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.

Everything here is made.

He acquired “a natural understanding that everything here” — highways, bridges, Toyotas — “is made, and is the consequence of multiple decisions.”

This quote from the massive New Yorker profile of Jony Ive and the Apple design team confirms something I already knew about him because it’s something I’ve come to recognize in every designer I admire: acting upon the knowledge that everything touched by people is designed. I’d like to think game recognize game, as it were.

I’ve long held that this mindset is a prerequisite for being a professional designer. After reading this profile, I’m thinking about it as perhaps the primary criterion through which I filter designers.

Were I to interview a junior designer for a job, I’d ask them to talk about how they chose colors, typefaces, and materials.

If I were going to interview a senior designer, I’d ask them to talk about how the colors, typefaces, and materials they chose affected the usability and functionality of the product.

If I were going to interview a design leader, I’d ask them to talk about every decision they’ve made today and their consequences.

Also: my favorite quote about Ive from this profile is from Laurene Powell Jobs: “Really, if you ever need buttons for things designed, for doors or lights, you should just stay in touch with him.”

Things I have been called (and how I feel about them).

I have been told I have a great name. A superhero name. Alliterative.

As I get older, I think more and more that my name was one of the best choices my parents made on my behalf.

Some people like to call me by my name, and some people prefer to call me other things. I have some thoughts on a lot of them.

This is my full given name. It’s what I like to be called, so when people ask if I have a preference, I say, “Call me Matthew.” Most people call me Matthew.

It used to be I went by Matt, and then I began introducing myself as Matthew though I had no preference whether people called me Matthew or Matt.

One morning in DC, a neighbor asked which I preferred and so I answered I had no preference. Still, she insisted I come down on one side or the other. I’ve preferred Matthew since.

Old friends still call me Matt because they’ve always called me Matt. New friends sometimes prefer to call me Matt too, and that’s okay.

I mostly don’t feel like someone whose name begins and ends in a hard syllable. Rather I’d think I’ve cultivated a measure of civility to end my name in a long vowel, its echo not an arpeggio of clicks but the multi-tracked hum of a long vowel held.

Mr. Marco
When I was younger, some people called me this because I was either precocious or pretentious in their view.

Recently, it seems to be in vogue among those who find my bearing professorial.

Service workers also address me as this but I’m quick to let them know they can address me by my first name. Still, they tend to persist in calling me Mr. Marco.

Big guy
A surprisingly high number of people in my life have called me big guy, even when I wasn’t all that fat or tall. Mostly it seemed like a replacement for “hey you” with a derisive comment about my body thrown in for good measure. I don’t like being called “big guy.”

Uncle Chunk
I was a TA for a photojournalism class when I was a senior in high school and the mostly younger students took to calling me this – the first part presumably for my mentor-like status, the second part for my size.

I’ve been called a lot of fat-shaming names in my life, but this is the only one that became my official (and unwanted) mode of address. I don’t care for this name.

M and M
Really? Really. And no.

Among the three, “dude.” Yes, this is a real preference. Largely for the same reason I have issues with the distinction between “hood” and “nabe” as abbreviations of “neighborhood,” and also for my feelings about sibling relationships.

I think part of the reason I maintain my professorial bearing is so people aren’t tempted to address me with any of these terms.

I’m not very close with my younger relatives in the Philippines so I’m not addressed by either of these titles very often. Even when I am in touch, it’s rare that I’m addressed by younger cousins as kuya, which would probably be my title had I never immigrated. I like them though, even if they are usually paired with “Matt.”

Between dude/bro/bruh and pare, pare wins. If a panhandler in the States asked for money and addressed me as pare, I’d throw some change his way.

I’m generally okay with any direct translation of my first name into another language.

These are a few nicknames still employed by just one person I know. All these assignations seemed to be organic and affectionate. If I called any one of these people they’d enthusiastically greet me with their very own salutation. I’d be surprised if anyone other than their originators addressed me with them, but I’m good with them.

Old Filipino nickname. Still in use by my parents and relatives.

When we first immigrated and I was eager to shed my otherness among my young American peers, I asked my parents to stop using this. Then I got older and I realized how much of my culture I willed out of myself out of this impulse to conform and assimilate. And this Filipino nickname was among the casualties I could still reclaim.

I get a little nostalgic when I receive correspondence addressed to Mawy.

I never played Marco Polo but I know that exists as a game because I am subject to cries from it pretty regularly. I only know the rules of the game from Wikipedia and some people still think it’s funny to affect the intonation of Marco associated with that game when addressing me. I don’t.

Alternately, some people have called me Marco because for some reason they thought I deserved a better name than Matthew. Which I’ve taken to interpret as “we think your inconspicuous given name is unsuitable for you therefore we’re going to address you by your more exotic-sounding last name that is also a given name in many countries.” And ew, no.

Don’t ever call me Marco.

Somewhat related: a pretty good article on the weird science of naming new products. As an occasional insider to the process, I find it deeply frustrating mostly because of the social interactions that take place in arguments of taste. However, if you’re an outsider, it’s worth reading to see how difficult a good name can be to conjure.


Whenever I hear the words “grass-fed cheeseburger,” I imagine a cheeseburger, cooked, on a bun, topped with lettuce, tomato, and whatnot, being fed grass.

Kind of like this:

Drawing of a cheeseburger eating grass


Yesterday I learned that an alternate name for a tallboy is a “pounder.” Which as far as I’m concerned is a brilliant (and rare) single-word double entendres.

My first interpretation was that a sixteen-ounce can of beer is an ideal format for “pounding,” or sport drinking. But it is a sixteen-ounce can.

A pounder weighs a pound!

Wider angle.

Any Wire fan who looked at extrapolated art should consider themselves fortunate that David Simon became invested in the process of transferring the series to high-definition video. By considering the possibility of a strictly algorithm-based expansion of the frame and contrasting that to Simon’s shot-by-shot observations, it becomes clear that in art, the space beyond the edges of the frame can never really be determined by the contents of the frame.

Fittingly, both links come from the literally inimitable Kottke: Slate’s Robottke experiment and the insight that “In computer science parlance, Kottke doesn’t scale” is particularly relevant.

Also related: “Be Right Back,” the first episode of the second series of Black Mirror.