Analog Graphic Design to Die For: 5 Fantastic Die-Cut Books

Kindles and iPads have a lot of advantages—but they still can't duplicate paper cutouts. A roundup of impossible-to-digitize reading.


For all their wonder and promise, one crucial component of the joy of reading still eludes the publishing platforms of the future: holding a beautifully bound, meticulously designed, thoughtfully crafted tome in your two hands. Hardly does that tactile delight get more intense than with a magnificent die-cut book. (Die-cutting is a process using a steel die to cut away sections of a page.) Here are five old-timey treasures that will make you swoon in rediscovered awe of the analog.

1. THINGS I HAVE LEARNED IN MY LIFE SO FAR

Every seven years, Stefan Sagmeister takes a year-long sabbatical, during which he does absolutely no commercial work. Instead, he retreats to Bali or another off-the-grid corner of the world, where he immerses himself in creative exploration and self-improvement. Things I have learned in my life so far, sitting atop my ranking of beautifully designed books by prominent graphic designers, grew from a list in his diary compiled during his first such sabbatical. The book, which consists of 15 unbound signatures in a gorgeous die-cut slipcase producing 15 different covers, is a reflection on life, being human, and the meaning of happiness, relayed through the language Sagmeister is so masterfully fluent in -- elegant, eloquent graphic design. Each spread presents a beautifully and thoughtfully designed typographic sentiment, or fragment of a sentiment continued on the following spread, about one of life's simple truths -- part Live Now, part Everything Is Going To Be OK, part The 3D Type Book, yet it both predates and outshines all three.

2. TREE OF CODES

Jonathan Safran Foer's Tree of Codes topped the Brainpickings list of the best art, design and photography books of 2010 -- and for good reason. So ambitious was Foer's project that nearly all bookbinders he approached deemed it unmakeable. When Belgian publishing house Die Keure finally figured out a way to make it work, what came out was a brilliant piece of "analog interactive storytelling" -- a book created by cutting out chunks of text from Foer's favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish author Bruno Schulz, rearranging the text to form an entirely different story. The die-cut narrative hangs in an aura of negative space for a beautiful blend of sculpture and storytelling, adding a layer of physicality to the reading experience in a way that completely reshapes your relationship with text and the printed page.

I thought: What if you pushed it to the extreme, and created something not old-fashioned or nostalgic but just beautiful? It helps you remember that life can surprise you." ~ Jonathan Safran Foer

My full review here, including remarkable making-of footage.

3. HOLY CLUES

Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is one of the most beloved and enduring literary characters of all time, to this day culturally relevant and alluring. In the 1999 unlikely gem Holy Clues : The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmes, author Stephen Kendrick explores how Holmes's legendary methods of Zen-like awareness, observation and deduction can be employed in our relationship with spirituality. (Cue in Kirstin Butler's omnibus of seven essential meditations on the science of spirituality.) The book's dust jacket features a single die-cut hole, through which peeks Sherlock's iconic silhouette on a patterned pictorial cover.

4. OFFF, YEAR ZERO

For the past decade, the OFFF festival of post-digital culture has been a beacon of contemporary art, design, and media innovation, offering a provocative lens for understanding modern culture. Every year, OFFF releases a lavish book that's both a catalog of work from the festival and a scrumptious keepsake tome of visual culture. This year, as the festival celebrates its roots and its return to Barcelona, it produced what's easily the most ambitious book yet: OFFF, Year Zero: Artwork and Designs from the OFFF Festival, published by my friends at Mark Batty and featuring astounding, visually gripping work around the "Year Zero" theme.

Each of the tome's 300 pages is die-cut, so the stunning artworks can be hung on the walls of homes, studios, classrooms, and creativity hubs alike.

5. CURIOUS BOYM

Since 1986, designer Constantin Boym and his partner Laurene Leon Boym, working as Boym Partners, have been finding humor in the humdrum and magic in the mundane to churn out relentlessly whimsical work across product design, furniture, installations, and more. Curious Boym from Princeton Architectural Press and design duo Hjalti Karlsson + Jan Wilker is an appropriately playful volume covering the many mediums of Boym's creative curiosity. The tactile, interactive book features a die-cut cover, pop-ups, pull-outs, and other analog surprises that play into Boym's irreverent, exuberant, and fun approach to design.

The lovely Abe Books has even more die-cut gems for your gushing pleasure.



This post also appears on Brain Pickings.

Presented by

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Entertainment

Just In