Peter Mendelsund Talks With Chip Kidd.

Down the years, I’ve developed a strategy to avoid being incapacitated by the professional envy instilled in me by his work: Before I go to visit him next door, I blindfold myself, and then proceed to his office, shakily, one step at a time, navigating by touch and echolocation. Thanks to this method I’ve managed to avoid looking at all that nice stuff he’s done, and saved myself from crushing self-doubt.

All of this is to say, when Kate asked me to interview Chip about his work space, I actually had questions I didn’t know the answers to in advance. What follows is my Q&A with Chip about his space, in our waning days on the 19th floor of 1745 Broadway.

Peter Mendelsund (his desk here)

Chip Kidd is a graphic designer and writer in New York City. His book jacket designs for Alfred A. Knopf (where he has worked for over fourteen years) have helped spawn a revolution in the art of American book packaging. His first novel, The Cheese Monkeys, was a national bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His first book, Batman Collected was awarded the Design Distinction award from ID magazine. He is the co-author and designer of the two-time Eisner award-winning Batman Animated. He’s the editor-at-large for Pantheon, where he has overseen the publication of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Dan Clowe’s David Boring, and the definitive book of the art of Charles Schulz, Peanuts (designed, edited, and with commentary by Mr. Kidd). His work has been featured in Vanity Fair, Eye, Print, Entertainment Weekly, The New Republic, Time, Graphis, New York,and ID magazines, and he is a regular contributor of visual commentary to the Op-Ed page of The New York Times.

PETER MENDELSUND: At long last sir, CAN you judge a book by its cover, and, as a follow-up question: what are the primary lessons learned from the war in Iraq for American foreign policy in western Asia going forward?

CHIP KIDD: Oh, wait, that question just triggered blood to shoot out of my eyes. What a mess, please be patient while I wipe down my computer screen. Yuck.

I’ve always been a ‘nester’, I think most designers are.

PM: What is this thing, and where did it come from? (Triangular “P” sign)

CK: It is an in-store display sign from J. C. Penney’s, back when they had a cool logo, probably the early 1960s. I had bought it at Uncommon Objects in Austin TX and planned to give it to my friend Paul for a present. But I kept it instead.

PM: Any old-school art department item you guys used to have back in the day that you wish was still around?

CK: My old desk-top drawing table with T-Square is still leaning against the window, though it’s pretty well hidden. And I miss the photo-stat camera, with which I used to make a lot of cover art before scanners or even color xerox.

PM: When your mother visits your office what kinds of comments does she make?

CK: The first one is always “Where’s the bathroom again?” Then she asks me if I was able to see the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ from my window, which I probably would have had I been in the office that day.

I ADORE my view, and I’m worried sick about what we’ll be looking at when we move in September.

PM: Is there anything on your desk or in your office that’s provenance unknown? Don’t know where it comes from; don’t know why it’s here?

CK: The ever-growing mold in the collectible Mexican soda bottle.

PM: I dare you to drink one of those ancient collectible Mexican sodas.

CK: See previous answer. I was able to bring that in my carry-on luggage on a trip from the west coast of Mexico, that tells you how long I’ve had it.

PM: Thing in here you are most proud of?

CK: Seriously the books, and especially the ones I wrote and/or brought into being.

PM: What was your childhood bedroom like, und are zehr any zimilarites between zat und zis office? Hmmmmmmmmmmmn?

CK: I’ve always been a ‘nester’, I think most designers are. The difference now between my office and my bedroom as a child is the dearth of KISS posters (I mean NOW, not then).

Seriously the books…

PM: What’s the book on your shelf that’s been face-out the longest?

CK: Hard to say, certainly the oldest one I worked on would have to be “Love In The Time of Cholera.”

PM: Do you ever press your large red “EASY” button?

CK: It’s one of those dreadful promo things from Staples. I can’t remember why I have it or who gave it to me. It should say “IMPOSSIBLE” instead.

PM: Do you ever (or do you ever feel tempted) to design something by hand, rather than by pixelated arrow?

CK: Occasionally I’ll do some hand-lettering, or a collage, or a stinky drawing, if it gets the job done. Isn’t that fascinating?

PM: Do you look out your window?

CK: I ADORE my view, and I’m worried sick about what we’ll be looking at when we move in September.

PM: Ever known any real borzois? I hear they are temperamental.

CK: No, but I’ve seen them occasionally on the street here in NYC, being walked usually on Park Avenue. I hear they’re also like dinosaurs and Sarah Palin, in that they have tiny pea brains.

PM: Do you ever wonder if, like Leonard Bast in Howard’s End, you will die under a collapsing bookcase?

CK: Don’t be ridiculous. Now, I—wait, what’s that noise? I AAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHH!!! (Loud crashing cacophony sound.)

Find Chip on Twitter here.

2 Comments For “Peter Mendelsund Talks...”

  1. Marni says:

    Hooray, From the Desk of is back!! Love the new layout and snazzy slide show on the home page.

    PS Chip and Peter sound like funny guys to hang out with. And bonus points to Chip for the Sarah-Palin-pea-brain comment.

  2. julie says:

    I wish the interviewer had asked Kidd questions about his work habits and creative process. I felt I didn’t get a good sense of how he does his work, other than the fact that his office is filled with stuff.

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