November 18, 2010

A new look for New Directions


Left: the previous logo, designed by Heinz Henghes; Right: Felix Sockwell's updated version

Left: the previous logo, designed by Heinz Henghes; Right: Felix Sockwell's updated version

This week, in anticipation of its upcoming 75th anniversary, the renowned publisher New Directions unveiled a new take on its classic colophon. Commissioned by New Directions creative director at large Rodrigo Corral and drawn by illustrator Felix Sockwell, the refreshed logo gives the publisher a more contemporary identity while still honoring its history of distinguished design.

And what a history, starting from the beginning, when New Directions founder James Laughlin commissioned none other than the famed woodcut artist Rockwell Kent (known for his illustrated editions of Candide and Moby Dick) to create the original colophon, depicting a nude man atop a horse, kneeling on the pages of an open book. The logo’s first refresh came shortly thereafter, when Ezra Pound recommended the sculptor (and Pound’s former roommate) Heinz Henghes to put his spin on it, better reflecting the avant-garde work the young press was already publishing. After all, while Kent’s woodcuts belonged to the historic tradition of craftsmanship, Henghes was a modernist of the new generation.

Kafka's <em>Amerika</em>, designed by Alvin Lustig

Kafka's Amerika, designed by Alvin Lustig

This commitment to cutting-edge design continued through the 1940s and ’50s, when Laughlin asked design hero Alvin Lustig to create a series of iconic covers, many of which (including his takes on Kafka‘s Amerika and Tennessee Williams‘s Camino Real) hold their own among the 20th century’s greatest works of graphic design. Throughout this period, Lustig’s innovative work for New Directions did much to establish the US as a leader in modernist visual culture after it had lagged behind Europe during the early years of the century.

The new logo, along with Rodrigo Corral’s smart design and direction, again positions New Directions as a leader in the realm of book design. Sockwell’s lyrical linework has a number of admirable qualities, notably, Henghes’s rendition has never reduced well to fit on a book’s spine, while the new version is equally charming both large and small. But even better, beyond its depiction of the solemn pursuit of serious literature, there’s a note of joy in the new logo. Henghes’s harsh, angular marks are transformed into a playful scribble, reminding us that at the heart of great writing is great imagination.

You can read more about Sockwell’s process, which includes a lot of research and a trip to the hospital, at his blog.

Christopher King is the Art Director of Melville House.