Chip Kidd

If you are the slightest bit familiar with the Jurassic Park franchise or the work of Frank Miller or Alex Ross, then you are probably inadvertently familiar with the work of Chip Kidd. Now known as one of the greatest graphic designers and the greatest book cover designer of this era, Chip Kidd was born on September 12, 1964 in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the graphic design program at the Pennsylvania State University in 1986, he began his design career at as a junior assistant working in the art department at Alfred A. Knopf publishing house. After six months of working as an assistant, he was able to begin designing book covers, which began the emergence of his iconic and eclectic portfolio of work (famousgraphicdesigners.org). 

In an interview with Spyros Zevelakis, for Smashing Magazine, Chip delves further into detail about this formative time in his career, “The thing about book covers, I think probably in most parts of the world, is that the designer gets credit on the jacket for what they’ve done… Over time that built up, to the point where people started to recognize my name.” (smashingmagazine.com). While working at Alfred A. Knopf, Chip freelanced for a plethora of publishing houses, producing over seventy covers a year, including: Farrar Straus & Giroux, Amazon, HarperCollins, Scribner and Penguin/Putnam. He even designed graphic novels for Pantheon (famousgraphicdesigners.org). He as also designed covers for the likes of Bret Easton Ellis, Dean Koontz, Frank Miller, Mark Beyer, Donna Tartt, Alex Ross, Oliver Sacks and Lisa Birnbach, which have in many cases sought out Kidd directly to design their book covers. 

Name recognition for Chip happened relatively quickly and his reputation for edgy, weird, yet enticing books covers spread throughout the literary world. His work is especially unique in the sense that he does not have a ‘signature’, which is one of the reasons he appeals to so many authors. According to an article by The Cooper Hewitt, “According to Kidd, “A signature look is crippling…[because] the simplest and most effective solutions aren’t dictated by style.”” (collection.cooperhewitt.org). Chip Kidd is of the mindset that his work is directed by the work of the author and is simply a supplementary marketing technique to spread the art of the artists. In 2007, The Cooper Hewitt present Kidd with National Design Award for Communication, cementing his status as the most successful and recognized book cover designer we have seen thus far. 

In 2001, Chip released his own novel titled, Cheese Monkeys, which a “autobiographical, coming-of-age tale” that follows a group of college students through two semesters and their tribulations and triumphs with a “a loving, demanding, and highly eccentric teacher.” (books.google.com). He wrote a sequel to the novel in 2008 titled, The Learners. According to Chip, both of the novels related to his college experience at Pennsylvania State University in the graphic design program studying under Lanny Sommese. His passion for young designers is evident throughout his career and reaches a pinnacle in 2013 with the release of his book Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design. Go documents Kidd’s own design process for an audience of younger readers and he has been very outspoken on the importance of graphic design teaching in children’s education. 

Chip also has expressed a profound passion and inspiration in comic books, especially Batman of the DC Comic series. With such a passion, he has worked on several DC Comics, both illustrating and writing, including:  The Golden Age of DC Comics: 365 Days, Superman, The Complete History of Batman and Wonder Woman. (famousgraphicdesigners.org). In 2003, Chip worked with Art Spiegelman to create, Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits, which is Jack Cole’s autobiography. 

In November of 2013, Kidd married his boyfriend at the time, J.D. ‘Sandy’ McClatchy, in New York City, where they reside today. 

In 2014, Chip Kidd received a medal from AIGA for his, “… possessing an intuitive understanding of narrative and creating books and book cover designs that are at once intriguing, clever and entirely unique.” (aiga.org). It is in part Chip’s appreciation for the author’s work that makes his book cover’s so unique and allows them to transcend the barriers of time and design trends. His attention to the initial work, the book, is evident in his extremely diverse portfolio, spanning decades of design fads and traditions. While he has always maintained a humble, almost dismissive, attitude toward his work, it is clear by his sheer number of accolades and increased demand that his work is not only working, but also appreciate. 

Today, Chip teaches online classes on Skill Share. He keeps a blog on his portfolio website, chipkidd.com, which discusses upcoming events, interviews, critiques and general design commentary. He also spends a considerable amount of time traveling around the world for speaking engagements at esteemed events, such as TED. His online portfolio continues to document his work and it’s grid-like, overview display further expresses the diversity and wide-range of applications Kidd’s book covers have, which act in a beautifully synced union with the book itself. He continues to create book covers and is adamant in the power and resilience of print material, despite an internet age of e-books and audio readings. 

Chip Kidd’s iconic status has stood the test of time, which is uniquely impressive considering Kidd is still living and working. Few designers have been able to breach into the world of academia as both a subject and an instructor. His enduring image and his continued work have cemented his status in graphic design history. He remains an inspiration for many budding designers hoping to leave a mark within the same industry. 

For me, the most wonderful aspect of Chip Kidd and his continued legacy is his willingness to help other designers and his want to share his knowledge with his peers. He has truly made his ceiling a floor for the next generation of graphic designers, defying the stereotype of the lone, disgruntled creative, which is just as inspiring as the design standard he has set in his many decades of work. 

Sources:

Stinson, Liz. “Chip Kidd, on Why Kids Should Learn About Graphic Design.” Wired, Conde Nast, 5 Oct. 2018, www.wired.com/2013/09/qq-chipkidd/.

“Chip Kidd: Biography, Designs and Facts.” Famous Graphic Designers, www.famousgraphicdesigners.org/chip-kidd.

“Chip Kidd.” Chip Kidd | Biography | People | Collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, collection.cooperhewitt.org/people/18043673/bio.

Zevelakis, Spyros. “Beautiful Covers: An Interview With Chip Kidd.” Smashing Magazine, 20 Feb. 2012, www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/02/beautiful-covers-interview-chip-kidd/.

Kidd, Chip. “The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel In Two Semesters.” Google Books, Harper Collins, 8 Jan. 2008, books.google.com/books/about/The_Cheese_Monkeys.html?id=EBURzAVAr4EC&source=kp_book_description.

Lupton, Ellen. “2014 AIGA Medalist: Chip Kidd.” AIGA, www.aiga.org/medalist-chip-kidd.