Covering Arcadia.

Tonight I’ve done something I haven’t done in years: worked on a design for which I was accountable to no one.

Inspired by a colleague’s homework assignment for her basic typography class at SVA, I decided to create a new cover for one of my favorite books: Arcadia.

It’s a book I first bought at a used bookstore in Philadelphia, read annually from 2006–12, and have given at least twice as a gift. Every time I’ve read or gifted this book, this is what the cover looked like.

This is what I am thinking it could look like:


In my version, there are a couple of plays on the title at work. The obvious one is that the title of the play on the cover circles back on itself: the ‘A’ at the 12 o’clock position is highlighted in pure white to demarcate it as the beginning and end (the rest of the letters are set in a pale grey).

The second play is in the conceptual connection I wanted to create between the text and the cover design through the selection of typefaces: the word ‘Arcadia’ is set in two related typefaces, alternating letter-by-letter. They are:

  • Baskerville: designed in the 1700s by John Baskerville.
  • Mrs. Eaves: designed in the 1990s by Zuzana Licko, it was an homage to Baskerville and named for John Baskerville’s wife and aide.

Much like the structure of the play, alternating between 1809 and the 1990s, the title of the play on the cover imperceptibly alternates between two related typefaces from the 18th century and the 20th century. To make the distinction between these two more clear – to telegraph the obscure punchline – I set “Tom” in Baskerville and “Stoppard” in Mrs. Eaves.

The back cover extends the concept:


Here, text is set in Caslon, a quintessential English serif designed in the 1600s by William Caslon. Baskerville was designed with the idea of improving upon Caslon (like Sidley Park, the play’s setting, subject to a redesign in 1809).

The image that spans across the cover is an image called (fittingly) The Hermitage, painted by an unknown artist, dated 1772. It’s pretty literal, but I think the typography concept is high-brow enough to draw out some of the text’s themes to the point that the cover’s imagery can simply be a painting of an English country house.

The Faber & Faber branding is all taken from their website. I think this qualifies as fair use but am open to having my interpretation questioned.

Download the full cover as a PDF if you’re interested in seeing how it all works together. It includes the spine, where ‘Arcadia’ is set in the same alternating typefaces but in a straight line that hopefully addresses some of the obvious legibility issues.

Curious to hear some honest feedback on this: tweet at me.