Now + Then

A small publisher on a mission to champion English printing, revive the spirit and aesthetic of midcentury books and commission inventive new illustration – Puro Laevuo interviews Design for Today, a beacon of independent publishing brilliance. 

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Heads, Bodies & Legs by Alice Pattullo, published by Design For Today

Design For Today is a small publisher based in London which specialises in limited edition books. Their fascinating style caught my eye and I managed to get the opportunity to sit down with the founder of the company Joe Pearson to hear from him what Design For Today is all about...

How was the company born and how did you come up with the concept for limited edition books and prints?
When I switched careers to move into publishing, I was really trying to publish the books that I’ve been collecting for thirty years – particularly books using lithography and the Russian and the French children’s books of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. I’ve been collecting those for so long and that’s what gave me the idea. I thought it was appalling that the British print industry was collapsing and the publishers were printing in China, chasing the cheapest printing they could possibly get. They are getting their printing cheaper and cheaper and cheaper, and the books are more and more disposable, which I thought was sad. So, I was trying to publish books that I thought would be collectable and printed properly using English printers, using the kind of the graphic style and graphic techniques that I have collected, but in a different context.

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Up My Street by Louise Lockhart, published by Design For Today

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Up My Street by Louise Lockhart, published by Design For Today

As a company, what do you think makes you unique and separates you from others in the industry?
All the artists that I’ve got in my books draw first, and once they’ve drawn it, then they may scan it and put it on the computer to do the colour separations. But they are all hand-drawn. None of the artists use computers to design their work. Also, the printing technology [we use] whereby it’s printed using spot lithography as opposed to digital lithography, so you get the kind of depth of colour and vibrancy of colour that can only be achieved in spot lithography. I deliberately choose young artists. I’m trying to give them their first break. I’ve wanted to choose artists who are two or three years out of college. Some of them have done their first books for me, but since then have been picked up by major publishers doing some amazing work.

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Up My Street by Louise Lockhart, published by Design For Today

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Heads, Bodies & Legs by Alice Pattullo, published by Design For Today

Your publications are inspired by Mid-century design – what is it about that era that captures people’s imagination today?
I think the quality of training at art colleges in the 1930s and 1940s had a huge emphasis on drawing. Technically, those artists were really really good at drawing. That quality shows through. Also, the colour palette that Mid-century designers and illustrators used is different from the palette today because today, through synthetic inks, we get a whole range of fluorescent colours that weren’t available. So if you look at books from the 1940s, you can almost spot them and tell the era just by the palette of colours they use. And it’s nostalgic too. But it’s not cuteness, it’s a kind of ironic quality that you know is inspired by the Mid-century. The artists I’ve tried to commission have taken the colour palettes and design style and put it into modern contexts.

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Brick House by Alice Pattullo, published by Design For Today

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Visa and Solo by Otto Graphic, published by Design For Today, edition of 500

Design For Today also reissues “forgotten classics”. Have those been designed in the same style as the new limited edition items you publish?
How do you choose what classics to reissue? I’m actually just about to re-publish two books from the 1940s by an illustrator called Hillary Stevin. These books have not been printed for years and years but they are really superbly lithographed. They were printed in small edition in the 1940s, but forgotten now. I’m printing them again using the same technology as they were originally printed with. The forgotten classics are mainly things I’ve got in my collections. Some publishers are reprinting classics now, Tate Publishing and V&A Publishing for example, but they only republish things that they think they’ll make money out of. But I can do things that are interesting and maybe have an audience of 500 or 600. If it’s a really good quality book but may not be cute enough or commercial enough for mainstream publishers to take on, I’m filling that gap.

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Three Storeys by Esther Cox, published by Design For Today

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