March 2, 2012

Notes on design: “It’s ok not to reinvent the wheel.”


On the occasion of the UK publication of Spitalfields Life, a collection of sketches about life in London’s East End, the writer behind the book, known only as “The Gentle Author,” has written a short but lovely sketch of the book’s designer, David Pearson. Pearson is known by many book lovers for his distinguished typographic work on Penguin’s Great Ideas, Great Loves, and Great Journeys series, which makes extensive reference to design history, feeling at once fresh and timeless. He sums up his design philosophy this way: ”Good design is about refinement and details—I’ve learnt it’s ok not to reinvent the wheel.” According to The Gentle Author, it’s an ethos ideally suited to the process of designing this book:

For interest’s sake I sent David a copy of a page of Dickens “Household Words” from 1851, as the closest precedent I knew for a collection of short literary pieces. Dickens published these weekly and for tuppence his forty thousand readers in London received a pamphlet of half a dozen stories every Saturday morning—a publication that today would almost certainly be a blog. When David saw this, he decided to adopt the same two column structure for Spitalfields Life, recognising that this format brought a pace and a dynamism to the flow of the type, and the font he chose was Miller by Matthew Carter, a redesign of a Scotch Roman face of a century ago which possesses subtle details, and that he characterised as “resolute.” What most appeals to me about David’s designs is that they do not look “designed,” they look as if they arrived how they are naturally and the success of his work on Spitalfields Life means that I could not now imagine the book any other way.

You can read the full profile at Spitalfields Life. For more on Pearson, be sure to read his interview with Dan Wagstaff at The Casual Optimist.


Christopher King is the Art Director of Melville House.