History

William Morris, Designer & Provocateur

The best designers aren’t just designers. They’re thinkers, dreamers, makers, tinkerers, dabblers, doers, and provocateurs. Case in point? Consider William Morris, influential member of the Arts and Crafts Movement, poet, textile artist, political oppositionist, Medieval fanboy, and book cover designer. A 19th-century giant of design, Morris defied Victorian ideals of mass production and proved that the best designs always belong to the artisan, not the machine. Even today, we look to Morris’s textiles and typefaces as we try to create book covers with staying power.

William Morris, Designer & Provocateur

Sister Act: Vanessa Bell's Daring Book Cover Designs

Every time you refer to her as Virginia Woolf’s big sister, Vanessa Bell rolls her eyes at you from the grave. An acclaimed modernist painter and founding member of the lauded Bloomsbury group, Bell also dominated the world of modernist book cover design. Bell was the queen of the unclean line, and her book covers were the visual manifestation of her sister’s uninhibited, musical prose. If you fear asymmetry, read no further. If you crave kinetic graphics and broken rules, carry on.

Sister Act: Vanessa Bell's Daring Book Cover Designs

Our Other Whitman: The Subversive Minimalism of a Boston Renaissance Woman

The spare, often floral, book cover designs of 19th Century Boston artist Sarah Wyman Whitman might conjure memories of piles of forgotten books at garage and estate sales. Think thin gold lettering on quiet green cloth. Think precious leaves and hearts. In a bookstore today, where slick, pyrotechnic covers compete for buyers’ attention, you might overlook Whitman’s designs for their antiquated simplicity. And you might regret it. Whitman, whose artistic career and social influence made her one of Boston’s most prolific and intriguing artists, may easily be considered the mother of modern book cover design. At a time when cover design was dominated by ornate flourish and, well, men, she ushered in a new minimalism that continues to speak for itself.

Our Other Whitman: The Subversive Minimalism of a Boston Renaissance Woman