Designers take on Page 1 of “Great Expectations”

A classic text takes on some new looks

Topics: Imprint, Writers and Writing, Design,

Designers take on Page 1 of "Great Expectations"
This article originally appeared on Imprint.

“My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.” Those lines may not be as recognizable as “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” but they are nevertheless part of the literary canon, the classic opener to Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations.” On the first page of the novel, our narrator, Pip, one of literature’s great rapscallion ragamuffins, is examining the carvings on the headstones of the parents he never met, trying to glean some sense of them.

Pip’s earnest attempt at what we might call “imaginative typographic genealogy” gave the folks at GraphicDesign& the idea for Page 1: Great Expectations, in which 70 international graphic designers have a go at designing the first page of this classic bildungsroman. Why solicit designers—and this book is chock-full of heavy hitters like Phil Baines, Robin Kinross, Ellen Lupton, and Erik Spiekermann—to apply their craft to a novel that already exists in countless editions? Because Pip’s search for knowledge begins with the shape of letterforms, making the book a fitting choice for a redesign. The new book has page after page of every design pose you can imagine—from the punched-up tabloid point size employed by Neil Donnelly to Barnbrook’s infographics take. So what do we really make of this book dedicated to the first page of another book?

Neil Donnelly, via GraphicDesign&

Here’s how GraphicDesign&; describes the project: “Page 1 is not just a book for graphic designers, it reveals the power typography has to influence and affect the way we all interpret a text. Many readers will be surprised by the attention to detail and level of engagement with the narrative on display, and aficionados of Dickens will be charmed by the idiosyncratic approaches to this much-loved text.”

Winterhouse, via GraphicDesign&;

Of course, anyone familiar with design, especially design rendered by the likes of these contributors, will not at all be surprised by their “attention to detail and level of engagement” with the text. That’s what designers do. Some of these first pages are approached in a very classical, tasteful manner, while others use a close reading of the text to create clever typographic puns. Wallpapers*’s Tony Chambers isolated “Pip” on the top of a second column of text, using an orphan for the orphan.

Yu Kin Kang, via GraphicDesign&;

Unlike most books that deal with Dickens, this is not a volume you read; rather, this is a collection to be looked at. In truth, it really isn’t a book about Dickens or “Great Expectations.” It’s a study in graphic design and how it varies under the strict imposition of content, not form. Seeing this first page treated differently page after page starts to come off as a gimmick, however, which is a great disservice to the designs, which are all well-executed in their own way. At times, though, the project goes against an invaluable tenet of graphic design: Don’t distract from the content of the design. The exercise in this collection makes the text secondary, especially in light of some of the flashier treatments.

Barnbrook, via GraphicDesign&;

There is no doubt that, as Graphicdesign& points out, typography influences how we understand a text. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to create a project in which a single designer shows how she or he would design the first page of every novel Dickens wrote? Inviting designers to render the first pages of a major author’s oeuvre would not only make for a fascinating look at the creative processes; it might also show something about the author’s writerly habits in starting books. Perhaps what it revealed would be something that not even the most astute literary critics had yet uncovered.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>