Octavo publicaties, main 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. We were commissioned 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 explore. 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.

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.

For Octavo publicaties, Amsterdam. Since 2008, ongoing. 11.7×18.5 cm. Programming by Dan Powers.

The research for this project was made possible with a subsidy from the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture (Fonds BKVB).