In the creative industries, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that doesn’t have a strange relationship with the phrase “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” As designers, its quite common for the whole point of the job to be getting readers to judge a book, literally, by its cover.
If you’re the type that hasn’t yet given up on the power of the printed word, especially the printed word done exceptionally well, then the AUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Show is a must-attend event. Each year, the Association of University Presses judges the design competition, and then winning submissions spend the next year as a traveling exhibit making stops at some of our country’s finest academic institutions. The competition recognizes excellence across a number of book design categories, including Scholarly Typographic, Scholarly Illustrated, Trade Typographic, Trade Illustrated, Poetry and Literature, Reference, Journal, and of course, Jackets + Covers.
The show is a true celebration of an often overlooked area of our industry, and one that has plenty of strong roots right here in the city of Pittsburgh. Our friends at University of Pittsburgh Press were among the award winners in this year’s competition. On Tuesday, October 23rd, Joel Coggins, design and production manager for the Press, opened the doors to their offices in Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze neighborhood to share the exhibition of award winners with our design community.
The show displayed over 100 well designed books ranging from the very in-depth academic reads to staple coffee table photo books. Walking into the show felt a bit like walking through a book store, if only book stores refused to put ugly books on their shelves. And as Joel reassured me, there were plenty of great books that didn’t make the final cut. The content of the books on display was just as diverse as the artwork. This is perhaps the greatest thing about University Presses: the books they publish aren’t always for mass consumption. Topics can be as niche as they come, and I found myself captivated by the juxtaposition of indiscriminately published titles.
I gravitated towards two books in particular that exemplified the wide range of scholarship presented: University of Chicago Press’s “Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants,” which delightfully illustrates the subtle differences between the thousands of North American species of ant, often to scale; and another, from Johns Hopkins University Press: “Flickering Treasures,” a gorgeous collection of photographs and biographical text documenting the rich history of the early and ornate movie theaters of Baltimore.
Though the low-key event was a bit off the beaten path, the small handful of book designers and enthusiasts who attended had plenty to geek out about, whether appreciating the work on display, or sharing anecdotes of our own publishing exploits. In a world where truncation reigns supreme, its refreshing to know there are still plenty of like-minded publishers out there who care so deeply about cultivating and sharing knowledge, and doing so with such style.
If you missed the event this year, our friends at University of Pittsburgh Press are sure to host the traveling exhibit again in 2019.
Author: Michael Artman
AIGA Pittsburgh Education Co-Director,
Designer, Landesberg Design