Judge A Book by its Cover

Do you judge books by their covers? What makes you pick up a book or magazine? A successful cover design might allude to the content within its pages, invoke feelings, or communicate a powerful message. Designers make distinct choices to create this dynamic first impression and invite people to open the book. Join us for a virtual panel discussion in celebration of Cooper Hewitt’s current exhibition, Underground Modernist: E. McKnight Kauffer, offering perspectives on Kauffer’s book covers and exploring how they have influenced book cover design today. Moderated by Caitlin Condell, Head of Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, panelists will include Gail Anderson, designer, writer, and educator, and Steven Heller, author and editor.

E. McKnight Kauffer (American, 1890–1954) was a pioneer of commercial art—the profession known today as graphic design. Hailed in his lifetime as “the poster king,” Kauffer made modernism accessible by applying cutting-edge styles to designs for advertising, literature, theater, transportation, and more. He was particularly prolific as a designer of book covers, producing over 200 published designs for everything from royal biographies and classics to mysteries and manifestos.


Caitlin Condell (Moderator)  is the associate curator and head of the Department of Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, where she oversees a collection of nearly 147,000 works on paper dating from the 14th century to the present. She has organized and contributed to numerous exhibitions and publications includingUnderground Modernist: E. McKnight Kauffer (2021-22), After Icebergs (2019-20),Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial (2019-20), Fragile Beasts (2016-17), and How Posters Work (2015) at Cooper Hewitt, and Making Room: The Space Between Two and Three Dimensions (2012-13) at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). She worked previously at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in the department of Prints & Illustrated Books. 

Gail Anderson is Chair of BFA Design and BFA Advertising at the School of Visual Arts and creative director at Visual Arts Press. Anderson serves on the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee for the US Postal Service and the advisory boards of Poster House and The One Club for Creativity. She is an AIGA Medalist and the 2018 recipient of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement. Her work is represented in the Library of Congress’ permanent collection, the Milton Glaser Design Archives, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Steven Heller is the author and editor of over 130 books on graphic design, satiric art, and popular culture. Lying at the intersection of editorial design, design history and criticism, and design education, Heller’s work has focused on building foundations for exploring and preserving design as a social and cultural force. Heller co founded several graduate programs at the School of Visual Arts, including the MFA Design Program (Designer as Author and Entrepreneur), of which he is also co chair. He served as art director for 33 years at the New York Times and continues to contribute as a columnist for the New York Times Book Review and other leading publications. 


This free program will feature short presentations from each of our speakers, and a moderated panel discussion followed by an audience Q&A. It will be hosted through Zoom, with the option to dial in as well. Details will be emailed to you upon registration. This program includes live CART captioning. It will be recorded and available on Cooper Hewitt’s YouTube channel. For general questions, or if we can provide additional accessibility services or accommodation to support your participation in this program, please email us at CHEducation@si.edu or let us know when registering. Please make your accommodation request as far in advance as possible—preferably at least one week before the program date when possible. 


Special Thanks

Underground Modernist: E. McKnight Kauffer is made possible with support from the Barbara and Morton Mandel Design Gallery Endowment Fund and the Esme Usdan Exhibition Endowment Fund.