Judge These Books By Their Covers, Designed By Alex Trochut
MICHAEL O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Throughout your life, a lot of people have probably told you, "Don't judge a book by its cover." It's a pretty great saying, and applies to just about everything in life, except maybe books. Especially if you're looking at the new work from WNW Member Alex Trochut. Just his contributions to the design of the brand new Penguin Galaxy Series should be enough for you to want it on your shelf. The books could be hollowed out and it wouldn't matter. But sure, the inclusion of six of the most renowned science fiction and fantasy classics, like 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke and Dune by Frank Herbert, is icing on the cake. If you have a heavy preference for gritty realism, and a distaste for escapism to faraway worlds that offer intelligent insights into the one around us, then don't judge these covers by their books.
Below, we talk to Alex about this brief from Penguin Classics, and how he used the texts themselves to create such timeless covers that stand on their own and dovetail with perfect cohesion. "The most challenging part was to find that common thread across all the books that allowed them to be expressive enough to create a certain level of abstraction and visual excitement, and yet accomplish the function of being readable."
Alex also tells us about his approach to his design practice and why he tries not to have a signature style. "I try to change as much as possible (it's a survival technique). I like to discover a new visual language on each project, or at least try to. In the end there is the same hand and mind behind all works. My content comes from the style itself. As a designer, I don't have a specific message to express myself, but I like to express myself with the message."
The individual hardcovers hit shelves today. In the event you go with buying the Penguin Galaxy Series Box Set, available November 15th, you won't even be able to judge the books by their respective covers, because they're housed in a fittingly futuristic jewel-box lucite showcase.
Tell us a little bit about your creative background. Who is Alex Trochut and how did he get here?
I’m from Barcelona and moved to Brooklyn 4 years ago. I’ve been a freelancer for the last 10 years. I’m a one-man team, but I collaborate with other freelancers occasionally. I move on the surface of different disciplines: illustration, graphic design, typography, lettering, art direction, 3d, photography. I like to get lost on every project, looking to get a new experience or tool out of each venture.
I look at what I do as digital crafts. I create images, most of the times images you can read. There is an academic foundation on my lettering work, but always departing toward a subjective side, looking for my own rules (and mistakes).
2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
2001: A Space Odyssey is a timeless enigma that raises questions that scape the human comprehension. Therefore the front cover plays with the idea of a solving a game with the reader. The back cover teases the reader even more to decipher an impossible group of modular pieces that belong to the front cover. This lettering forces the reader to solve a two-second riddle, and turn the cover 90 degrees in order to read it.
What was the inspiration for your design of the Penguin Galaxy Series? Did you draw from the texts themselves, or more from science fiction book-covers of the past? Or something else entirely?
I started by reading the books (listening to them actually, as audio books, due my lack of time and slow reading skills. It's about 3000 pages of content).
The series had to be consistent in style, so the first thing was to find a visual language that could work across all titles. All of them except for The Once and Future King were sci-fi based, so a lettering style made up of lines was a flexible enough approach to allow each title to become its own world, and frame the whole collection as sci-fi themed.
Once learning about each story and coming up with a style that would help to unify the collection with diversity, the creative process was different for every book. Some were more rational and straightforward, towards visualizing a concept with letters, based on a narrative or a contextual element. So, for Neuromancer I would use the idea of glitch, for 2001: A Space Odyssey a text that looks cryptic or alien forcing you to turn the book in order to read it. In other cases the process was more of a happy accident, where the design process of the letterforms was actually the trigger that created the idea behind the cover. For example, in Dune just by using the “D” rotated 90 degrees, the word appeared as a perfect representation of Arrakis, being a point of intersection between four main powers.
Dune by Frank Herbert
An intricate political story of emperors, dukes and barons. Futuristic but with the same ingredients of a medieval epic story. The lettering has a hint of Egyptian jewelry designs inspired by the desert.
DUNE is, as a word, a quite special puzzling structure of letters that allow you to read 4 different characters by simply rotating 90 degrees the “D” shape. I thought this logo, in some way, speaks of the strategic nature of Arrakis, a planet where different parts intersect from different points of view and interests. This design is used in the back cover.
What kind of research and preliminary explorations informed decisions throughout your creative process?
Since this collection was not going to use any illustration and the letters itself would have to illustrate the cover, the most challenging part was to find that common thread across all the books that allowed them to be expressive enough to create a certain level of abstraction and visual excitement, and yet accomplish the function of being readable.
I listed different themes and concepts from each book, so I knew what goals were key for the style to adapt individually, and from there it was a matter of getting lost on each cover and trying to be as expressive as possible within the limitations of the line style and using only letters.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Focused on Gethen (the frozen planet) and its androgynous society, these letters are duplicated and transparent, inducing to be interpreted as ice and the duplication of the same type of gender.
On the back cover we see the androgyne symbol.
What were some of the challenges of bringing your vision to life?
Working with foil stamping had its limitations on contrast and stroke thickness. Once the designs were done, the printer came back saying that all designs had to be modified in order to meet the needs for printing foil correctly. So that was a learning experience. No foil can be printed thinner than 0.5pt.
Neuromancer by William Gibson
William Gibson created the concept of “Cyberpunk”. The future that Neuromancer pictures isn’t clean or sleek, its low-key and obscure, mutated into a hybridization of all kinds…The glitch aesthetics is a good way to capture this mix between human and machine, physical and digital, humanising the machines and mechanising humans to make a hybrid of both. The typography has a technological nostalgia using the colors of an old screen.
In terms of your practice, do you approach book covers differently than album covers and posters?
I think this collection came in as a very unique and brave brief from Penguin Classics (Paul Buckley), who wanted 100% typographic covers. This itself set up a scenario of endless possibilities to explore and many other limitations, which is what created such a creative challenge for me.
I would not think each format or field demands different approaches. I think you can design a record as a book cover if that is something that translates well to the spirit of the record. I think each format has different advantages and limitations. Overall it is a matter of navigating throughout these limitations and making the maximum impact. I don't believe a lot in rules and preconceived ideas. In the end rules are just validated opinions that lead to conclusions that apply to most cases; but when it comes to creativity in a personal approach, they can be your worst enemy.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
The concept is based on the crash of perceptions based on behaviours, traditions, and religions that the book expresses in the differences between Mars and Earth. The words “Stranger in a” appear facing an opposite directions as “Strange Land”, confronting the subject and the context.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all of your projects, or do you try to excuse yourself and approach each project as its own entity?
I try not having one style. I try to change as much as possible (it's a survival technique). I like to discover a new visual language on each project, or at least try to. In the end there is the same hand and mind behind all works. My content comes from the style itself. As a designer, I don't have a specific message to express myself, but I like to express myself with the message.
Are you a big sci-fi fan? What’s your favorite book from the collection?
I enjoy it, but I would not call myself a big fan or an expert. I enjoyed all of them for different reasons, but Neuromancer was probably the one that sparked my imagination the most.
The Once and Future King by T. H. White
This book cover is the result of merging the line style of the collection with a medieval style lettering. The icon of the sword is on the back, appearing half-hidden, referencing the sword in the stone.
While we're on the subject, what’s your favorite science fiction film?
Mmmm, Alien and Prometheus are probably at the top of my list.
What are you working on now?
I’m trying to get myself more familiar with new tools like 3D.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for the interview! ;)