On the 20th November at YCN, the celebrated book designer gave an engaging account of his path to Penguin and beyond, revealing six titles that have played a leading role in his journey.
We were truly delighted to welcome designer and typographer, David Pearson, to the YCN Shop and Library, to share a selection of books that have been seminal in shaping his practice. In a fascinating and endearing talk, David charted the various stages of his career so far, led by a unerring passion for Penguin, and their inherent commitment to innovative and insightful covers: something for which, through his work art directing Penguin's Great Ideas and Great Journeys, he has been influential in upholding.
The evening began with Alexandre Dumas' 'The Count of Monte Cristo', one of the very first books that David was involved in at Penguin. Working his way through manuscripts, preparing for type setting, it was this title that stopped him in his tracks, not least for its size. "I never thought I would read a book this big," David confessed. "You do have to cut it in half because you just can't carry it in your bag. But it's just the most incredible revenge tale — fast and dynamic and a proper page turner."
David went on to select two titles even more embedded in his early experiences at Penguin Books. First was a practical selection: 'The Oxford Colour Spelling Dictionary'. Although refraining from sharing his own copy, which allegedly carries a browning indentation across the pages from its excessive use, the designer revealed this title's role as a sacred text when it comes to breaking words, a crucial practice for any type setter.
Next: 'Penguin by Design'. Designed by David himself, and cataloguing a wealth of titles from within Penguin's own archives, this selection proved a conduit to share lessons learned during the designer's "secondary education". Including idiosyncrasies and charming mistakes present in early publications, as well as some of Jan Tschichold's intelligent revisions, and the emphatic minimalism of Penguin's type-as-image covers, David charted key influences uncovered during the production of this celebrated anthology. "Getting into the archive and looking at every Penguin book that ever existed enabled me to learn wonderful lessons that I had never really learnt at college," David explained. "Getting the tone right; not reinventing the wheel; being fastidious with your work."
This education amongst the Penguin archives was even further enforced by the talents of American book designer, and author of another of David's selections, Peter Mendelsund. "He is reinventing what happens on a book cover at the moment and we are all a bit awe inspired," David confessed. "He is enabling us to do more daring and brave things as he is getting there first." In his recent title, 'What We See When We Read', described by David as a modern 'Ways of Seeing', Mendelsund discusses what happens in our heads when we read: how we form imagery mentally, and how we react to cues or the things we're not told.
Another of David's designs came next, although this time bereft of Penguin. 'The Gentle Author's London Album' was produced by an anonymous East London resident who commits to writing 1000 words a day on their beloved district via an online blog. Covering all matter of subjects, from desire lines to mobster boxers, this release sees a fastidiousness, so respected in design terms by David, applied to a deep analysis of local surroundings.
David's final and perhaps most poignant choice was George Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four', a text that he has, again, had the chance to design. Reflecting on early versions of the cover he produced at college, David explained how this title has for years been waiting in his mind — "the elephant in the room" — and guided us along the path to his solution: a cover with its title arrestingly blacked out. Having been concerned it would be an idea to be laughed at, David revealed his gratitude for Penguin's characteristic level of support.
"Penguin: I'll always be grateful to them for taking these kinds of risks. The great thing was when we saw interactions with the book in shops. People were rubbing it and trying to scratch off the black to see what was beneath. It was truly a design for the physical world, rather than the digital."
We would like to pass on a huge thank you to David for his time, and for a truly inspiring and insightful evening. You can take a look at David's six chosen books below, all of which are now available for YCN Members to borrow from the YCN Lending Library. Images are courtesy of Owen Richards.
The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
The Oxford Colour Spelling Dictionary - Reference
Penguin By Design - Phil Baines
What We See When We Read - Peter Mendelsund
The Gentle Author's London Album - The Gentle Author
Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
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Location:72 Rivington Street,
London, EC2A 3AY,
Start:20th November, 2014 at 6:30pm
End:20th November, 2014 at 8:00pm