In celebration of World Pride, June Object of the Day posts highlight LGBTQ+ designers and design in the collection.
What does it take to design a great book cover? An avid taste for literature surely helps, and so does an eccentric eye for images and type. Chip Kidd (American, b. 1964) has designed some of the most memorable covers and jackets of our time. The skeletal T-rex he created for Michael Chrichton’s novel Jurassic Park—traced by hand from a diagram in a natural history book—became the brand icon for an undying franchise.
Many of Kidd’s greatest works are more subtle and obscure. He began working at the storied New York publisher Knopf in 1986, shortly after graduating from the design program at Penn State University. From the start, Kidd’s work broke with the dominant mass-market aesthetic of the day. In place of filling as much space as possible with swashy, maximal letterforms, he draws us in and makes us curious.
Early assignments include Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love (1989), a novel about a genetically altered family. The characters in the story were bred by their parents to have unusual birth defects so that they could populate a home-grown traveling circus. Rather than directly illustrate the book’s striking cast of differently configured human beings, Kidd created a starkly typographic cover. The letters in this mismatched family have irregular proportions, hybrid geometries, and shifting crossbars. (The book’s title has three E’s, and each one is unique.)
William Tester’s Darling (1991) is about two brothers who grew up on a farm and had sex with the family cow. Through their adult life, the brothers battle each other over who was more beloved by their subjugated companion. A tactile photograph of cowhide envelopes Kidd’s jacket design; the animal skin is juxtaposed with a thrift-store portrait of two young boys. The script lettering is rough, personal, and decidedly off-center.
Kidd’s life partner was the poet J.D. McClatchy (American, 1945–2018), who taught English at Yale and was editor-in-chief of The Yale Review. Kid and McClatchy married in New York City in 2013.
Ellen Lupton is Senior Curator of Contemporary Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and the author of numerous publications, including Design Is Storytelling, The Senses: Design Beyond Vision, and How Posters Work.