Book designer Chip Kidd knows all too well how often we judge things by first appearances. In this hilarious, fast-paced talk, he explains the two techniques designers use to communicate instantly — clarity and mystery — and when, why and how they work. He celebrates beautiful, useful pieces of design, skewers less successful work, and shares the thinking behind some of his own iconic book covers.



  • deft – demonstrating skill and cleverness
  • blunt – uncompromisingly forthright
  • allure – powerfully attract or charm; tempt
  • vernacular – the language or dialect spoken by the ordinary people of a country or region
  • fraud – a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities


Think about it

Answer the questions below.

  • What does Chip say about clarity? (3:04)
  • How does the cover relate to the book by Haruki Murakami? (5:19)
  • What design did Chip decide to use for David Sedaris’ book? Why? (7:18)
  • Who is David Rakoff and how did Chip design the cover for Rakoff’s book? (9:59)
  • How was the big red button transformed and adapted for the cover of “Perfidia?” (12:25)
  • What’s the difference between “unusful mystery” and “useful mystery”? What examples does Chip offer?


Practice makes perfect

Fill in the blank spaces with the verbs in brackets used in correct tenses.

Here’s an example of a design that I ________ (do) recently for a novel by Haruki Murakami, who I________ (do) design work for for over 20 years now, and this is a novel about a young man who ________ (have) four dear friends who all of a sudden, after their freshman year of college, completely cut him off with no explanation, and he is devastated. And the friends’ names each _______ (have) a connotation in Japanese to a color. So there’s Mr. Red, there’s Mr. Blue, there’s Ms. White, and Ms. Black. Tsukuru Tazaki, his name ________ (not correspond) to a color, so his nickname is Colorless, and as he ________ (look) back on their friendship, he ________ (recall) that they were like five fingers on a hand. So I ________ (create) this sort of abstract representation of this, but there’s a lot more going on underneath the surface of the story, and there’s more going on underneath the surface of the jacket. The four fingers are now four train lines in the Tokyo subway system, which has significance within the story. And then you have the colorless subway line intersecting with each of the other colors,which basically he ________ (do) later on in the story. He catches up with each of these people to find out why they ________ (treat) him the way they ________ (do).


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