Pinch has had the honor of serving Hawthorne Books since before the northwest literary house had a business license. There's not a lot of money in independent publishing. Since the budgets have always been just north of nonexistent, we've had to be designer, typographer, photographer, illustrator, web developer, courier and general-purpose doula for dozens of projects, including twenty books and their covers, a full-commerce Web site, and a jillion pieces of marketing-related ephemera. We haven't gotten rich. We have however, developed a rewarding relationship based in a deep and abiding interest in literature and literacy. The nature of that relationship is explained in greater detail in a case study elsewhere on this site.
The press takes its name from the Washington Hawthorne (Crataegus phaenopyrum) a dense, hardy tree indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. Early studies for the device portrayed the tree’s sharp, narrow thorns as a loose metaphor for independence (see related case study; ultimately, we chose to imply the tree by showing only a clump of its berries: the produce of the tree, as books are the produce of the press. (Hawthorne berries – cousins of the rose hip – are edible, in case you’re wondering.)
We developed the device on the right in service of Hawthorne Rediscovery, a new imprint of the press devoted to resuscitating award-winning books that have fallen out of print, again due to the vagaries of the big publishing industry. It is derived from a mark proposed originally for the parent press (again, see the case study) We always mean to keep good ideas around to recycle, but it almost never works out. Here, it did.
A simple, elegant set of working papers. The first items we developed for Hawthorne, and helped to set the brand language, which is sophisticated, bookish, and not a little Anglophilic. We like to say that Hawthorne's brand is the English language, carefully presented: even in arenas such as the Web, where control of presentation is limited, we do as much as we can to present well-crafted language in well-crafted but unsentimental type.
We have built three Web sites for Hawthorne. The first two we hard-coded ourselves; the current site was built by our friend and colleague Luis Echeverria (who also built the site you're reading), and features secure e-commerce and a custom content-management system which allows Hawthorne's principals to maintain most aspects of the site themselves, without having to call us.
The commerce function is meant to be unobtrusive and subservient to the literary content on the site. Each book description offers a link to purchase (top detail); when you click it, a small shopping list pops up in the margin (bottom detail), which keeps a running tally of purchases and costs (since Hawthorne ships books postpaid, this is the final cost); when you're done browsing, you can proceed to a secure checkout, where you can review and alter your order, and run your payment information, all on one screen.
This is meant to be a site for readers, and it offers long, un-copy-protected excerpts from Hawthorne's books. We use very little image text on the site – preferring to let the Web be the Web – but painstakingly developing the style sheets that the browser uses to render the pages to make the type as good as the web can. The typefaces used on these pages are whatever the user has loaded on her system, but the presentation of them is where Hawthorne's brand shines through.
At right, a simple, one-page checkout finishes the vistor's experience.
A cover, as you can imagine, is the sales face of a work of literature: its job is to compel the reader to pick up the book. At most publishers, covers are developed independently of the book they support. When we started, we felt that there was value in having an explicit relationship between the type on the cover and the type inside the book, so we developed a consistent but flexible architecture and typographic palette that all Hawthorne books share, from snout to tail, which we'll get into in a moment.
We should also take this opportunity to take credit and/or blame for the photography and illustration on all these covers. Those our our heads, our hands, our rubber chicken you see. Larger images of these covers, and a survey of their contents can be seen elsewhere on this site.
Brand is more than a logo, a color, and typeface. Here, we show the set of basic proportions shared by every Hawthorne title. Here, brand is consistency of approach: even though the illustrations and compositions of every book in Hawthorne's catalogue are different, you can get a sense of family, of unity of intent behind them, because they all subscribe to the same set simple rules: in this case, two overlapping squares.
Here, you can see the diagram from the previous panel augmented by two vertical rules, which forms the basis for the typography inside the books (which we'll examine in greater detail elsewhere): again, the goal is a consistent, thought-out approach from cover to cover.
A block of type in greater detail. We started doing Hawthorne's covers because we wanted to set the text of the books (the principals were originally going to do it themselves). We felt that most publishers sacrificed good craft for economy and expediency – it takes time to set a proper paragraph – and we wanted to see if we could do it better.
We are still learning, but getting closer. The text area is asymmetrical, and the text block is set range-left so that letter- and wordspacing will be even throughout the book (this is unusual, by the way). All content locks into at least one of three points on the page, creating a quiet, orderly flow entirely in the service of the reader.
Pinch is not an advertising agency (although we all have agency experience) and we do not as a rule do advertising, but occasionally we're called upon to take one for the team. For Hawthorne, we have been making these small trade ads that take a defiant – though still literary – tone into the hushed provinces of your better literary journals.
The independent book trade has benefited greatly from the Web, but a printed catalog is still a necessity for distribution. It's also a burden if you don't have much money, because you have to keep it refreshed each season. Pinch developed a simple container for Hawthorne stocked with postcards representing each of its books (printed at the same time as its book covers), providing a lively, timely, full-color representation of its catalog; the inserts can also be sent individually, providing the press with an inexpensive direct-mail tool.