Print hasn’t just survived its own death, but it’s arrived on the other side with a brilliant new understanding of the form and what it can do—and that, says designer Neil Donnelly, is what makes it such a brilliant time to be designing books today.
“People have figured out what digital is good for and what print is good for,” he says. “In a way, books have to justify their own existence these days, and so they need to have an object quality that digital just doesn’t have—can’t have. In contrast to digital, the other thing I find to be pretty satisfying about a book is that it has to be done at a certain point, especially in this era of things constantly being flexible, or changeable, or evolving.”
The Carnegie Mellon- and Yale-educated designer devotes about half of his practice to books. He creates jackets for clients and enjoys doing so, but he prefers the total design of a book, where he can hone the relationship between cover and interior concept, and between topic and type.
“It’s important that the design acts as a kind of text in and of itself—that then meaning behind the design can really enhance the meaning of the content,” he says. “At their best, the two are working in a way in which one is inextricable from the other, where you couldn’t imagine reading a text in any other form than in the object that carries it.”
From his Brooklyn studio, Donnelly discusses five books that he and his staff of one, designer Ben Fehrman-Lee, designed from top to bottom, in their perpetual quest to bring a story and its form ever closer to together.