Jessica Helfand | Primary Sources

The Next Great Graphic Designer

The participants of Bravo's show "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist"

Last week, I received a recycled toothbrush in the mail. It's a brilliant idea, really — made from recycled yogurt cups, with "mail back" packaging — and it was designed by a real dentist (as well as the leading industrial design firm Continuum.) I actually gave this to my dentist just a few days ago, suggesting he hand these out instead of those landfill-inducing Reach variants, and noting with irony the design credit. In exchange, I gave him my word that if I start performing dental hygiene in my studio, he'll be the first to know.

But tonight at 10pm, on Bravo, another design challenge will pull focus, when the contestants on Bravo's "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist" — fourteen aspiring artists who compete for a $100,000 cash prize and a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum — are asked to design a book jacket for Penguin Books. The winning design will be unveiled tonight and published by Pengiuin tomorrow, begging just a few questions, among them: Is book jacket design best evaluated by art critics and gallery owners? Does the fear of nationally televised elimination and its ensuing perp walk of shame result in really excellent book jacket design? Are artists good designers? And finally: was it this easy for the dentist to get client approval for that toothbrush?

We hope our readers will weigh in with their opinions about "Judging A Book by Its Cover" here on Design Observer.

The judges of of Bravo's show "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist" debate the contestant's art


Text of email press release, posted without change:

From: [email protected]
Subject: Penguin Books and Bravo's Work of Art: The Next Great Artist
Date: June 23, 2010 9:12:03 AM EDT
To: [email protected]

For Immediate Release
June 23, 2010


“The Book Challenge,” episode three of the new creative series on Bravo, “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” will air on Wednesday, June 23rd. In this episode the twelve remaining artists are challenged to design the cover for a Penguin Book. The winning design will be unveiled that evening, and on the following day, June 24th, Penguin Books will publish the title featuring the winning design.

“Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” debuted on June 9th and can be seen Wednesday nights at 10pm on Bravo. The exciting series assembles fourteen of the art world’s most talented, up-and-coming artists in New York where they compete for a solo show at the prestigious Brooklyn Museum and a cash prize of $100,000. In each of the show’s ten episodes the contestants are faced with the challenge of creating unique pieces in a variety of mediums such as paint, sculpture, photography, collage and industrial design.

“We were really excited to get the opportunity from Bravo to participate in this very creative competition show,” said Kathryn Court, President and Publisher of Penguin Books. Several Penguin staffers actually got to participate in the episode and Kathryn Court had the opportunity to address the contestants. “This year we’re celebrating Penguin Books 75th Anniversary (visit www.penguinbooks75.com for details), and this seemed a perfect way to showcase what Penguin does best — publish great books with great covers. The cover featuring the winning design captures the spirit of Penguin — classic yet cutting edge.”

The winner of the new book will be published on June 24th and will be available wherever books are sold.

For more information, contact: Maureen Donnelly, 212-366-2272

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Business, Media

Comments [44]

Times like this, I wish I had TV. And cable. You raise some very good questions: do fine artists necessarily make good graphic designers--and specifically book cover designers? And who is best positioned to judge good book cover/jacket design?

Another question would be: what has this to do with the real world of book cover design? Absent, I'm speculating, from the array of judges, would be the requisite marketing manager or vp who seems to ultimately make the final decisions of which cover design to go with.

As someone who has been designing covers and jackets for the trade for 15 years, I finally learned that book jackets are under the auspices of publishers' marketing departments, not the creative or editorial. Time and time again, I'd find that my best designs--most original, or beautiful, or interesting--were NOT chosen in favor of whatever felt closest to the competing books on the destined retail shelf. It took a while in my career to figure out that I was packaging a product, not so much trying to make something beautiful and compelling. Every now and then, I find satisfaction when my ideas of what is beautiful might coincide with what a marketing exec is looking for. But that is far from usual.

