Daniel O. Williams

For the last five years I’ve lived and worked in North Adams as an art director and digital projects manager at Storey Publishing -- publisher, bar none, of gardening, brewing, small-scale farming, cooking, crafts, and other books for sustainable living. I’m also the designer of n+1, a New York based literary and cultural periodical. I design books, magazines, and websites -- though these things are quickly becoming almost the same thing. I graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1998, with a degree in Visual and Environmental Studies. I was a writer on VH1’s Pop-up Video way back when, and I was nominated for an Emmy.

I live with my wife and partner, Frances (the real web expert), and our four-year-old yellow Labrador, Bix.

Some things I like: interesting and challenging music of all kinds; Dutch typography (avant-garde and otherwise); the films of Andrei Tarkovsky; works of economic thought and urban planning written by Jane Jacobs (and very little of that genre that isn’t); Bruce Nauman (and many many other artists as well); Art (capital A), in general; odd Belgian beers with curious labels; and my wife’s cooking (and also my own cooking).

Trash-to-Treasure Papermaking

Arnold Grummer has been promoting papermaking for over forty years, and this book is the culmination of his life’s work. Authoritative in tone, but pitched to the complete beginner, Trash-to-Treasure Papermaking is a friendly guide to the pleasures of recycled paper. I wanted this book to have an extra wide aspect ratio, becoming floppy when opened and demonstrating the physical properties of paper itself. It’s printed on chunky uncoated stock for the same reason. This project is also something of an homage to the Gotham typeface -- an attempt to use and establish it as a legitimate heir to Helvetica. Typefaces: Gotham, Gotham Rounded, Sentinel. Photography by Greg Nesbit.

The Cleaner Plate Club

I was particularly excited by this project because of how much I believe in the book’s premise: Children will eat real food that’s good for them if it’s tasty. It doesn’t have to be junk. I knew I wanted this book to have a hand-lettered feel -- the challenge was to be child inspired without becoming childish. There’s no greater expert at this than Bruno Munari, so I looked to his masterpieces for inspiration. I also tried to take bits and pieces from video game culture, particularly from the look and feel of Katamari Damaci and Noby Noby Boy. The result is a book that’s fun and approachable without losing the seriousness of its message. It’s an object lesson in its own theme: that a bit of a fun and a bit of inspiration can bring out the "good" in the "good for you". I did all the illustration and hand lettering in addition to the photography and book design. It is really a labor of love (and for a local author, too). I hope Bruno would approve. Typefaces: Sentinel, ITC American Typewriter, Gotham Rounded.

What Was the Hipster?

When I heard the title of the newest of the n+1 Small Books series, What Was the Hipster?, I was a bit concerned. My work with n+1 flirts with an idea of "hipness" while attempting to remain outside of that conversation. Here, we were addressing hipsters and hipness head on, thus forcing the issue (for me) of whether n+1 was and is a hip publication. I think of the tone I try to strike with the magazine as a gently avant-garde academicism, very aware of design history but attempting to live almost outside of it. However, I’ve treated the small books a bit differently, and tried to take a "predictive" point of view -- that is, I’ve tried to place these titles at a vanguard, which requires staking a claim as to where "everyone else" is. I think it’s this cultural attitude of reflexively contextualizing one’s self and work that gets at what hipsterism is. To ask "What Was the Hipster?" is to strike a quasi-objective stance that only becomes more "quasi" the deeper you look. The final tone is arch, with an aura of Victorian naturalism and perhaps Russian Suprematism -- the Blow-Up dot screen motif is a way of encouraging the reader to look into the conceit of the book and to become a bit lost, dizzy, and unsure. It reflexively looks at the reflexive impulse, thus tries (and tries not to try) to both be and not be hip. Typfaces: Warnock, Versa Sans. Printed with silver ink on fluorescent red uncoated stock.

N1FR: The n+1 Film Supplement

The first n+1 film supplement appeared in movie theaters in middle September, 2010, bringing long-form film criticism to the places people still care about such things. The editors had the idea that they wanted to print some previously web-only content and do it as cheaply as possible. I’d wanted to work with newsprint for years and was so keen to get it done that I turned around a near-final draft of the paper the night I heard about it. Editorial concerns stretched production to about a week, but this was a fun, fast project: very appropriate for a newspaper. Typefaces: Warnock, Versa Sans.

Growing Tasty Tropical Plants

If there’s another full-color gardening title with a text-only front cover, I’m not aware of it. We had very little good photography for this title, and none at the early stage in the process when we need a final cover (we later had some very nice photos taken for the interior). So this was almost literally making lemonade from lemons (and limes, citrons, grapefruit, kumquats, barbados cherries, etc.). The final product is a book that really stands out and fulfills its promise of bright, cheery, out-of-the-ordinary gardening experiences. Typefaces: Meta (modified), Archer, Odile Initials. Photography (the good stuff!) by Adam Mastoon. Illustration by Beverly Duncan.

Put ’em Up!

