“Beauty and Gravitas”: New Covers and Logos at the APS Press

Jon Repetti is a PhD Candidate in English at Princeton University, where he is completing a dissertation on American literary...

When Peter Dougherty retired from the Princeton University Press, only to immediately take the helm at the APS Press, he promised to usher us into the future while honoring the past. True to that mission, we have enlisted the University of Pennsylvania Press as a distribution partner, engaged the publisher De Gruyter to digitize the massive APS backlist, commissioned multiple series edited by major scholars, made a set of exciting new acquisitions, and nearly completed the search for a new, long-term Director for the Press. The past 18 months have been a season of renewal, and our efforts will begin bearing fruit this summer.

The Summer 2024 season at the APS Press will feature an exciting batch of titles—the first releases boasting our new cover templates and logo. This week, I spoke with the designers who produced these symbols of the Press’s rebirth.

Nicole Hayward and Nola Burger, two book designers with half a century of experience between them, were commissioned to develop a new visual identity for the Press, one that could encompass both the most obscure texts from our deep backlist and the newest trade titles of our upcoming series. Nola explains the task:

“We were asked to design two book cover systems, one for the APS backlist of existing books, another for new books being published currently and in the future—their frontlist. The design of both new and older books had to appear unified, but distinct. The requirement is that all books reflect their professional stature, with a fresh appeal that's respectful of the scholarly material.”

New and old, unified but distinct, fresh but respectful. Reflecting on Nola’s words, it occurs to me that she, from the perspective of a designer, is grappling with precisely the same questions keep editors up at night: How to honor the past while looking towards the future? How to construct a brand identity that is specific without being restrictive, learned without appearing stodgy?

cover of a male hysteria

For book designers, big picture questions of institutional philosophy are inseparable from the practical problems of craft. How do you combine graphics, images, and fonts to produce a template that works for both technical mouthfuls like Crawford H. Greenewalt’s The Flight of Birds: The Significant Dimensions, Their Departure from the Requirements for Dimensional Similarity, and the Effect on Flight Aerodynamics of That Departure and lyrical snapshots like Sue Ann Price’s Of Elephants & Roses? Ultimately, how do you give each book its best shot at being picked off a shelf, or clicked in an Amazon feed?

Nicole and Nola answered these questions through creative experimentation. The covers we see today are the final result of dozens of sketches, conversations, and tiny modifications. In their own words:

“We try a lot of design approaches in the development phase, including ones that are seemingly wrong, such as too edgy or too quiet, because seeing them helps generate more ideas and leads us in new directions. We toggle between sketching independently and critiquing and reviewing as a team. When it comes to the push-pull between old/venerable and new/fresh, the solution often rests in typography. Type and letterforms can bring beauty and gravitas to any work. We've worked together for years and respect each other's design eye, and between us explored many ways to use type, scale, color, and margins—the book designer's toolkit. Ultimately the covers emerged and we presented the strongest designs to UPenn and APS, and after small modifications they were finalized.”

If Nicole and Nola’s work focused on bringing together the APS Press’s past and present, logo-designer Barb Barnett’s job was to embed the Press’s visual identity within the larger ecosystem of the Society. After 10 years as an in-house designer for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Barbara began working as a freelancer, and picked up her first project with the APS contributing exhibit graphics for the Museum's Gathering Voices: Thomas Jefferson and Native America in 2016. Since then, she’s worked with the Museum regularly—including on the newest exhibition, Sketching Splendor—and has produced printed pieces in support of symposia, conferences, and the Press.

cover of the other presidency

Barb sees herself as an unofficial brand manager for the APS, making sure that its visual identity stays consistent across departments and in line with the guidelines developed in 2016 by Tech Impact (previously Message Agency), with whom she is not affiliated. Her goal is to keep all the varied arms of the Society—Library, Museum, Grants, Fellows, Members, and Press—united under a shared banner. And the most striking color on that banner is the gorgeous APS Red, used sparingly but effectively in all publications.

Nicole, Nola, and Barb have been absolutely crucial to the relaunch of the APS Press. Each is a talented designer who understands the Society’s history and is conscious of her role in it. Each book cover is a door between the text and the reader, between the Society and the public, between the past and the present. We hope that these new designs will help open those doors. 
 

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David Nelson
American Philosophical Society