The challenge has been to be able to produce good design, beautiful typography, within the often stringent limits of what the client thinks she or he is needing to see. And that challenge, I'm speculating, is just as absent from the Bravo/Penguin competition.
Gina Phelan

I'm picturing Jan Tschichold rolling over in his grave...
Randy Willoughby

spec work is always spec work, even if it's on TV
Brian Sooy

On the question of whether artists make good designers, I'm inclined to say no. Certainly there are some artists who are good designers, but designer and artist are far from interchangeable titles in my opinion and I don't think being good at one implies you're good in the other automatically. I think of graphic design and art being two different things... very related in many ways, but still different.

I say this though only from my student (aka limited) experience. My arts program is a fine arts program where my concentration is graphic design. Because of that, I often times end up getting my design critiqued by my peers who are fine artists with little experience in graphic design. A lot of their critiques end up being rather useless with them making many suggestions that are just bad. I'm sure they feel the same way about some of my critiques on them. It just seems like often we're in two different worlds regardless of the fact they are both creative worlds. I haven't met anyone so far who's painting or sculpting skills alone made them more competent in graphic design.
Anna Jacobs

Ironically, this is probably the most "real" challenge the artists will face. Thinking back to my ad agency days where the harshest criticism came from those who knew very little about the creative process, but "they know what they like". And of course, the design shoot out is hardly a new concept. Brian (above) makes a good point! Still....I m going to watch it. After all, I'm curious.

Yes, this isn't true to the real-life world of publishing, just as much as the process to create the fashion coming out of Project Runway wasn't true to its industry. But, what made Project Runway interesting, as I'm sure goes for Work of Art, is that the competitor needs to create something cutting-edge and beautiful with limited resources and limited time. Even if only few of the covers come out to be ok, it's going to be nice to see what their thinking process was and how they attempted to solve a problem. Besides, gallery artists have been hired to create successful book covers from Andy Warhol to Shepard Fairey. Perhaps one of these artists could inspire a book designer or art director to collaborate on a future project.

I'm only bummed that I canceled my cable...
Jennifer Heuer

I think book cover design, similar to album cover design and other one-off projects are an exception. An artist's ego, or personal expression/interpretation of the concept is often more effective than a strategic design approach. (see Marian Bantjes on TED http://tinyurl.com/234obzm).
As long as this episode shows that there is a type-savvy art director involved - and ideally, explains why - I don't really have a problem with this.

To further clarify - I believe these would-be artists are simply illustrators for the actual design project. The use of the word "design" rather than "create" or "illustrate" is probably just a mistake on the part of a misinformed copy writer.
It's probably not spec either since I'm assuming the participants are paid per episode and have likely signed contracts involving ownership of what they create for the show.

I'm cautiously optimistic. If type and layout are involved here, then this may turn out miserably (though only for designers who are watching, since gallery owners wouldn't necessarily catch such issues). If it's just illustration as Kevin believes, I think the contest could be not only interesting but even fruitful. And even if type is part of it, the results could pleasantly surprise us.
Jared Pechacek

I've always found it interesting with regards to the connection and differences with Fine Art and Graphic Design. I feel both have great layout and composition skills, color awareness, shape, form and dimensional understanding, but I've often found that the artist is frequently weak in typography and using type with image, in harmony, and working as the overall design, not individual add-ons.

This I feel is where the graphic designer demonstrates what graphic design is.
Mark Brereton

I'm gonna be looking for that one guy who decides to use Comic Sans....I find that many of these fine artists can have a decent concept on the structure and composition of the image in the design but will completely botch the typography.


And the font the recycled toothbruth maker uses on their website? None other than our beloved Papyrus.

even most of the so-called notable graphic designers nowadays, including some who are on this blog, are a joke- forget about the laughable nature of what is called contemporary 'art'...

A few years ago Rick poynor came to Melbourne and he's presented his Herbert Spencer presentation.

Amid the hum of having such a great design commentator at hand, there was also many great design observations proposed by Rick. One which stood out concluded his presentation - that design like many processes faces a future whereby it is the people outside have an opportunity to contribute, define and potentially shape the future of design practice.

