Alvin Lustig New Directions book covers

The designer that set precedence for book cover designs and revitalizing how people engage with literary works in a commercial sense, is none other than Alvin Lustig. This specific cover was designed in 1941 and marks the very beginning of Alvin Lustig’s professional relationship with New Directions Publishing. This is a rather serious and bold design and is in no way indicative of the designs that were to come later in Alvin’s career. The background is a stark yellow adorned with a steely, blue geometric pattern and a stark red arrow passing through the middle. There are clear modernist influences in this design and some subtle folk art influences as well. The aspect of the design that I find so fascinating, is how precise and tight the type is placed within the page. The whole design works as a system and the way the geometric pattern perfectly nests the typography is superb. The title text is centered align fitting with in the margins of the page harmoniously and the author text, Henry Miller, is left aligned with the title text at the bottom of the page. The geometric shape, specifically the large rectangle begins at the word, ‘wisdom’, and ends at the end of the author text, ‘Miller’. His use of a grid allows for beautiful compositions; this is a perfect example of that. The typography treatment in this cover is cohesive with his personal style as it is all caps and printed in a bold color. One of the reasons I choose this design is my fascination with Alvin Lustig’s innovative way of printing. This design was completely made using a letter press, even the geometric shapes. Alvin utilized strategically placed slugs to create progressive compositions, creating something the common man has not seen before. This design is reminiscent of Alvin’s work under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesen East in Wisconsin. Another testament to Alvin’s precision is that since this is a two color print, Alvin was able to perfectly align the paper and achieve an exact print. Alvin Lustig was motivated to create spectacular pieces of for all of the projects he accepted and this cover was no exception.


“Alvin Lustig.” Alvin Lustig, Modern American Design Pioneer 1915-1955, Kind Company LLC,
Heller, Steven, and Elaine Lustig Cohen. Born Modern: the Life and Design of Alvin Lustig. Chronicle Books, 2010.