I love the flavors of canned fruits and vegetables. Canning recipes often require the product to be fairly acidic before processing in the water bath (to be extra inhospitable to microbes). Thus, good canned veggies are often highly pickley and piquant, with bright flavors and assertive spice mixtures that help balance the twang of acid. Put ’em Up! has a charismatic author who really wanted her book to have its own distinctive personality and I wanted that personality to be bright, idiosyncratic, and a bit prickly. The result is a vivid, nearly avant-garde presentation -- a mix of classic typography with intuitive but playfully bizarre color choices, and hyperreal HDR imagery with highly accomplished pencil drawings. Each chapter opens with an asymmetric grid of imagery processed nearly to the point of appearing synthetic, like a contemporary cabinet of curiosities. Then each food section opens with a color field and "taste graph" that evokes the flavor and fragrance profile of the ingredient. The book is also highly structured and cross-referenced for wayfinding between the recipes and the techniques (which are in a previous part of the book). The result is an oddly wonderful experimental canning book. Photography by Kevin Kennefick. Illustration by Elara Tanguy. I did the hand lettering in the labels and hand painted all the lids. Typefaces: Sentinel, Bauer Bodoni, Knockout, Stone Serif, Akzidenz Grotesk, Gotham.

Utopia in Our Time poster

Utopian dreams had become passé, but the idea of striving toward such a goal shouldn’t be restricted by trends and fashion. Mark Greif, one of n+1’s editors, had a vision of wheatpasting New York with the sort of strident, earnest posters that might have been made in the civil rights era -- or perhaps as a beacon from an alternate reality where those utopian dreams of improving society actually became generations of radical change instead of a hokey throwback to hippie decadence. I was on the fence about the dolphins, thinking them too insincere, but I am coming around. Post-boomer irony was a disappointment in our parents and in the world they left us, but it’s possible that even the most ripe imagery (hang-in-there kitty, three howling wolves, leaping silver dolphins, doe-eyed kewpies) holds within it the dream of sincerity: just as there are no ironic orgasms, utopia remains meaningful. Typeface: Utopia (modified).

Made From Scratch

I was pleased to work with Chris Silas Neal for the paperback version of Jenna Woginrich’s how-to-do-it memoir of packing up and moving to a (rental) farm in northern Idaho. I never even told him I had one of his posters hanging in my dining room. The last few years have seen a big DIY boom, and hard times are sometimes good times for a publisher like Storey, turning sturdy old backlist titles on subjects like root cellaring into surprise bestsellers. Storey’s strong position in the zeitgeist has allowed us to find and actually hire top talent like Chris. Though it would be nice to think that there will always be some glamour in the unglamorous crafts and trades that sustain our traditions, with a better economy comes better access to forgetting. Perhaps victims of future downturns will look back on the aesthetic achievements of our present hardship with fond nostalgia. Illustration by Chris Silas Neal. Typefaces: Trade Gothic, Agenda, Agenda (modified), Faiplex Narrow, Gotham. Interior: Simoncini Garamond, Latin, Barmeno.

n+1 Number Nine ("Bad Money")

I started working with n+1 in 2005, a year after they published their first issue. It took many, many variations (some quite subtle) before we came to the design scheme that has remained unchanged since my first issue (Number 3). The primary goal of this redesign was to create a text presence that disappeared, in the style of the crystal goblet. It had to be attractive, yet not attract. And this contradictory direction is not uncommon in design. For instance, when I worked for Barnes and Noble, the dictum was "the same but different". Coolness, ease, grace, and the sweat, cursing, and failure needed to maintain them are still the most powerful of design's illusions. Design, at its core, is the control over what is noticed, and when. (NB: I was not able to change the actual n+1 logo when I did my redesign, perhaps this is why I always notice it at the wrong time!) Typefaces: Warnock (modified), Versa Sans.

The Perennial Care Manual

I tried to make the photography shine in this book. Rob Cardillo’s garden photography is some of the best, and Nancy Ondra’s garden is just incredible. I wanted big, earthy colors, chunky photos, and a hands-on attitude. It’s a huge, beautiful book that you’d be happy to get dirty. Typefaces: Arno, Cronos, Gotham.

The Backyard Homestead

Some kinds of book work like a bento box. Each page is meant to be densely, rationally packed. The very idea that so much could be contained so efficiently elicits a feeling of delight in the Maker mind. There is that thrill in the successful solution to a problem. There is the satisfaction of objects in logical but pleasurable order. This is the kind of response I wanted to create in The Backyard Homestead -- that enthusiastic moment of possibility where you actually believe that living for yourself is something that’s do-able and worth the effort. With over 55,000 titles sold in 2010, it’s Storey’s bestselling title. If only a fair percentage of those purchases turn into the fulfillment of a dream, it’s an impressive achievement. Typefaces: Latin, Farao, Berkeley, Knockout. Illustration by Michael Austin.

n+1 Number Six ("Mainstream")

This cover is my favorite of all the covers I’ve done for n+1. While the interior of the magazine is designed to be a vessel for the writing, the cover has only what I bring to it. There are no explicit rules, but I find that they start to write themselves as I start to work. Why is one shape "correct" while another isn’t? What shade of red has the just the right feeling of sick nostalgia? The challenges of corporate work can be explicit: How can we say a specific thing to a specific audience? With n+1, there is a different mandate, one that is intuitive yet not entirely personal. It is a challenge to say something truthful, realizing that the language of color, shape, texture, and position is powerful yet so profoundly different from words. It is a truthfulness of action.