I am all for and excited by this process, however one has to remember a crass reality show will be one of the many instruments and contributors used to explore and define this process.

Andrew Ashton

Let's remember that this is television AND it's Bravo at that! This cable station can't be taken too seriously when it comes to design. It's entertainment and every show has the same pop formula "designed" to hook viewer with an air of suspense to keep you watching from commercial to commercial, week to week, season to season. Fortunately, the design community is full of real "design stars" who need not be concerned with the Bravo point of view.

I suggest turning off the TV and picking up a Penquin Classic for a good read. Try "The Prince" by Niccolo Machiavelli. I recently bought it because I liked the cover designed by Jaya Miceli.

Ken Carbone

Oh Ken Carbone, why miss out on all the fun. Leave the Penguin Classics for another day, or at least until tomorrow, when Penguin publishes the winner, no matter how good or bad the book cover is.

In the meantime, we are going to have some fun. We start live tweeting in eleven miniutes at 10pm EST: follow designobserver, we are tweeting live at #DOGbravo. Michael Bierut, Jessica Helfand and I will be there for an hour providing live commentary on this Bravo TV special.
William Drenttel

I don't really see the worlds of fine art and graphic design as being so distinct from each other. I think they draw on an extremely similar creative process, but it comes down to what forms of media an artist/designer chooses to pursue. Obviously if someone has no experience handling type, then that task would be a challenge, but that doesn't split artists and designers into two different species. The Italian designer Bruno Munari discusses similar issues well in his book Design as Art.

I can see where the split comes, as fine artists create personal work that is, for the most part, not a response to any sort of "creative brief" drafted by some marketing executive somewhere. Still, as we saw with the art of the Pop movement, the lines between fine art and commercial design began to be blurred, with Warhol being a good example. To Jennifer Heuer, both Warhol and Fairey could be considered "designers" along with their more well-known titles as fine artists, as they both have created commercial work, Warhol as a commercial artist in the 50's, and Fairey as founder of his own design shop (Studio Number One).

In this instance, I think the contestants won't really be worrying about the type or finer points of layout on the book cover, but instead creating a powerful image that best conveys the main idea of the pages within it. I think it should be fun to watch. I've watched the first two episodes and, though it is a little contrived at times, it's pretty entertaining.
Drew Sisk

Seems like everyone is a artist or a designer these days. Popular occupation? I can understand why there is a reality show, Sort a makes me sad, sort a makes me happy... I'm just waiting for the graffiti reality show.

ps. I liked 9bydesign.


Judge for yourself…

Joe Moran

As a practicing graphic designer for 20 years and an avid Bravo watcher, I was surprised at how little the so-called fine artists knew about graphic design and even more surprising was how little the judges knew about it as well. They were not qualified to judge this particular challenge with any credibility but judged the work through their fine art eyes. Even the guest judge (who is an author as well as a fine artist) didn't add anything substantive. Chip Kidd for instance would have been a excellent choice to weigh in as well as educate the rest of the panel. I did agree with the winning cover though and thought it the best of the lot. It might be a bit unfair to subject these fine artists to be designers. What would have made a more interesting challenge would be for the contestants to work with a creative director and how a fine artist is commissioned to work on a book cover based on commercial goals. Sure it has to be "creative" but it also has to be appropriate. It would've given the contestants and the audience a real sense of how art meets commerce.
Darren Namaye

This show is a joke.
Hayden Smith

It's interesting to read what everyone thinks here. Ken is right in that you have to remember this TELEVISION, if you want to see quality design competition work, choose a quality outlet like D&AD.

Don't expect the most undemocratic media outlet to portray an industry accurately. Television will always sacrifice entertainment and content that appeals to the masses over everything else. If you can't enjoy it for what it is "ENTERTAINMENT" then chose something, it your choice.

I think what Design Observer is doing by tweeting about it while the show is on is a great way for the design community to be involved with an active discussion on a live event. I wish I read this yesterday as it sounds like fun...and thats what this is really about — FUN
Joshua Nychuk


Of course it is, it is television.

