Explorers of Tomorrow is the title of the first book project I completed at the Academy of Art University in Spring 2009. Up to this point our projects consisted of posters and small printed materials, so this was the first time we were pushed to develop a consistent visual language and extend it across multiple pages. The assignment was to take a subject of interest, research its future 10 years from the present, and display our findings in a book.
Growing up, one of my favorite books was Automobiles of the Future by Irwin Stambler. Written in the 60s, it imagined the automobile in the 80s, 90s, and even the new millenium. The book was a window to a strange parallel dimension, where everything inside was a streamlined, pastel version of reality. Its pages held promise, for the future of automobiles was about more than spark plugs and oil filters, it was the story of man’s struggle to better himself. At the same time, it was very naive and simplified the world of tomorrow to a utopia that answered all of the problems facing their society. It never considered the possibility that the future would have its own set of obstacles to overcome. But that was its biggest appeal to me, to see the ways our society had advanced so far from their wildest dreams, yet fallen short on its fundamental ideals.
Space exploration has always been a fascination of mine. With that in mind I began to think about our future. 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 flight, and I thought it would be interesting to look at the future of space exploration 10 years from the present, but from the perspective of writers in the past. Specifically, I wanted to look at how a society that had just landed on the moon would view space travel in the future: how would our idea of 2019 compare to a society’s that looked to the stars for answers?
One of the great things about any discussion about the future is the amazing concept art that accompanies it. I had previously come across some gorgeous, high res scans of Syd Mead’s illustrations via Michael Stoll’s flickr and was dying for a chance to use them. After doing more research, I also found the fantastic work of Klaus Burgle via Retro-Futurismus. Other inspirations for the project came from Paleofuture and printed material from the Apollo 11 mission. Futura was used for the commemorative plaque left on the moon by the astronauts, so I thought it would be a good idea to incorporate it in my designs. I chose a landscape format with the idea of having huge spreads to capture the enormity of space. However, pairing Futura with the illustrations made the layouts look like model toy packaging (see below), not children’s books, so I turned to early reader books for inspiration.
I ditched Futura and instead paired Excelsior (for my headlines & body copy) with Franklin Gothic (for my quotes and secondary information) to give it an educational feel. I also decided to switch to a more traditional portrait orientation for the layout. Although I was sad to crop the beautiful artwork, it felt more appropriate for the type of book I was mimicking. I found a compromise by using gateway folds in my chapter openers. This allowed me to show the artwork in its original format, while also serving as a visual metaphor for the expanding horizons that are the heart of space exploration.
With the basic visual elements in place, the fun came in creating all the little details to replicate the look of an old library book. The first step was to create a book imprint for my imaginary line of children’s books. Birds seem to be a popular choice, so I decided to use an owl for its connotations with knowledge. Another detail was the addition of a colored sidebar with vocabulary words, a feature I remember appearing in many of my books as a kid.
Up to this point in the program we were advised to print on Epson Matte paper, but for this project we were encouraged to experiment with other materials. I took a trip to Kelly Paper and ended up using a Wausau Exact Opaque Colors Natural paper. This has become my go to paper for many of my projects, and I also used it to print my Beast in a Neon Cage project. It has a nice off-white color, but I wanted to “age” it more so I darkened the edges of a layer in Photoshop and applied it to my Master Page in Indesign. Finally, to copy the Permabound cover of school library books I printed on Epson Premium Canvas Matte. The canvas had an added benefit (for this project at least) of cracking when I folded it, which helped give it the appearance of wear and tear as I was binding it. Alex has a good explanation of the binding process in his Set in Stone post. It’s also a great look at how he tackled a similar project.
All in all this was one of my favorite projects to work on. Syd Mead remains a big inspiration to me, and it was nice to revisit a lot of my interests growing up and view them through the lens of a design project.