KNOWN AS MORCOS KEY, Waël Morcos and Jon Key are the design team behind “Black Futures,” the ambitious collaboration from Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham.

The authors set out to answer the question “What does it mean to be Black and alive right now?” Their response is an impressive compilation—a cacophony of images, memes, social media outtakes, and writings. Hundreds of creatives contributed, including dozens of artists. The final product is a striking volume inside and out in terms of design and contents.

 


“Black Futures,” by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham (One World/Random House, 544 pages). Book design by Jon Key, Son Kit, Taylor Woods, and Rouba Yammine for Morcos Key, with jacket/cover design by Waël Morcos and Jon Key. | 50 Books Winner: “The design of Black Futures beautifully captures images, text and essays into a contemporary non-linear experience. The editorial layout invites a playful exploration from start to finish.” — Kelly Walters

 

A fan of Morcos Key’s design work for The Tenth magazine, Drew reached out about “Black Futures.” The designers recalled how she pitched the project: “This is very cool; it’s like art or an object, and we want our book to be an object that will beautiful, but also of the culture, of the time, and something that people can read and enjoy.”

From a design perspective, “Black Futures” is among the best books published in 2020, according to AIGA (the professional association for design). Art books from Ming Smith, Duro Olowu, and Tyler Mitchell were also recognized, along with “Interwoven,” which is dedicated to a series of portraits by Kyle Meyer that give a voice and representation to the LGBT community in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) where it is illegal to be gay.

Every year, AIGA selects the 50 best-designed books and 50 best-designed book covers. The latest winners were announced June 21. A spectrum of books was recognized, from novels and nonfiction to volumes on art and design.

AIGA’s 50 Books | 50 Covers panel of jurors (Jennifer Morla, Paul Sahre, and Kelly Walters) was chaired by Gail Anderson, chair of BFA Design and BFA Advertising at the School of Visual Arts and creative director at Visual Arts Press, both in New York.

“Such great work!” Anderson said in a statement announcing the winners. “Not a clunker in the mix of entries. People know how high the bar is in this competition, so they choose their entries carefully. This makes the cherished 50 a bit of a stressful edit, but wow. Print books rule.”

“People know how high the bar is in this competition, so they choose their entries carefully. This makes the cherished 50 a bit of a stressful edit, but wow. Print books rule.” — Gail Anderson


From left, A designer and educator Gail Anderson, chaired AIGA’s 50 Books | 50 Covers competition. | Photo by NIr Arieli; Bennie F. Johnson is executive director of AIGA. | Photo by Lawrence Jackson

 

From Aperture, Smith’s first monograph won for cover design. The book was designed by Sonya Dyakova of Atelier Dyakova in London. Designed by David Chickey, Myers’s volume won for both book and cover design.

One of the 50 Books winners, “Duro Olowu: Seeing,” was published on the occasion of the exhibition guest-curated by Olowu at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. For “Seeing,” the British fashion designer turned his sartorial eye on the the city of Chicago, surveying the legacy of its art and culture.

Describing the show, the museum said Olowu “reimagines relationships between artists and objects across time, media, and geography. Moving away from traditional exhibition formats, Olowu combines photographs, paintings, sculptures, and films in dense and textural scenes that incorporate his own work.”

The exhibition catalog also departed from traditional approaches. Describing what he imagined the book to be, Olowu told curator and catalog author Naomi Beckwith he wanted it to let people into his world and showcase the exhibition in a new light.

Renata Graw, founder of Normal, an interdisciplinary design practice in Chicago, designed the catalog. “The brief for the book was a bit unusual for a museum exhibition: this was not to be a one-to-one catalogue of the show, but a companion piece,” she told Eye on Design, AIGA’s magazine.

 


“Duro Olowu: Seeing,” by Naomi Beckwith (DelMonico Books/Prestel, 416 pages). Book design by Renata Graw, Crystal Zapata, and Tim Curley for Normal, with jacket/cover design by Renata Graw and Crystal Zapata. | 50 Books Winner: “This might be my favorite cover of the whole show. It’s begrudgingly wonky, it’s simplicity sets the reader up perfectly for what follows.” — Paul Sahre

 

The fabric cover is burnt orange, a nod to Olowu’s “fascination” with the Chicago brick. “We started by experimenting with Duro’s fabrics and patterns, some of our original sketches had combinations of two or three of his fabrics,” Graw said.

“As the interior of the book was taking shape, we realized the cover should not just be about Duro’s fabrics, but also about the way he sees, curates, collects, mixes, and remixes. The type was set as a frame. Separating the title gives the viewer the necessary space to see, to pause, to maybe take a second look.”

“As the interior of the book was taking shape, we realized the cover should not just be about Duro’s fabrics, but also about the way he sees, curates, collects, mixes, and remixes.” — Renata Graw

“Tyler Mitchell: I Can Make You Feel Good” was recognized by AIGA among the 50 Books winners, too. The volume documents the artist’s first U.S. solo exhibition at the International Center of Photography in New York. Mitchell’s accolades include being the first Black photographer to shoot the cover of American Vogue, when he captured Beyoncé for the September 2018 issue.