However, I do think it does a pretty accurate job peeking into the art world.

By this I mean:
People are doltish, with (very) occasional flashes of brilliance. They aren't anywhere near as worldly and well read as the sterotype would have you believe. Like normals, they are interested in themselves primarily.

Does anyone think that the actual art world is any less cheesy than what is shown on this show?

Anyone with any experience in the art world or design world knows that both are filled with hacks like these folks, and that the best work doesn't always rise to the top.

On the show (like in the art world) the vapid drooler with implants gets to stick around despite continual obviousness of her nonexistent frontal lobe.

That said, there has been some decently interesting work on the show (about what you could expect in rush jobs). I thought John's winning design was actually pretty great. (Even though I scoffed when he was starting it)

I'm not sure why the challenge included the book title and author text (or if this was even a requirement....they were pretty vague about the parameters). Several of the works suffered from the hasty addition of the text.

Given that this is a fine-art show, couldn't they have just created a piece around which Penguin could design the typography? There are plenty of precedents for this. Granted, we know the best cover designs tightly integrate imagery and text, but in absence of graphic design experience, I think a standalone artwork would have produced better results.

I really appreciated Matt's insistence on reading his book before starting work. The show seems intent on defining him as a flake, but he has a lot of integrity. And though they showed his piece only briefly, it looked very intriguing.

Overall, this series is proving to be worth watching, given that it's Bravo and a reality competition and all.

elizabeth i think you mean miles. i like him. interesting work and i think an interesting person. when he wins (which is twice now) he is so uncomfortable and awkward and looks down at his shoes. as bravo says "watch what happens".
Darren Namaye

I watched this show. The poor typography hurt the concepts. It would have been more realistic to provide a template with space for title, etc. And overlay type design on top of the illustration concepts. It did remind me of the stress of art school days when it all seemed life or death.
Laurie Shields

Last night's episode gave me a new appreciation for my graphic design career as I watched the contestants make works that were disproportionate to the final book covers, bound to be unintelligible at finished size, and lacking typographic consideration. It occurred to me that a design education makes me a more thoughtful, effective fine artist than I would have been with fine-art training alone. And they finally dumped Judith, who seemed shockingly undisciplined and immature. Go Miles!
Kim M

Fantastically entertaining! Thanks so much for alerting me to this show! I wondered how the Penguin representative was going to feel about the winning concept.
Nicole Ferentz

Thanks, Design Observer, for helping boost the ratings of Bravo's newest reality-type show. I was really disappointed that the producers didn't come up with some clever "pack your paint brushes and leave" line to say to the poor loser of last night's episode.

Kidding aside, I actually enjoyed a couple of the artists' concepts. It could have been far worse...
Randy Willoughby

Our culture is riddled with people who judge creativity, but have no qualifications to do so. CEO's, Family members, Brides, Reality Tv Show Judges. I believe there are a lot of great creatives stuck in terrible corporate settings, churning out creative for the masses based on a CEO's terrible judgment. There are of course also some terrible creatives, but then again who am I to judge, just because I have an MFA. Someone once told me before accepting a position at a company or a design studio, ask the CEO, " how does your company evaluate creative." What are the criteria for success. If the answer is money then well you should have your answer to what your job might be like. And that is exactly what reality television is after, money.
Lisa Prescott

I just watched this episode and it was a complete failure. There were misspellings and illegible titles. Most of them did not even work with the type—it was clearly an afterthought. It was as though no one stopped to think about what they were trying to communicate and what these would look like on a bookshelf. As a designer this was painful to watch.
Valerie Russell

Must Seethe TV.
Mark Kaufman

I'm scared that this is what the viewing audience thinks of our profession... It is either going to help us or hurt us (only time will tell).

Living on the Left Coast, I ended up watching the episode, thanks in part to the Design Observer's live tweet stream occurring in Eastern Standard Time. In line with the points made above, Work of Art is simply another in the long line of ubiquitous "reality" competition programs that Bravo and other channels continue to repurpose. With few exceptions, this cast of characters is like every other. Some are smart, some are easy to look at, some make our skin crawl. A little something for everyone to discuss around the water cooler.

