It is an understatement to say that Chang Jae Lee has seen and designed a lot of books and book covers over the course of his two decades in the design department at Columbia University Press. Last month, the senior designer shared some of his favorites in an exhibition at Gallery Sagakhyung in Seoul. Titled “Thirteen Ways of Making and Looking at Books: Columbia University Press Book Design, 1990-2015,” Chang Jae’s exhibition showcased over a hundred books, both his own designs and those of his past and present Columbia University Press colleagues. Also on view was an installation showing the complete processes of cover design and book production.
While Chang Jae came to Columbia University Press in 1996, he chose 1990 for the start date of his exhibition so that he could include several book covers that were influential to his development as a designer, such as the 1990 Columbia University Press translation of Marguerite Duras’ Green Eyes, the jacket of which was designed by Tracy Feldman.
The exhibition drew visitors from all over the Korean publishing world, ranging from design students to editors. “Thirteen Ways of Making and Looking at Books” closed its run at Gallery Sagakhyung on May 30, and will move to the Seoul Metropolitan Library at the end of July for a four-week engagement.
I am pretty pessimistic about everything else, but I am not pessimistic about the future of books…. The physicality of books is important, and I think it can only be further accentuated, enhanced with thoughtful design. All successful designs achieve communication—translating the written language and its core ideas into the visual language, transforming them logically, succinctly, and viscerally.
To illustrate the power of thoughtful design, we’ve selected some of the covers Chang Jae has designed over the years for Columbia University Press books in two of his favorite subject areas, Korean Studies and Philosophy. Despite the range of topics and visual styles, what all these covers have in common is that they are carefully tailored to communicate information about the book within.