“As a work of graphic design, it’s spectacularly impressive, varied, consistent and instantly recognisable…” — Owen Hatherly, 3am Magazine
Our collaboration with Verso began with Radical Thinkers, an ongoing paperback series of political and philosophical thought. It had already seen three volumes produced by the time we took things over; the first three volumes featured designs which emphasized the author’s name and a large ornamental bracket. We decided to abandon this in place of something new.
Our approach was a response to clichéd “radical” designs, often seen in advertising, which rely on formal gestures like ripped paper and aggressive typography. We wanted to show restraint; if the titles in this series are radical it’s for the ideas contained within, not for the packaging. But we didn’t want to reject design as a vehicle for meaning, or strip away every design element in search of a hypothetical “pure” cover, devoid of reference. So we developed a rigid palette of line and type that tries, in varying ways, to stay true to the spirit of each work.
The illustrations aren’t meant to explicitly explain the book’s content. They’re oblique, and occasionally difficult to parse, not unlike some of the texts at hand. The content doesn’t always immediately offer itself to the reader because the system opts for the poetic over the declarative.
The Radical Thinkers series wouldn’t have been possible without frequent conversations with Verso, and as a result we settled into a comfortable working relationship. This grew into a collaboration on the website, where we rethought the presentation and use of Verso’s deep catalog, which reaches back to 1968.
The result is both a research tool and promotional apparatus, as useful for Verso staff as for visitors. Authors, books, blog posts, discussions, and an events calendar are tied together, with each leading to the next, making for a structure that encourages both searching and wandering.
Our work here is ongoing. We laid the groundwork for future growth with the launch, and then introduced direct book sales — including book/epub bundles with no prohibitive DRM and free shipping! — with the site’s second phase in 2014.
While working on the website we became intimately familiar with Verso’s catalog. This led to a series of conversations about their overall design strategy, and eventually to our art directing their catalog of about eighty titles a year.
Our ongoing goal is to grow readership by pulling in design-literate book buyers. Many of these readers have only second-hand exposure to the authors and ideas that Verso publishes; if we can get just one first-year art student to read Jean Baudrillard or Hal Foster, we’ll be satisfied. (Not really.) It’s been our privilege and pleasure to commission covers from some of our favorite designers, including Michael Oswell, Neil Donnelly, Sulki & Min, and Everything Studio.
For infrequent updates of new covers, follow Verso Covers on tumblr.