Aside from all of that, I was fairly impressed with the winning entry. Was it excellent? Hardly. But I thought it was a fairly solid concept and that it was well executed. As a designer, I hold no preconceived notion that "artists" can't produce excellent design work for surface applications. I work with them every day to this end. I can easily argue that their typographic skills are nearly always deplorable, but that the publisher will assign a designer to adhere to Penguin's general guidelines and set jacket type. Unfortunately, they'll likely apply some junior production designer to set the interior, or worse, they'll simply crank it through their standard style sheets and pay little attention to the details within the body of the book. When we move beyond our role as designer and become "reader", we're reminded within the pages where the meaningful experience unfolds. That's where the real planning, consideration, and ahem, "design" is tested.

Covers are meant to attract and to sell. Sure, they should be gorgeous (or emotive or informative), but let's not forget that it is the written word that we are presenting in book design. As objects, let's not forget that in paperback, most covers are only briefly displayed in book stores. If they're lucky, those covers are seen again on our night stands (or iPads). Once they're cast aside in favor of another, or finished, the spine is the only thing we're left to occasionally glimpse when stuffed in the bookshelf. Rather than focus all of our efforts on the cover, perhaps the oft-neglected spine is the next great design challenge.
Eric Hillerns

Ken Carbone is absolutely right. Shows on Bravo are as significant as an ant fart. Not worth the brain cells to worry about.

But, for designers, the more complex subject of artists making design, does make for a good discussion.

It is a battle design educators deal with constantly. Artists don’t get it and never will.

Non majors in a design class taking it for required credit and hating every minute because for 2-3 years they were told "design is not real" by fine art faculty and, artists can do whatever they want and it is art. (But, that is NOT design!)

Those same colleagues who think design is a joke then produce crap like these book covers and think its great design. They don't even know what design is and they would never bother to learn about it as most designers have learned about art history. Sure, some do. I did and became a designer. But I've given up trying to find a common ground. Art has diverged away. BTW: I used the term "creative" once while talking about my field and NONE of the fine art colleagues knew what it was and said I should not use it. It meant nothing to them.

It's time for design to market itself better as a alternative to "art" and all the navel gazing silliness and stupidity that the commercial (mostly NY and LA) art world has become.

To be a designer remains a lower rung in most fine artists eyes. But it has been Fine Art that has sold out to commercial interests in the most hypocritical way. Designers try to be true to themselves and work in a system that can be immensely rewarding creatively and socially. Something art has failed to do for the past 25+ years. In fact, the premiere models of art production to this day have all grown from the origins of commercial art and graphic design or industrial design. Roy Lichtenstein, Warhol, Allan McCollum, Richard Prince, etc. took and take the materials of media, packaging, photography, and design and reproduce it as art. They deny the importance or even the existence of the original creator. In some cases, fine art photographers images are not altered but reproduced as is.

I am not opposed to innovative copying and reinterpretation of art and design. This is as old as history. But, when the images meaning is the theft itself, with no additional concept behind it other than the appropriation, it fails to be anything but plagiarism.

I came from design via a strong contemporary art background and was initially an art snob. The worst. My credentials were as bad as could be. But I kept an open mind and, after a few months of studying type and design, discovered that design is more challenging and more creative with its limitations than any fine art I would ever make.

Art has now diverged so far into a strange place, I see no reason ever again to care about its contemporary practice or relate it in any way to design, as we once all did.

It is time for design to be on its own and create its own narratives for the general public (in many ways, this is already happening); make its own reason to be important in middle and high school education over the art classes taught in most schools that still teach it; and grow to be as different from art as architecture has been for some time.
A Call for Change in How We Think

Continuum designed the mail-back package, not the toothbrush. Papyrus is the font used on the EcoChoices website, not the toothbrush maker. Shepard Fairy is a graphic designer.

