A Conversation With Charlotte Strick, Book Jacket Designer

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charlotte_strick_cropped.jpg For much of her life, Charlotte Strick wanted to work in fashion, since her mother had been a fashion designer in England. But her father was a book publisher, and she ended up somewhere between the two: an art director and book jacket designer for Faber & Faber and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and the art editor and designer of The Paris Review.

Among the book jackets that Strick has designed in recent years include those for Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, Roberto Bolaño's 2666, Sam Lipsyte's The Ask, and The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Here, she discusses the coming revolution in e-book design, 1960s bar stools, and "I've Been Working on the Railroad."

What do you say when people ask you, "What do you do?"

I'm a graphic designer. By day (and sometimes by night), a book jacket designer.

What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on the design world?

Surely it's that all of us are suddenly designers. Some of us also have degrees under our belts, but everyone these days seems to be "curating" their worlds: their homes, their offices, their cars. Design is something we're all feasting on. We just can't seem to get enough.

What's something that most people just don't understand about your field?

Perhaps it more that they just don't expect it ... but as jacket designers we actually do read the books before we design them!

What's an emerging trend that you think will shake up the design world?

Well, in book design it certainly seems to be electronic books. Everyone has an opinion on whether or not the book publishing world as we know it is doomed. Just as the design of websites was becoming more interesting and thoughtful by the late '90s, it's clear that the look and feel of e-books will transform over the next decade. As a designer who makes her living creating covers for actual books, I hope to take part in this. I don't want our work to be reproduced exclusively in black and white or viewed only at postage stamp size.

What's a design trend that you wish would go away?

It's not so much a design "trend": the lack of quality in trade book publishing. Because of the rising costs of printing, many publishers are now using thinner paper stocks for book interiors. The paper feels cheap and there's more "show through" of the text from the previous page. Those of you who still enjoy holding a good old-fashioned book in your hands will know what I'm talking about. You really can feel the difference.

What's an idea you became fascinated with but that ended up taking you off track?

Do ex-boyfriends count?

Who are three people you'd put in the design-world Hall of Fame?

Hmmm ... well, if they aren't in there already ... Graphic design hero: Alvin Lustig. The book covers he created for the New Classic Series for New Directions in the '40s and '50s still look fresh and continue to inspire so many of us. Artist/designer/colorist: Sonia Delaunay. The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in NYC agrees! An exhibit of her work opens on March 18; I can't wait. And French architect, furniture designer, and fellow Charlotte: Charlotte Perriand. Someday I'd like to own at least one of her 1960s bar stools originally conceived for the Les Arcs ski lodge.

What other field or occupation did you consider going into?

At age three, I definitely wanted to grow up to be a stewardess and fly the friendly skies for a living. As an adult, my first job out of college was as an assistant to a costume designer in Los Angeles. I really loved it. From an early age I really wanted to design a line of clothing. Who knows? It could still happen!

What website or app most helps you do your job on a daily basis?

One word: Google. I'm always searching for images for design concepts, to jog a memory, etc. Ideas will pop into my head, and it acts as an extended visual Rolodex for me. On average I have about 10 tabs open in my Web browser at a time. That jumble of information is just part of my process.

What song's been stuck in your head lately?

I'm currently home on maternity leave with my three-and-a-half-month-old twin boys. We've been singing a lot of "I've Been Working on the Railroad." It's a catchy little tune.


Image: Courtesy of Charlotte Strick

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Daniel Fromson, a former associate editor at The Atlantic, is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He writes regularly for The Washington Post. His work has also appeared in Harper's Magazine, New York, and Slate.

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