Peter Mendelsund of Jacket Mechanical on the state of book jacket design:
Book jackets these days, for reasons I won’t unpack, seem to revel, overtly, in wit, conceptual deviousness, unusual clever or droll juxtapositions- we, as a professional community, seem to have elevated the visual bon mot above all other virtues. Again, I won’t delve into the “why” of the matter here for want of space, but suffice it to say that clever work is the work that is celebrated in our community. Not that wit in itself isn’t valuable, and doesn’t have an appropriate place in design- but wit is not the same thing as insightfulness, and often insightfulness is what is called for in a book jacket. Our fetishizing of cleverness has taken a toll I believe, in that (quite often) these clever solutions work at cross-purposes to the (more often than not sincere) narratives they represent. A book in which an author has gone out on a considerable limb in order to write in a genuine and unaffected fashion does not want a cover that winks at the reader. Wit, when it becomes compulsive (as anyone knows who has a friend who puns too often) quickly becomes its opposite- dullness or predictability. Are we, as a professional community, that punning guy? I hope not.
Simply, cleverness and intelligence are not the same thing. Graphic design can very easily stay in the witty and clever, but without any substance—just empty jokes. Cleverness is short-lived and does not age well. Be sure to look at Peter’s most recent work—they feel incredibly timeless and classic.
Maria Bustillos also tackles the idea of cleverness in her piece on movie tagline copywriters Poster Boys from The New York Times:
Richard’s [Goldman] favorite was one he worked on with David [Saltzman] for an ESPN documentary called “The Streak.” It was about a wrestling team that had never lost a match; it had “the longest running winning streak in the history of high school sports.” But “the tension was so unbelievable. If they lost they would be disgracing their grandparents. So my line was, ‘The more you win the more you have to lose.’”
I asked why that was his favorite.
“Because it’s NOT clever.”
David and I both tell him well, yes, it is clever.
“No, it’s truth! It’s true.”
“So truth trumps cleverness?”
The apparent shallowness and glitz of Hollywood are often mocked, but it has always seemed to me that there is a ton of intelligence and passion that goes into making every bit of a Hollywood movie or TV show. Not just careerist passion but true, artistic passion. “Sometimes you feel you are writing an aphorism. Something that will last forever,” Richard told me.