Spending hours in a bookstore is magic, they say. But for a designer like me, it’s realization. To be honest, I am not really a big reader. Ask me who my favorite writer is and expect me to pretend I didn’t hear the question.
And to be more frank, I really hate reading, whether it’s a heavy-text paperback or a poetry compilation with wide spaces in between verses. That’s the reason why my recent short stay in this unknown little bookstore in Nashville was no magic for me.
I mentioned realization. What else can I do in a place where cigarettes and liquor are forbidden? So I jumped out of settee and started walking around the sturdy shelves, flipped through some alien books, pretended I was browsing with my eyes, and avoided areas where throng of readers gathered like penguins in hibernation.
I ended up under the Asian Literature signage where I inadvertently landed as I avoided the “real readers” that would make me look uneducated if I joined their silent reading sessions. So to cut it short, I saw myself picking up handful of books one after the other.
Then I carefully took them to a secluded reading area and started looking at their unique sleeves. Yes, I never really challenged myself to read through their pages; I just stayed focused on their covers.
The thirty-three books on the desk were all written in Japanese: tomes, booklets, novels, paperbacks—I didn’t really care. A designer who could not seek pleasure in perusing manuscripts would surely find no greatness in the ideas, perceptions, storylines, or poetry meters written on paper, but I was certain of one thing: I fell in love with the traditional Japanese book covers.
So I judged the books by their covers
Compared to American book covers, most Japanese books are designed with minimalism. Along with cleanliness and brevity of space usage, they are often embellished in staggering simplicity, unlike most American books that are normally adorned by multi-colored and useless macro-image components.
Western book design is a crowded city; Japanese paperback sleeve is a silent prairie
There is an absolute utilization of white space in Japanese book covers. Japanese designers know how to use corners and how to use the vast breathing space unoccupied by minimalist typeface.
They are typographic as well, and it gives me the impression of how they put emphasis on the title and author’s name instead of bombarding the whole layout with irrelevant design elements.
On the other hand, they are experimental as well. They know how to defy traditional rules and design norms without destroying cleanliness and brevity.
Also, I have seen covers with extensive use of geometrical lines and segmentation, hand-drawn and free hand elements, and unfathomable and symbolic figures without breaking its conformity to design function. Japanese designs are always organically refined, unsullied, and comprehensible.
From that time on, a pristine love for Japanese book design has come into me, and that day, I started incorporating my newfound marvel to my web and graphic design works.