Before a crowd savoring the latest tech advances, Chip Kidd made a plea for the “thinginess” of books—for the ineffable sensuality they offer readers and that to his mind, Kindle has yet to approximate. Calling himself a “book designer, page turner, dog-eared place holder, notes in the margins taker, ink sniffer,” Knopf’s pioneering designer of book jackets, whose iconic covers include those for Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (later adopted for the film), David Sedaris’ Naked (a picture of a skeleton was covered by a clear sheath showing a pair of underpants) and most recently, Haruki Murakami’s haunting 1Q84, followed up his 2012 TED talk yesterday by sitting down with W's Diane Solway.
You described how a book cover is “a distillation, a haiku of the story.” Have authors always welcomed your approach?
Katharine Hepburn didn’t initially when I did a text-only cover for Me: Stories of my Life. [her 1991 memoir] She had even made some sketches for the cover and assumed I would use an image. It took awhile to convince her that it would be impossible to choose just one definitive image of her. And it was Katharine Hepburn speaking to the reader, so I chose to tell the story of the book using typography, not an image.
Do you own a Kindle?
No. As a book designer, I don’t like what books look like on a Kindle. It’s like a filmmaker going back to silent film.
A silent film just won the Oscar for Best Picture.
Well that’s not a great example of course! But it doesn’t take great design into account.
What’s the last gadget you bought?
I just got an iPhone 4. I had an iPhone2 for the longest time. The image on my home page is a Captain Marvel doll from 1945. Only three are known to exist. I don’t own an iPad.
What are your go-to iPhone apps?
I love William Joyce’s apps for children’s books. But mostly I use apps to check, “Is my flight on time?” and though I shouldn’t admit it, “Googling and cheating on crossword puzzles. “
What are you reading?
The manuscript for Oliver Sacks’ new book Hallucinations.
What’s the last thing you saw that wowed you?
Two things, one high, one low: The Metropolitan Opera’s The Enchanted Island. The stagecraft was amazing. And Mission Impossible Four. Brad Bird is a genius.
Describe your style as a designer:
I prefer to have a sensibility than a style. I like the idea that each book is different and I can start over each time. I’ve done how many covers for Murakami? Eight? And they are all completely different. As a graphic designer and book designer, I feel that if someone can predict what I’m going to do then I’ve failed. The greatest compliment anyone can pay me is to say, ‘Wow. I saw this book and I thought the design was great and I looked at it and your name was on it’. I never would have guessed that in a million years.
Who is your muse?
Eileen Gray. [the late architect and designer] I’m fascinated with her. I wish I’d met her. And my partner J.D. McClatchy, the poet and librettist.
What about your personal style?
I like classic, with a quirk.