Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Díaz described him as the guy who “seems to strike like lightning.” Novelist Chuck Palahniuk said, “as proof of his gift, I’ve seen thousands of young people tattooed with the images he’s created.” Praise has been lauded on the clear, cutting art and design of Rodrigo Corral for years and from various voices. He’s been celebrated by the writers whose books he’s designed covers for, in the prestigious pages of The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal who have featured profiles on the designer (and right here on Eye on Design), and by institutes like AIGA, the Art Directors Club, and SPD who have presented Corral with numerous awards.
You’ll recognize Corral’s stamp on the covers of books by Vladimir Nabokov, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gertrude Stein, Jorge Luis Borges, Jay-Z, and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. The diverse images he creates deviate from what’s trendy; they aim higher into the realm of the enduringly iconic. As well as fronting his own business, Rodrigo Corral Studio, he’s also the creative director of publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG). It’s a lot to land on one person’s plate, and to top it off, Corral recently had a child and is currently planning his wedding.
“Right now my life is very full,” Corral confirms. “Having the studio adjacent to our home is quite optimal. As an artist and designer, I like the idea of blurring work, play, and family.” Perhaps it’s this intensity that feeds his fast-paced practice. When Corral takes on something new, he doesn’t have time to procrastinate; he must swiftly take aim and hit the mark.
When designing the identity for the 2016 AIGA Gala, the annual black-tie event when the design community comes together to celebrate the recipients of the AIGA Medal, Corral took inspiration directly from the fives honorees: Ruth Ansel, Ric Grefé, Maira Kalman, Gere Kavanaugh, and Corita Kent. “They are icons who have made a tremendous impact with their influence, inspiration, and what they’ve created,” he says. “The identity is therefore about honoring their life’s work and the significance of ‘leaving their mark’ for us.”
This mark-making metaphor is translated visually into an array of icons printed in gold foil—finger prints, glass stains, dust left behind after fireworks, and inky signatures that glimmer across the Gala’s printed paraphernalia. The symbolism is two-fold: the icons that will inevitably accumulate at the Gala over the course of the evening, but they also represent the impressions the honorees have left on the design world.
Gold foil is often used in a refined, formal way,” continues Corral. “I like the challenge of using traditional effects in new ways. For this identity, it’s about the execution, using the gold foil loosely and organically.
Symbolism is key to Corral’s approach to book cover design as well. When he first reads through a book he’s been commissioned to work on, the designer finds that a visual metaphor will often simply jump out from the text at him (though at other times, a sign will be chosen for marketing purposes). “Most often though, covers are a cocktail of tone, color, and concept.”
For instance, in Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, the author explores the idea that even when we think we know our partners, it’s not necessarily a stable situation. Conveying a choppy, uncertain visual tone felt vital to Corral. “There were also references to water and theater throughout the novel, and that lead us to collaging old paintings together to form colliding waves,” he explains, delving deep into the conceptual elements of the design. And for color? That radiant turquoise blue simply jumps out at you from the shelf—it’s electric.
“My career highlights always involve true collaboration, when the trust is there you have the freedom to create something very special,” Corral muses, looking back at the numerous writers and image-makers he’s worked with. He cites designing the jackets for Area X and The Fault in Our Stars as particularly liberating in terms of the circle of trust that grew between design team and client.
Corral is a star in the industry, but for all the traces—and tattooed images—he’s already left behind, in many ways he’s only just beginning. And one day, who knows, he may well find himself at an AIGA Gala picking up a Medal of his own.