Friday, February 17, 2012

A Design Purge

Over the weekend of February 3 and 4, I presented a paper at an ACM conference held at Cornell College called "The Past, Present, and Future of the Book."

One of the serendipitous events was the purgation of something I hardly realized I'd been harboring. Back in 1999, possibly 2000, I bought a copy of Franz Kafka's The Blue Octavo Notebooks. I remember instantly hating it, even though the words on the pages were treasures to me. The feel of the paper, the deep sparseness of print on the pages, the very dimensions of the book: all awful. These are concerns of paper codex books in our hands and before our eyes.

At the ACM conference, I met a scholar/designer, Brad Coulter at the University of Iowa, who presented his own design work for publishing Kafka's The Trial, inspired by an unusual book from 1968 called The Trial of 6 Designers, which included 6 major designers' approaches to designing Kafka's novel for publication/consumption. A fascinating experiment all on its own.

Later in the conference we had a nice talk, and I brought up the blue notebooks, and we discovered a common disgust at their design. As a character in Kafka, but a character who makes it out of Kafka, I realize at last that the disgust was not only mine--not an alienation response, but a space for collectivity, or sorts.

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