within the design to suggest the nature of the content. The section titles all fit the width of the book so that they are as big as possible, and the images in the layout often crop off the page or overlap to suggest an intentional lack of space within the layout. The supporting type family of Editorial New by Pangram Pangram Foundry was chosen as a foil to the brutal nature of Quench; it’s an elegant serif font and performs the role well.

Challenges: For me, the most challenging part of any book is designing the cover. Our covers are often extremely simple and intentionally so, but it takes a lot of iterations to come to the final solution. Everything needs to be “just so” when working with a minimal aesthetic. I’m very pleased with the final result, and it seems to be going down well with our audience. The initial reaction to the book, its title and the contents has been so warm—unlike anything we’ve experienced before. It evidently seems to stir something in designers to create and view such work.

Favorite details: Much of my job as a designer of “design books” is to not get in the way of the work on show. I don’t want my design to be seen as a dominant force over the book’s contents. However, in areas such as the intro pages and the foreword, we were able to use a more expressive typographic system that we felt was in keeping with the work displayed in the book. I think this was very successful and added a layer of excitement. I’m happy that I found a balance between restraint (when showing the designer’s work) and an air of excitement elsewhere.

My hope for the book is that it inspires people to sometimes leave their inhibitions behind when designing and push themselves a little further than their comfort zone. With all our books, I hope that people will see that design can be a creative, fun, passionate, intelligent and rewarding experience, both for the intended audience and the designer making the work.

New lessons: I think the current popularity of “big type” is due, in part, to the visual bombardment we receive each day. The visual landscape to which today’s designers are contributing is cluttered and the digital world alone is so vast that sometimes it feels hard to make your voice heard among all the noise. The work on show within Big Type seems to be an attempt to produce work that stands out and cuts through the noise.

Visual influences: I design books for other people, usually designers or illustrators. Sometimes it can be multiple people as in a logo book or a compilation of work like this. Other times, it’s for a single artist, designer or illustrator, like Malika Favre or Hey Studio. Each time, I try to both create a book that looks tailored to them and attempts to be on show for me as little as possible. I’d like people to pick those books up and think, ‘Of course, that’s the Malika Favre book or the Hey book or the Big Type book,’ with the hope that they think that‘s the natural way for those books to be designed. I want the design to feel effortless and unobtrusive. I don’t always achieve that, but that’s the goal.

As such, I find myself being influenced more and more by the book’s content and less by my own bank of mood or historical references. I try and take a deep dive into the work I’m editing and understand what unifies it, makes it successful or makes it stand out. I picked up a lot of visual cues from the book’s contents and tried to subtly use the visual language of “big type” to my benefit within the design, like in scale, cropping and contrast.


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