For our final project in Word & Image I, during the spring of my sophomore year, we were given the poem Untitled by Matt Mullican to design a book based on.
I found the poem to be rather stark after reading through it multiple times and analyzing it in class. I also felt that it was had taken place in the past, between the 1930s and 1960s, which I used to gather source images (from the Library of Congress). Through the placement and cropping of images, I attempted to recreate the feelings I had while reading the poem. I kept the layout of the text simple to draw attention to the image, and used a serif typeface to add a more tactile and historical element to the page.
Untitled by Matt Mullican tells the story of an anonymous woman, who we follow from her birth to her death, learning about her life through short, quick sentences. We are never given the full picture, giving the reader a lot of room for personal interpretation, which makes this work especially suitable for a creative project.
Matt Mullican’s poem Untitled first caught my attention due to its unusual structure—it is over 200 lines long. After the initial shock of length, I read through the poem multiple times, and began to gain a deeper understanding of the work, which would ultimately form the basis of the book I created to house it. I found the poem to be rather dark and somber, without much personal detail or emotional flair. Throughout reading, small details of the woman’s life stood out to me, and lent a historical air to the poem.
I began my sketches by focusing only on typography, and how I could express the pacing of the poem through type placement and treatment. While many of my initial spreads were minimal in design, I did play with the idea of text-heavy spreads. I began to consider simple image treatments, as well as the idea of using a single image for the entire book. I also decided to place the poem within the time period between 1920-1980s.
After receiving initial critique on my thumbnails, I began to consider how to add imagery to my design. I knew I wanted to use historical images throughout the book, but I was unsure of how to place and treat each image.
As I continued to iterate, I realized I wanted to give my book a somewhat tactile element through imagery. I tried various rip effects on the photographs I used. In my final design, I ended up cutting out the images digitally, with straight edges, to recreate the jarring feeling that I found when reading Untitled. Paper choice also played a big part, and I decided I wanted to use a paper that had some sort of texture or irregular element to it to print my final book on.
In my final design, I decided to choose a new image for each spread. I used the amount of image visible on the page to hint at the pacing of the poem, and provide a bigger or smaller glimpse into the woman’s life. It was also important to consider type. I ended up choosing a serif font to reflect the historical element I saw in the poem. After finalizing image placement, I began to play with the organization and weight of the type. I decided to break up the text around one-line segments that I found most important in the poem, which I placed alone on a spread, paired with an evocative image. On these single-line spreads, I went through versions where the text is warped, or placed on a perspective grid to match that of the image, but after several versions, I decided to keep it simple and focus on the placement of the text, rather than how it was distorted.
While I received positive critique on my book, and its clean and effective design, I feel that the cover was lacking slightly. I did not put as much though into it as I would have liked. I think the color is working, and hints at the historical feeling of the book, and provides a beautiful tactile element, but I would have liked to play more with the layout of text on the page, and how the title is displayed. While I may have come back to the design I chose, I wish I would have iterated more to come up with a design I was completely confident with.
I also would have liked to focus more on the idea of ripping photographs. My digital efforts failed in this area, but I think I may have found more success in this concept if I had carried out real-life tests as well. However, there are always limits to school projects, so I understand that this was not feasible at the time.
Overall, I enjoy my final book design, and I think it successfully portrayed my own interpretation of the poem, while providing each reader with an individual experience of the work.