Love him or hate him, Malcolm Gladwell has made an indelible impact on how zillions of people see the world via his best-selling books The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. If there were a Criterion Collection for nonfiction, these volumes would be in it—and now, thanks to the efforts of designer Paul Sahre and illustrator Brian Rea, you can actually buy a handsome boxed set of Gladwell’s three hits that wouldn’t look out of place next to your Stanley Kubrick collection.
"During our initial meeting with Malcolm, he referred to the three books as 'intellectual adventure stories,'" Sahre tells Co.Design. "Brian and I really responded to that, as it suggested a specific and interesting way to think about how the books could be designed. We wanted the books to feel like first editions of Moby-Dick or Treasure Island or The Wizard of Oz."
The tasteful gray cloth binding and foil stamping of the set and its "extremely conventional" design, as Sahre puts it ("maybe 'comfortable’ would be a better way to describe it," he adds) makes me think of famous children’s literature collections, like The Chronicles of Narnia. "This 'traditional/comfortable’ design allowed for the drawings Brian was doing to venture off into the abstract and unconventional place they ended up," Sahre continues. "More importantly, the quiet design allowed the text and the drawings room to interact and to breathe. I hope the reader doesn’t notice the design of the book at all."
Brian Rea’s illustrations—over 200 in the three books—strike a perfect balance between serious and impish, much like Gladwell’s own prose style. But they also granted Sahre a means of exerting more control over the interior layout of the books, as he worked to impose a consistent design on three works that were never intended to be presented as a set.
"We used the illustrations to lengthen or shorten each of the books for the new collection," he explains. "There are spreads, full pages, square spots and 'filler’ drawings—these were unusually sized drawings that filled odd gaps that would develop in the normal course of flowing text into our grid. These allowed for control of where text ended and started and helped us avoid widows and orphans and other such awkward typographic moments. Once we assigned specific sketches to certain formats and chapters of the books, Brian ended up having to do new drawings to fill gaps in the layout."
The final product all but begs to be pulled off a bookshelf at a cocktail party and thumbed through. Gladwell takes a lot of flak these days for being a peddler of intellectual fads, but Sahre and Rea’s gorgeous redesign does the author a great favor—they make his books seem like works that are actually meant to last.
Buy the set for $50 on Amazon.