The Book Covers Project: Research

For this brief, the aim is to redesign classic books to make them engaging and appealing to a new, digitally native audience. I have decided to choose the Penguin on Design series, which consists of the books:

  • The Poetics of Space, by Gaston Bachelard
  • On Photography, by Susan Sontag
  • The Beauty of Everyday Things, by Soetsu Yanagi

The Beauty of Everyday Things

The daily lives of ordinary people are replete with objects, common things used in commonplace settings. These objects are our constant companions in life. As such, writes Soetsu Yanagi, they should be made with care and built to last, treated with respect and even affection. They should be natural and simple, sturdy and safe – the aesthetic result of wholeheartedly fulfilling utilitarian needs. They should, in short, be things of beauty. In an age of feeble and ugly machine-made things, these essays call for us to deepen and transform our relationship with the objects that surround us. Inspired by the work of the simple, humble craftsmen Yanagi encountered during his lifelong travels through Japan and Korea, they are an earnest defence of modest, honest, handcrafted things – from traditional teacups to jars to cloth and paper. Objects like these exemplify the enduring appeal of simplicity and function: the beauty of everyday things.

Taken from https://doyoureadme.de/shop/design/the-beauty-of-everyday-things-soetsu-yanagi-pb?v=3a52f3c22ed6 . I wanted to find out what the book was about to see if I could pick out a key theme or idea in it. I picked out some key quotes:

  • “Even the common articles made for daily use become endowed with beauty when they are loved.”
  • “What is the proper way of seeing? In brief, it is to see things as they are. However, very few people possess this purity of sight. That is, such people are not seeing things as they are, but are influenced by preconceptions. ‘Knowing’ has been added to ‘seeing’.”
  • “People these days waste a tremendous amount of paper. They waste it because it is of poor quality and is made to be wasted. Or it might be more correctly said that the perception of good paper as a precious commodity has dwindled. But does this careless treatment of paper mean that our lives are any better? No, it is precisely such irresponsible thinking that should be avoided at all costs. Both from a moral and aesthetic point of view, it should be shunned. It lacks any feeling of gratitude or appreciation for one of the blessings of nature.”
  • “Under the snow’s reflected light creeping into the houses, beneath the dim lamplight, various types of manual work is taken up. This is how time is forgotten; this is how work absorbs the hours and days. If time remains unused, winter becomes a curse.”

I read a review of this book from https://earthbound.report/2019/02/25/book-review-the-beauty-of-everyday-things-by-soetsu-yanagi/.

Part of this review contained an interesting quote to me, which reads “there is a certain irony to reading about handmade objects in a mass produced Penguin paperback, and it feels like the book deserves something more tactile. But then that would make it too expensive, and it would undermine the point too”. This made me question my approach to the book cover design; I feel like it will need to be timeless, so people would want to keep it as a collectable item. This would tackle the problem with throwaway consumers. 

This book discusses Japanese handicrafts, starting with Mingei (folk crafts) and later exploring traditional fabrics, poetry and woodblock prints. This reminded me of the art form Kintsugi, which is broken pottery pieces being put back together with gold. This is a metaphor for embracing your flaws and imperfections. This teaches people to take pride in their possessions. In the review from Earth Bound report, it states “The approach to material objects that Yanagi describes here is the opposite of consumerism. Even when mass produced, the objects he describes are created with skill and pride,  made to last, and appreciated for what they are. They are not disposable. They are mended if they break. They are in no way consumed.” I would like to portray this in my work.

On Waterstones’ website, they have more reviews for this book, one made by Edmund de Waal says it is “Radical and inspiring… Yanagi’s vision puts the connection between the heart and hand before the transient and commercial.” I wanted to look more into Soetsu Yanagi so I want onto Penguin’s website, the publisher of the book. He was a Japanese philosopher and founder of the Mingei movement. There is a criteria for Mingei:

  • Made by anonymous crafts people
  • Produced by hand
  • Inexpensive 
  • Functional in daily life

Published by Ellie Brennan

Studying Graphic Design at Manchester Metropolitan University.

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