This week we’re joining our fellow members of the Association of American University Presses in celebration of University Press Week, an occasion first called for in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter, and renewed in 2012 by the AAUP. As in past years, UP Week 2015 includes a blog tour, a nice way for AAUP member presses to come together offering insight into what we do. The theme for today is “Design in UP and Scholarly Publishing,” so we had a chat with HUP Senior Book Designer Jill Breitbarth about one of her recent projects, a forthcoming book from Stephen M. Stigler titled The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom. Our conversation is below.
Q. In some cases—biographies comes to mind—the content of a book can really dictate the design for its cover. In others, though, you probably have a lot more freedom to take the design in any number of different directions. What were your first thoughts when you sat down to work on the jacket design for The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom?
“Trade-y and light-hearted” were my instructions from the Sales Department, but the author liked this engraving of Pierre-Simon Laplace and other scientists gathering to meet Napoleon at the Louvre:
Q. We do see these powdered-wig fellows on a few of your early designs for the book—was that driven by the author’s initial suggestion?
As you can see from the engraving, the book touches on the history of statistics, and the acquiring editor noted that Stigler “sets forth what he considers are the seven pillars or foundational ideas of modern statistical analysis. The history of these ideas ranges from antiquity to the early 20th century.” Looking for images of ye olde mathematicians such as Laplace—the man in both of the powder-wig portraits I started working with—was a natural progression. I was hoping to find something more colorful and dynamic than the engraving, and I liked the painting of Jean Antoine Houdon (1741-1828) sculpting the bust of Pierre Simon Marquis de Laplace (1749-1827), in the Presence of his Wife and Daughters, 1804 (oil on canvas) by Louis Leopold Boilly but we decided it wasn’t right because it made the book look solely like a work of history.
Q. Then we get a sort of shift to the strongman, a very different approach than the wigs.
As you see in the title of the book, pillars function as important symbols. It is here where I simply let go and free associated, thinking of what else might be loosely tied to this topic. It was fortuitous that I happen to be distantly related to a strongman who performed in Europe and America during the early part of the last century. I have a wee trove of images of Strongman Siegmund Breitbart, the first Jewish strongman to grace the vaudeville circuit, so I scoured them, looking for one with a pillar. It was common for the strongmen to dress as Roman gladiators while demonstrating feats of strength. Maybe there would be some Roman columns used as props?!
I didn’t find one with Zishe Breitbart but I did come across the perfect image of a contemporary of Breitbart, Eugen Sandow (a Lutheran).
But there was concern that the image wasn’t contemporary enough to appeal to the forward-thinking readers the author had in mind. The phrase “phallic symbolism” was also used; ultimately we decided this wasn’t quite right, either.
Q: And then there’s another wholesale shift onto more graphic, text-based covers, which is where the design ended up. There’s a single illustration decorating the layout, a sort of cartoon brain with overlaid gears and faucets. Were you looking for something with that kind of whimsical feel, or did you luck into it?
The “luck” search is very common in design. I showed a couple of those early comps in-house, but then had to get away from anything too historical or ironic. The “all-type” approach was suggested, so I jumped into lines and type and then, finally, added a colorful, enticing graphic that could allude to the many useful applications of statistics.
Yes, I often do. The key for me is to let go, to fly a bit toward a land very far from the rigor and research of the Academy. Using this wild-ride method isn’t the most efficient way to design but it is fun, and sometimes, every once in a while, I succeed in getting a “strongman” on a book jacket.