Octavo Publicaties pocketbook collection
To cheaply publish books that are functional, durable and beautiful objects has been an interesting challenge throughout the history of printing. Amsterdam-based Octavo publicaties publishes classic and contemporary texts at the intersection of philosophy and art theory. They asked us to design their main paperback collection and help them bridge the good-vs.-cheap schism.
We found ourselves in the fortunate situation of treating this assignment as a research project that explored how the data of the books could be used to make readable connections between the individual titles visible, and developed a self-organising, programmatic and rhizomatic design: If the book covers are generative, then there will be a larger percentage of the budget for better paper, better binding, and better text typography.
Octavo is a deeply curated, at times whimsical collection, put together by their founder and series editor Solange de Boer. We thought it important to visualise Solange’s ideas about her books, something that we found far too few book collections achieved.
We came up with a design system in which each book is unique but relates to the others, so that what sits on your shelf is a visual continuum:
With Solange’s knowledge of, and feeling for, this collection, we took cues from Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas as well as from the original concept of the Warburg Library itself, and arranged the titles of the series by a “good neighbour” principle, a principle of mutual affinities and connections between the titles, according to Solange’s ideas.
Each book covers is a map of all the books in the series and of their relations, each book pointing out its own place.
(Also notice the lissajous curve, part of Octavo’s visual identity next to the barcode, change from title to title.)
Eleven colours indicate a further, simpler kind of connection between the individual books: eleven thematic disciplines, where each book could fall in one or more of these categories:
Title and author are set in large type on the front cover over the colour areas at a vertical position that is determined by the date of the book’s original publication. The type on the spine and the text on the back cover are vertically aligned with the title, making sure that also this parameter is readable on the spine.
All covers are unique, rhizomatic iterations of a system, and each book is the master design, not just a variation of a fixed template.
Every book has its unique cover through a unique position on the map in relation with other publications, its colour scheme and placement of typography. No parameter is random, all data can be read: it is possible to understand that books with the same colour(s) bear some relation with each other; that the point to which the triangular areas point indicate yet another level of relation between the titles.
Both we and the publisher liked the idea that no reference was made to why the books had certain colours and why the position of the title changes between the titles: the idea of wonder, development and eventual discovery of connections was one we didn’t want to forestall, but leave for the reader to find.
For Octavo publicaties, Amsterdam, 2008 – 2012 and ongoing.