Core77 was delighted to work with New York-based studio Project Projects to design the Designing Here/Now, published by Thames and Hudson. Headed by Adam Michaels and Prem Krishnamurthy, Project Projects is a design studio focusing on print, identity, exhibition and interactive work with clients in art and architecture. In addition to client-based work, the studio initiates and produces independent curatorial and publishing projects.
We sat down with Michaels and designer Anna Rieger to talk about the inception of the project and how it took form.
Core77: We were excited to work with Project Projects on one of the most ambitious projects we've ever taken on. Tell us how you began the design process and what challenges you saw at its inception?
Adam Michaels: We, too, were thrilled to be asked by Core77 to collaborate on Designing Here/Now. It's always a pleasure to work on projects in which design itself is the overt subject matter, as we certainly remain obsessed with this stuff. As potential readers, we found the book's vast array of projects (spanning innumerable media and materials) to be an intriguing, valuable source of information.
Anna Rieger: Core77 had never published a book about their awards before, though they've had a well-visited website for years. In considering the book's design, we thought about the web's interactive features (for example, the live video announcements about the awards, and videos helping to show objects' materiality). For the book we tried to emphasize the strengths of the medium, creating a design that would reward sustained attention (still easier with a book than in the midst of the web's many distractions) and contemplation, while allowing for quick, occasional browsing (the book's navigation is always quite clear so the reader would never feel lost).
How did you approach this project given how many categories and discrete elements of content were involved in the final piece?
AM: As book designers, we're drawn to projects with a degree of complexity and scale, in which we determine through typographic, formal, and material means how best to bring clarity to substantial amounts of information. So we were enthusiastic to develop an overall design that balances a consistent, overarching structure (crucial when working at a scale such as that of this 448-page book) with a varied, playful flow through the book's contents from spread to spread.
This flow is first structured by the book's categorical breakdown (also articulated through elements such as running headers); then a relative weighting of projects kicks in (award winners are generally shown at a greater scale); subsequently, the spreads become the result of a process akin to that of assembling a kind of free-form, information-dense jigsaw puzzle. Variables include the details of text per entry; type of image; potential scale of image (resolution issues remain the scourge of this sort of project, involving hundreds of images from nearly as many sources). Each layout is then the result of an attempt to produce an appealing composition—also making sure a given set of projects works well together on the page—after taking this significant range of details into account.
What about the cover? This is obviously a critical element to any book project. How did you resolve to do what you did with the cover?
AR: The cover is always a tough part of the book to design, especially if you wish for a viewer to be able quickly grasp what the book is about. It seemed important to highlight a range of objects, designers, and categories on the cover, which led us to a collaged approach featuring a wide variety of the book's contents in a visually appealing way.
AM: The cover showcases an almost literal explosion of contemporary design—conveying something of the excitement as well as the dense degree of current activity across various fields of design. This sense of energy is then distilled into a calmer, methodical presentation of the book's materials as the reader proceeds into the book's interior.
The book's gloss cover and black-tinted edges help to create a sculptural profile for the book; I find it particularly satisfying when the book is open to a section divider with a black background—this creates an illusion of the book as a solid black mass, which then transitions nicely into the project layouts.
Just a sampling of Project Projects' collection of publications
Can you tell us a bit about how you see the stature of print, and of publications in general? (For the record, we think that "print is back!")
AM: As someone who works primarily as a book designer, I'm far from a neutral voice on this topic! The only issue I could take with "print is back" is that I would say that it never went away, despite whatever predictions may have been made in conjunction with the introduction of various gadgets into the marketplace. Now is a great time to be working in print, as there seems to be a generally greater understanding of the medium's strengths and weaknesses. For example, though I've always been a fan of flyer art, especially from the 1980–90s hardcore punk scene, it seems perfectly fine to me for timely, ephemeral communications to take place online, without the various logistical hassles (and material resources) required to spread information through print-based, physical channels.
On the other hand, print (particularly books) remains the best option when it comes to longevity, as today's digital assets may not function on tomorrow's devices. And while a more subjective matter, for nearly any kind of deep engagement with complex subject matter, I can focus better and retain greater quantities of information when reading in the form of printed books. (Perhaps future generations, raised on tablet computers, will have a different relationship between objects and memory?) Needless to say, there's no contest on the level of visual and tactile pleasure; e-pub files and readers remain surprisingly crude, with appallingly low typographic standards; the development of unique, complex standalone e-books still holds tremendous potential while appearing to be essentially stalled due to high development costs and low potential for income. In the meantime, book design and print production are better than ever, as digital tools allow texts and images to be handled with a fluidity that could have only be dreamed of following the advent of movable type.
Lastly, my commitment and belief in the continued viability of books is such that I'm launching a publishing company this fall, Inventory Press.
AR: Since a lot of information is in a digital form now, I feel that when people decide to make a book nowadays there is even more of a desire to create a long-lasting object. There's a movement towards more tactical and unusual materials, and unexpected sizes and experimental techniques. For me, a book is still something like a footprint you leave behind: the idea that someone could hold your book several centuries after you've designed it, and possibly be inspired by it, is fascinating to me. There are so many cultural and political references tied into design, and through a book these stay preserved—almost like a time capsule. I don't think people will ever give up on this medium.