When the Great Books Foundation, a Chicago-based not-for-profit, contacted design duo Anne Jordan and Mitch Goldstein to design not one but three covers (and a boxed set slipcover) for a three-part anthology on popular culture, the pair immediately accepted the challenge. Great Books, after all, need great covers. Jordan and Goldstein’s design process for this project, however, reveals the art of transforming noble ideas and values into provocative images and designs. Throughout the process, Jordan and Goldstein leaned on the abstract to convey the utility and inspiration of pop culture, even in modern intellectual circles.
The Great Books Foundation does work in which Jordan and Goldstein wholeheartedly believe: “The Great Books Foundation is a non-profit educational organization based in Chicago with a mission to help people think and share ideas. Since 1947, their wide-ranging publications and outreach have engaged millions of students, thousands of teachers, and generations of adult group members. The foundation believes that the reading and discussion of great literature and great art is of the utmost importance. It builds a shared humanity—and gives us the opportunity to understand and engage with a world of different ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives,” Jordan said. “To celebrate their 70th anniversary, the foundation published "Big Ideas in Popular Culture"–a trio of anthologies showcasing some of the best writing on popular culture topics over the last 70 years, across many genres. The trio celebrates the fact that great ideas are all around us. Across music, film, and television, popular culture is a rich source of vibrant and provocative writing on ideas central to our modern world.”
The challenge for Jordan and Goldstein, of course, was distilling ideas of shared humanity, multiple perspectives, and the mantra “great ideas are all around us” into a cohesive and engaging set of cover designs. Jordan and Goldstein kept their concepts decidedly—and deceptively—simple. The black and white images are offset by vibrant, yet unsettling hues of fuchsia and orange in the cover text and on the books’ spine. “We created original black and white abstract artwork to symbolize the three areas of culture that these books explore. In Sound Bites a linear ink drawing is reminiscent of sound waves and vibrations; in Double Features a photograph of delicate paper strips is evocative of film and motion; and in Tube Talk overlapping planes of transparent paper rectangles are suggestive of shifting television screens,” Jordan said. “All of these images were constructed by hand and then scanned or photographed to become reproducible book covers. The corresponding slipcase borrows parts of each image, presented as circles sprinkled across all sides, as a visual celebration of great ideas overlapping and influencing each other.”
Jordan and Goldstein’s designs do not loudly proclaim the values of the Great Books Foundation through concrete imagery, nor were they ever meant to do so. Instead, they (like the best book covers do) evoke a subtle, perhaps even subconscious, feeling of curiosity for anyone who holds this boxed set in their hands. Great ideas are all around us, and in the case of the ‘Big Ideas’ trilogy, great ideas come in powerful little packages.
Join us in celebrating the enormous talent that goes into making books. Consider a small donation to our Patreon fund. Your support helps us provide you with an in-depth look at some of the book publishing industry's most creative people.
Mary Ryan Karnes is a freelance writer and a Master's candidate in fiction at the University of Southern Mississippi.