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist tells stories through portrait photography. His approach to Black representation centers beauty, freedom, and joy, offering thoughtful commentary on race in America. Mitchell has described his constructed scenes as “a self-contained utopia, a self-contained world.”

Alex Lin and Jena Myung of Studio Lin in New York City designed “I Can Make You Feel Good.” On behalf of the jury, Walters said: “The expert use of the cloth binding in this book creates a subtle interaction between each photographic spread. As the colorful front/back sections meet the immersive photographs we truly get pulled into the interior of the book. The particular image crops and color saturation focuses our attention on the unique qualities of every single image.”

Walters founded the interdisciplinary design practice Bright Polka Dot and serves as associate director of the BFA Communication Design Program at Parsons School of Design in New York.

 


“Tyler Mitchell: I Can Make You Feel Good,” by Tyler Mitchell, with contributions by Isolde Brielmaier, Deborah Willis, and Hans Ulrich Obrist (Prestel, 208 pages). Book and jacket/cover design by Alex Lin and Jena Myung for Studio Lin. | 50 Books Winner: “The expert use of the cloth binding in this book creates a subtle interaction between each photographic spread. As the colorful front/back sections meet the immersive photographs we truly get pulled into the interior of the book. The particular image crops and color saturation focuses our attention on the unique qualities of every single image.” — Kelly Walters

 

“Black Futures” was also one of the 50 Books cited for overall excellence in book design. “The design of Black Futures beautifully captures images, text and essays into a contemporary non-linear experience. The editorial layout invites a playful exploration from start to finish,” said Walters.

“Surprisingly, the cover that we made for the first sketch was the cover that they actually ended up choosing, which never happens,” Morcos Key told Eye on Design.

“One of the things that we really loved was the idea of having a solid black book. I think that really speaks to contemporary art theory and all of these painters that paint in black-on-black tones taking out colorism. It’s very interesting how that can unify the the Black experience. And then the rainbow metallic foil really speaks to black as a color.” — Morcos Key

“For us, one of the things that we really loved was the idea of having a solid black book. I think that really speaks to contemporary art theory and all of these painters that paint in black-on-black tones taking out colorism,” Morcos Key said. “It’s very interesting how that can unify the the Black experience. And then the rainbow metallic foil really speaks to black as a color. The Black experience is not a monolith—there are different expressions. I love that this iridescent color shows the different nuances and values and depths of our experiences.”

These exceptionally designed volumes have also been recognized by Culture Type. “Duro Olowu: Seeing” is among the highlights chronicled in The Year in Black Art 2020. Meanwhile, “Black Futures,” Smith’s Aperture monograph, and “Tyler Mitchell: I Can Make You Feel Good” appear on the list of Best Black Art Books of 2020. The feature noted that the books “provided much needed solace, insights, and deep dives into the practices” of important artists and offered “quarantine substitutes” in the wake of shuttered museums and galleries over the past year, a reality AIGA Executive Director Bennie F. Johnson, also emphasized.

“In a year where many of us felt and were disconnected in numerous ways, books provided us that connection to each other and to our world,” Johnson said. “Books play a vital role in our lives, and while our world and the ways we access and interact with stories may have changed, our appreciation for books has not.” CT

 


“Ming Smith: An Aperture Monograph,” by Ming Smith, edited by Brendan Embser with a foreword by Alan Govenar, and contributions from Emmanuel Iduma, Janet Hill Talbert, M. Neelika Jayawardane, Namwali Serpell, Greg Tate, Arthur Jafa, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Yxta Maya Murray ( Aperture Foundation and Documentary Arts, 236 pages). Book design Sonya Dyakova with jacket/cover by Atelier Dyakova of London | 50 Covers Winner: “A powerful cover that portrays a clearly cut silhouette against the pattern of ferns. A wonderful juxtaposition of disparate imagery.” — Jennifer Morla

 


“Kyle Meyer: Interwoven,” by Todd J. Tubutis and Andy Campbell (Radius Books, 192 pages). | Book design and jacket/cover design by David Chickey | 50 Books Winner, 50 Covers Winner: “As much as I like an all typographic cover, I am equally impresses by a photographic cover that captures my attention. The interior, with bookmark, demonstrates the attention to detail inherent in the artist’s work.” — Jennifer Morla

 

BOOKSHELF
AIGA recognized many additional art, design, and photography books including “Made in L.A. 2020: a version,” “Eileen Gray,” and “Roy Lichtenstein: History in the Making, 1948–1960,” Volumes exploring elements of Black culture such as the children’s books “Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter” by Shani King with illustrations by Bobby C. Martin Jr., and “Nkemdiche – Why We Do Not Grow Beards,” were also among the winners, along with “Wild Thing: The Short, Spellbinding Life of Jimi Hendrix.”

 

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