From the Designer’s Desk: Margaret Bauer

We’re kicking off our second year of monthly From the Designer’s Desk posts with some observation and inspiration from Margaret Bauer, formerly design manager in the Publishing Office at the National Gallery of Art and currently principal at Margaret Bauer Graphic Design in Washington, DC (and New Haven native!).

Why did you pursue design, rather than, say, painting or architecture or sculpture?

As a child I devoured coloring books. Although I gravitated to art classes in high school, I didn’t think of myself as an artist. But when I discovered the field of graphic design during my senior year at Yale, I was immediately enchanted. It spoke to both my creative instincts and my sense of the meticulous. It was at the crossroad of words and images. And because I was an avid reader of books, the study of typography and letterform mesmerized me. I also appreciated the comfort of being provided with a creative problem to solve, rather than having to formulate one of my own.

Is your work on a book project usually more of a slow, progressive effort, or is it moved forward by unpredictable moments of inspiration?

Truthfully, every new project fills me with both fear and excitement: fear of the blank white page and excitement at each particular book’s possibilities. The process is usually slow and deliberate at the start. I begin with research — talking with the curator and trying to understand the material at hand — then, read more on my own and look to the subject matter (and elsewhere) for design inspiration. Picking typefaces, contemplating the grid structure, selecting a page size, thinking about color — these things happen in conjunction with one another in a somewhat fluid process. Sometimes I can work for days and not make any progress, then things begin to gel, and a direction develops. Once one decision is made, the others come more easily. Settling on those first key elements is the primary challenge, and it’s different with every book. On occasion it is the back and forth with the client that forces an idea to blossom into something unexpected. Sometimes a moment of inspiration arrives like a gift when one is “in the flow” of the work, or walking the dog, or driving the car, or listening to music – and I am always grateful for the gift. It reminds me of the importance of stepping away from a project in order to come back again with fresh eyes.

What is your favorite font?

I love a beautiful old-style typeface like Garamond or Sabon: always readable, inherently elegant, remarkably versatile, and sturdy under duress.

How can an author make a book designer’s job easier?

The most interesting books I’ve made have all been a result of vibrant collaboration with the author/curator. It is exciting when the author has a strong vision about the work and about the publication. I appreciate when the author cares about the details. But, it is also critical for both of us to remain open to the design process and the unexpected solutions that sometimes arise from the dialogue. Good collaboration can mean the difference between something that sings and something that doesn’t. Communication is key; and being included in the conversation early on in the process can have a significant impact.

Who inspires you?

Bach, Mark Morris, Isamu Noguchi, Paul Klee, William Faulkner, e.e. cummings, Tom Stoppard, Albrecht Dürer, Alexey Brodovitch, Bradbury Thompson, and the Stenberg Brothers, to name a few.  I am inspired by simple objects made well, by the magic of a good story, and the transformative power of music, dance, and theater.

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