I just found out about this entire ordeal through one of my students. But, alas, I missed the show because I was busy reading a good book (like I am every night between the hours of 7.30 and 9.30 p.m.).
Jason Tselentis

I watched the show and enjoyed the tweeting live at #DOGbravo, but can’t help thinking that the Design Observer editors would have done a better job illustrating the design process if they had produced the show themselves. Here are a few of the Best Covers from 2009 including The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, designed by Jaya Miceli that Ken Carbone recommended. (see above)

Note: Zeitoun + The Wild Things by Dave Eggers, founder of McSweeny’s and author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and What Is The What. (see Design Matters Archive 05.22.09) Everyone should read What Is The What despite pride and prejudice and spelling Jane Austen’s name correctly.

Design for Social Change!
Carl W. Smith

It's always nice to see Graphic Design in the spotlight, this being said this is obviously not the most ideal forum. There are many problems inherit in handing over a design project to a group of fine artists. As well as Graphic Design being discussed on a cable television reality show.

I actually went to school with one of the contestants Jaclyn Santos, she was always one of those painters that never had any paint on her clothes. It always perplexed me, she must have worn some sort of futuristic fiber, resistant to the likes of oils.

Getting back to the whole design in the spotlight thing;We as Designers need more names we are nameless as a whole. I can't tell you how many times people think what I do is computer graphics. Maybe if designers were more apparent, people might change there opinions about what design is. Possibly even consider it more special.
Ryan Artell

You can watch it online!!!!

I really wouldn't have a problem with this show if the "artists" (shan't call them designers) actually approached the project with any sort of dedication to what they were actually designing-- an image representative of a complex, beloved piece of literature.

Reading the winner's blog post describing his design (here http://bit.ly/aEX2rj) solidifies that the actual content of the book was completely secondary. Not only did he admit to not actually reading it, but there's this: "I decided I would recreate the machine itself and remake into a machine that new readers would want to travel in. I wanted it to be a sexy machine." Sorry, but that is the most superficial cop-out of a solution I could have imagined. The best covers distill the essence of a book, or perhaps give a bit of alluring foreshadowing that is only complete after the book is read (Weena's flowers perhaps?) It's not enough to draw a sexy time machine. In that sense I think some of the other contestants were much more successful.

While it's a pretty picture, it has nothing to do with the book, really, and as such completely fails in its objective. Not saying many actual book covers don't fail in the same manner, but when we hold a silly reality show competition for graphic design, let's at least judge based on thoughtful communication, not based on those most despised words of our profession, "I just thought it looked good."

As a designer in her mid-twenties, I don't always agree that design is treated like a lesser practice than the fine arts. This is a common topic of debate in the design world, but I don't know if it is still necessary. It seems that in the past decade design has only been growing more popular, and it is more appreciated by the general public than ever before. In my mind, fine art lacks relevance today. While design on the other hand has grown to encompass a much broader sphere of creativity. When I visit museums the "fine art" often reminds me of "design" I have seen, and I am always shocked by the overlap.

Especially with the recent emphasis on designers stepping away from the computer and working with their hands, I think designers are often more capable of executing an idea than their "fine art" counterparts. We can use our hands AND we know Photoshop and html. As this Bravo show reveals, most fine artists don't know how to use the computer. The rotund fry cook contestant was boasting that he knew photoshop, and his computer-generated work actually got him into the top three. However, in reality his cover for Dracula was FUGLY and no self-respecting designer would create it. And most of the type treatments were totally laughable. This show is pretty dumb...and yet a keep watching!

Fine artists do not necessarily make good designers! I had a graphic design instructor who was trained as a fine artist and that class was a nightmare. He gave high praise to projects that didn't even follow the format guidelines and those of us who created marketable designs were called by him, "unimaginative" and "boring." Never let's mind that if I was asked to design a magazine spread and brought in a 3D project in a shoe box (yes this is a true scenario) I would be laughed out of the room not getting an A!

Jobs | July 19