Q&A with Maria Lindenfeldar, designer of the award-winning cover for “The First Pop Age”

This year, Princeton University Press won two awards in the AAUP Book, Jacket and Journal Show. One of the award-winning covers belonged to The First Pop Age: Painting and Subjectivity in the Art of Hamilton, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Richter, and Ruscha by Hal Foster. Maria Lindenfeldar, an Art Director here at the press and designer of the cover, answered some questions about the design process.

Maria learned book design “on the job” — she majored in Government and has a graduate degree in Architectural History. Her only formal graphic design training was one semester in the post-baccalaureate program at Moore College of Art and Design. Her experiences have taught her that you can turn a hobby into a career if you work hard enough and find someone willing to take a chance on you.

Stay tuned for another Q&A post with Jason Alejandro, the designer of the second winning cover: Whatever Gets You Through the Night: A Story of Sheherezade and the Arabian Entertainments by Andrei Codrescu.

Q: What is the most important thing that you personally keep in mind when coming up with a cover?

A: I love this question and really appreciate your asking it.

When coming up with a cover, I always try to have the image and/or type make sense. On a very basic level, this can mean choosing a typeface for a history book from the period discussed in its pages. Stepping back a bit further, a collection of Victorian letters can be enhanced by decorative ornaments that suggest their author’s milieu. On an even more conceptual level, “making sense” can involve searching for a symbolic or metaphorical image: intertwined green and red/white/blue rings for a book about the United States diplomacy in the Muslim world; a forest of frozen trees for an account of people deserted in Siberia; a child’s outstretched hand for a book about Europe’s rise from poverty. There is a 19th-century concept of “propriety” (often invoked by architects from that era) that I always keep in mind when designing. It makes me feel very connected to the Press’s history. Very nerdy, I know, but something that is constantly with me. When I think about the Press’s building, modeled after a printing museum in Belgium, I know that the same spirit was at work.

After meeting that most fundamental criterion, I turn to style. I try to make each jacket look current as well as timeless. This is harder than it seems—I want the jacket to reflect my own taste, what is fashionable, and what is appropriate for the material. My own preferences toggle between the decorative and the minimal (and sometimes combine the two), and I prefer a constrained dignity to a “push the limits” aesthetic. Having said that, I admire (and sometimes attempt) more aggressive design, particularly if it suits the project.

Finally, I work with the details until the whole design clicks into place, and I know it is finished. It’s the most magical moment, something that any creative person experiences and that keeps him/her coming back for more.

Q: How much input do authors have into the process?

A: This varies from author to author. In the case of The First Pop Age, Hal Foster had the idea of using Richard Hamilton’s image of Mick Jagger and Hamilton’s art dealer, Robert Fraser. We had some lengthy discussions with marketing and the art editor about this. The audience for books about Pop Art might have expected a Lichtenstein or a Warhol on the cover, and we didn’t want to miss appealing to them. In the end, we did several jackets, most more predictable than this one. Fortunately, the author’s convictions helped us to be a bit risky, and we went forward with this jacket. It meets all of the criteria outlined above, and I am very happy with the results. We even got a compliment from Hamilton himself. He said, “there is a real sparkle in the embossed silver handcuffs. it’s wonderful what they can do with covers these days. it reminds me of the cover for the 1960 green box book your cover should make a good impression on the shelves and that’s where books sell. people might think they are buying a lost raymond chandler. it’s a winner, go for it man.” In this case, I had the amazing opportunity to work with a top-rate art historian and a world-class artist. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Q: What do you like the best about the two prizewinning covers?

A: I like how I integrated a clunky sans-serif typeface filled with rainbows and an iconic 1960s image for the cover of The First Pop Age. It felt vaguely irreverent and maybe a bit too “Mork ad Mindy,” but it worked. Also, I like how the back board and flaps are glossy while the image itself it matte. It’s subtle, but it makes the book feel good when it is held. The unusual trim size (a squat rectangle) and thick spine add to that positive experience.

Q: How do you integrate the cover design with the interior? What details in these particular projects achieve the goal of designing a total package?

A: I usually integrate interior and jacket by employing a repeating motif. In this case, the idea of filling bold type with pattern/color became the unifying device. I repeated the rainbow theme used for the title in the interior ornamented space break—several bullets moved from red through violet. Also, I used very large chapter numbers filled with recognizable textures for each artist discussed in the book. Similar textures were used in the numbers in the table of contents. The same typeface was used for display throughout, and the extra wide jacket flaps featured a rainbow band. I think of it as variations on a theme.

Materials can help with this as well. Rather than choose a safe endsheet color, I picked a sort of odd turquoise that could have been a blend of Jagger’s suit and tie. Headbands and cloth create the same uneasy tension. I wanted the reader to think: Is this attractive or not? Successful or not? I was trying to make it feel familiar but a bit off—something that the Pop artists seemed to be after as well.