Daily Features

Kidd for Kids

Designer and writer Chip Kidd discusses his latest book, Go

By John Cantwell, Superscript September 5, 2013

You might think that after nearly 30 years of writing and designing books, Chip Kidd—bard of Batman, Hipgnosis of the hardback—would be deep in his comfort zone writing a book about graphic design. As associate art director for Alfred A. Knopf, Kidd has created dozens of instantly recognizable covers, including Michael Chrichton's Jurassic Park and David Sedaris's Naked.

Yet Kidd admits that when he set about writing his latest book, Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design (to be released by Workman Press on October 8), the idea was anything but comfortable.

"It scared the hell out of me," Kidd told John Cantwell in an interview for Designers & Books. That's because Go is not just another book about graphic design. It is among the first books about graphic design written expressly for kids. 

The cover of Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design (Workman Press)

John Cantwell: Why aren’t there more graphic design books for kids?
Chip Kidd:
I don’t know why. There are lots of books for kids on creativity, but in terms of graphic design specifically there's nothing. To me it seemed like an important thing to try.

JC: Do you think kids today are better suited to learn about graphic design at a young age?
Absolutely. I think now the ability for kids to work with graphic elements has been easier than ever. As a kid I watched TV; now kids create on TV. But the general principles of design remain the same, and those design principles still aren't being explored in schools the way other aspects of art are.

An interior spread from Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design (Workman Press)

JC: The book seems to appeal to children's curiosity and intelligence. How did you do this?
I didn’t want it to be dumbed-down. I wanted to distill graphic design to its basic ideas. I start by explaining that everything created by human beings has to be designed. From there, I get into the concept of problem-solving—explaining how to define a problem, and explaining that the more accurately you define a problem, the better your solution can be.

Chip Kidd in his New York office 

Kidd's exit sign example for children in Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design (Workman Press) 


JC: Conceptually, explaining something like "problem solving" can be pretty tricky though.
Well, I think all kids are solving problems for themselves, whether they realize it or not. But I use a lot of examples to help make things more concrete. One example is: say you’re in a public place with a lot of other people, and then you need to get out of it very quickly. You need to design a sign very quickly that will help you do this. So I show an example of an exit sign with curlicue script type in green on a pink background. Then I show the exit sign as we know it. Maybe the first example is prettier, but it’s inferior to the second example in terms of functionality. That's the kind of problem-solving I discuss. It’s a very basic concept, but an important one.

JC: How did you go about designing the book?
For kids, clarity is especially important: you have to be patient and clear, but the visuals also have to pull them in. I thought back to old layout books I loved when I was a student. They were great because they reduced all the elements on a page into shapes. The shapes became a language you could understand instinctually. In a way, that's how children think—they perceive the world in terms of forms. Good graphic designers need to figure out how to do that too.

An interior spread from Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design (Workman Press)
An interior spread from Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design (Workman Press)


comments powered by Disqus