Arts & Culture

Graphic designer recounts artistic roots in lecture series closing

Chip Kidd created iconic covers for books like Murakami’s ‘1Q84’ and Sedaris’ ‘Naked’

Contributing Writer
Friday, November 15, 2013

Kidd moved in 1986 to New York, where he would catch his big break designing the book cover of Chrichton’s 1990 “Jurassic Park.”

In bold white letters, the word “Try” loomed over the dimly lit Martinos Auditorium in the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, welcoming the Brown and Rhode Island School of Design students who piled into the room to hear graphic designer Chip Kidd speak Thursday afternoon.

The Creative Mind Initiative brought Kidd to campus for its last lecture of the fall semester.

A famous book cover artist, Kidd has worked with publishing house Alfred A. Knopf since 1986, designing the covers for Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park,” David Sedaris’ “Naked” and Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84,” among countless others. He has also left his mark on the world of graphic novels, having worked on “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and his own version of Batman called “Bat-manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan.”

“You know a Chip Kidd book when you see it ­— precisely because it’s unexpected, non-formulaic and perfectly right for the text within,” said Nicha Ratana-Apiromyakij ’15, co-organizer of the event, in her introduction. “His art of designing book covers gets to the very heart of what graphic design is, which is putting form to content in the most accessible, eye-catching way possible.”

The initiative brought Kidd to campus not only because of his success as a graphic designer, but also because “he is a master storyteller both as a visual communicator and as a writer,” said Ian Gonsher, professor of engineering and associate director of the initiative.

Kidd’s story is one of surprise, success, opportunity and failure. When he moved to New York in 1986, he had no intention of working as the assistant to the art director at a book publishing company. His big break came in 1990, when he designed the cover for “Jurassic Park.” MCA Universal subsequently bought the rights to his image for the film that would become a box office hit three years later.

“It’s great to have specific goals, but you have to keep an open mind to what’s actually available and take a start,” Kidd said.

The roots of uncertainty in Kidd’s story followed by his broad success have made him a popular speaker on college campuses.

“We’re all about the interdisciplinary, and Chip’s work is very pertinent to those interested in the interdisciplinary merging of ideas,” Ratana-Apiromyakij said.

“I saw his TED Talk … and I’m wondering if he’ll say the same thing or bring something new to the table,” said audience member and RISD student Jackie Ferrentino before the lecture.

Within seconds of taking the stage, Kidd had the audience in splits, keeping the energy up even as he delved into the serious topic of failure. Starting off with a self-deprecating yet provocative anecdote, he provided specific examples of times when his work was repeatedly rejected, poorly received and even changed by other people.

Kidd also discussed his most recent adventure, a children’s book called “Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design.”  After Raquel Jaramillo, a friend and children’s publishing guru, pitched him the idea, Kidd said, “I don’t have kids, I don’t like kids, I don’t talk to kids, so sure! Let’s do it!”

“It put me out of my comfort zone, but what was really appealing about it to me was that it really hadn’t been done before,” Kidd said.

The lectures typically feature three guests, but the organizers said they felt that Kidd alone would be more than a big enough draw to fill the Granoff Center.

“Chip Kidd is such a profound person in general,” said Vivian Carlson ’14, another of the event’s organizers. “We didn’t want to offset his lecture with someone who hadn’t had as many experiences.”

The auditorium reached capacity and remained full through the end of the question and answer session.

“Chip is the type of person who has had failures and successes, and he was really communicative of that,” Carlson said after the lecture. “A lot of us are going to be in shock when we get to the real world, and it’s good to have some warning.”


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