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Steve Kroeter on why crowd-funding is the savior of typography today


n Tuesday, April 28, Designers & Books introduced their first Kickstarter campaign in what will be an ongoing initiative to reissue iconic out-of-print design titles. Their first project is a “lost milestone” of modern graphic design by the father of information graphics, Ladislav Sutnar’s 1961 classic, Visual Design in Action. Upon supporting this amazing initiative for the graphic design and the typographic community alike, we asked Designers and Books’ Steve Kroeter about the rationale for using Kickstarter to do this and whether crowd-funding is becoming a defender for the letterform. This is what he had to say:

“From our perspective, it is becoming more and more obvious that one of the most dynamic and exciting platforms for launching design books today is crowd-funding in general—and Kickstarter, in particular. This, to us, is true for any design book that appeals to a niche audience reachable online—whether the book is about architecture, fashion, product design, or graphic design; and whether about graphic design broadly or, for example, typography more narrowly. Notable examples of this from the past few years include Frank Chimero’s The Shape of Design, which received $112,159 from 2,109 backers in 2011 and Dhiru Thadani raised $35,197 from 117 backers for Visions of Seaside, which went on to become a Designers & Books Notable Design Book of the Year for 2013.

Most recently—and most remarkably—over 30 days last fall, two Pentagram designers, Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth, attracted 6,718 backers and $802,813 with their Kickstarter project to reissue The New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual as a full-size book. The idea that a book could attract over 6,000 backers in 30 days was a revelation.

As we see it, there are five key elements to crowd-funding that make it now the launch platform of choice—for books appealing to niche audiences that are reachable online.

1. Community: Books sell and succeed when they are able to create—or better yet, tap into—a community. That can be done in dramatically fast fashion in crowd-funding. The NYCTA book attracted $196,000 in backing on day 1 of its campaign.

2. Creativity: Crowd-funding means also crowd-sourcing, which can provide injections of creativity from sources outside the project team. With the NYCTA book, again, because the project was launched live and publically, the project sponsors ended up gaining access to a better copy of the book to scanning and production purposes. (The better copy ended up being provided by Massimo Vignelli’s son).

3. Credit: Crowd-funding allows the project sponsors to acknowledge the community of backers that have come forward to make the book happen. In our case, backers will be acknowledged both in the volume accompanying the facsimile edition of Visual Design in Action and also on the Designers & Bookswebsite.

4. Timing: Backers also get acknowledged by getting their copies of the book first, in advance of any trade release.

5. Price: There is also the opportunity to provide backers with special accommodation pricing.

Visual Design in Action was first published in 1961. It has been out of print for over 40 years. As Steve Heller tells it, Sutnar, while perhaps not among the best known mid-century designers, certainly is one of the great philosophers, makers, and critics of design from that era. And this book is an elegant summation of his design ideas and insights—both written and designed by him. Beyond the content, the book as a physical object has a number of special qualities. From a production perspective, it uses 11 Pantone colors and multiple papers. Sutnar devotes two pages in the back matter to explaining “the role of paper and printing in graphic design” and the criteria he used for “the selection of paper in this book.” And, notably, in the preface to the book, Mildred Constantine (then an associate curator at the Museum of Modern Art) specifically calls attention to “the unconventional use of the italic letter for the entire body of the book.”

In our view, crowd-funding has the potential to be the salvation of design book publishing in the 21st century. Designers & Books is very happy to be part of the team (along with Steve Heller, Reto Caduff, and Lars Müller) that is working to use this approach to make this facsimile edition (which is authorized by Radoslav and Elaine Sutnar) available to the creative community in the 21st century.”

Typeroom supports this initiative and you should too by following THIS LINK and pledging as little as $9—or by backing at a level that provides a copy of the book. After all, good typography and design will save the world.