Beecher’s One has an effect on me, and not just because of the wonderful stories. More than any other journal I have read, holding it evoked an emotion, much like the words did. When nobody was looking, I may have rubbed the journal all over my face, took deep breaths over its pages and whispered secrets into its binding, which I have learned is called a “naked” binding. How sexy.
Daniel Rolf is responsible for my affection for the design. He said the original concept for the binding was to make the first issue a “simple container for the text, but also something interesting to hold and look at.” Well, he surpassed that goal by quite a bit.
Rolf, whose academic background is literature, religion and architectural history, said he researched other journals before he started designing Beecher’s and realized that the impact of ornamentation, cover art and type treatments were brief. “The visual experience beyond the utility of the text to deliver the content felt inconsequential compared to the tactile experience of the object.” He added that the visual aspect of the journal was still a large concern, but tried to let the construction dictate the visuals as much as possible.
The paper that makes my hands feel so good is called Mohawk Via Felt. I want my sheets to be made of Mohawk Via Felt. Rolf said he wanted something soft but that also had some grab. Perfect. This paper won’t stay clean and that, also, is how I like my sheets. Rolf said he chose “the one that was the most easily soiled” and maybe that seems odd, but he has a good reason.
“I did most of my pre-design survey of books and journals in libraries and used book stores and began to study the evidence of readers you can find in books,” he said. “There are annotations, smudged graphite and ink, corners of pages are dogeared and discolored by skin oils, whole sets of pages will be stained and wrinkled from spilled liquids. I wanted the paper to heighten and facilitate these effects. So I touched and held a lot of different paper samples, smudged ink and dripped coffee onto them.”
He also said the paper thickness was just as important because it needed to be thin enough for the pages to turn smoothly, but rigid enough that they could be injured.
The typeface is Plantin Standard, and if you didn’t notice it, then it did its job. That was Rolf’s goal. If you did notice it, perhaps you admired its “staid elegance,” as Rolf described it. He said he also chose Plantin Standard because it is wider than most book typefaces and he wanted to increase the amount of whitespace without reducing the weight of the type.
How much does presentation affect the way you read? Is it really just about the words? I like to think it is because I write words and I don’t design journals but sometimes I also like to think that I am normal person and I know that’s not true either. We have to learn to live with some lies even in the face of beautiful, contrary evidence.
Robb Todd is a writer in New York City. He has lived all over the country, and was lucky enough to live in Hawaii twice. He also lived in Texas twice. And North Carolina twice. Actually, this is his second stop in New York, too, so he must not do not do things right the first time.