The ekphrasis series has become the cornerstone of David Zwirner Books, a locus of the imprint’s mission to publish rare, out-of-print, and newly commissioned texts with an eye toward exceptional design. These accessible paperback volumes, which fit neatly in the average back pocket, range from late-in-life musings on art criticism from French painter Paul Gauguin to an idiosyncratic history of urinating figures in art by Jean-Claude Lebensztejn to visceral first-hand accounts of experiences with great works of art by radical feminist aesthetician Vernon Lee.
We asked Michael Dyer, principal of the Brooklyn-based design firm Remake, to share his thought process behind the series’ distinct design, and the challenges in creating a cohesive format that foregrounds such a wide-ranging collection of literary texts on visual culture.
How did you tackle the series as a whole? What did you have to take into consideration?
In general, we needed a system that could deal with quite a lot of variety but still feel coherent and pleasurable to read. The trim size, typography, and grid were the three essential ingredients. We explored a lot of options and settled on a pretty traditional pocket-sized format that was tweaked to have a nicer balance between the text and white space. This grid was then based on a series of classical proportional relationships between the margins, gutter, and column. The comparatively modern font, Arnhem, adds a twist to this traditional framework, and it also ensured good legibility at all sizes.