Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Judging a book by its cover

Courtesy of Modernism 101.

Why vintage design books are now so radical—and radically expensive

In February 1972, the design director at MIT Press thought she had a fabulous idea. The publisher’s forthcoming book was about Las Vegas, and she would make the cover an “homage to Vegas Glitz.” Bubble wrap would echo the shape of the Strip’s bulb lights, fluorescent dots printed beneath would shine through the plastic. “I thought: boy, this is wonderful material. I’m not gonna let them screw it,” she later told an interviewer. “Well, they hated it! I loved it.”

The authors of the book responded by letter: “The cover as designed is absolutely unacceptable: leaving out questions of good or bad design, it is inappropriate. It is against the philosophy of the book; it is a duck—‘heroic and original’—almost fruity in its appearance.”