In conversation with David Litman



David Litman is an award-winning graphic designer based in Brooklyn, New York. His work has been recognized by the Type Directors Club and featured in design publications such as Spine Magazine, Casual Optimist, Electric Literature, LitHub, and the design annuals World's Best Typography, and Typography 41.

I first came across Litman's work while reading a copy of T.J. Newman's heart-pounding thriller, Falling, last summer. I had initially been drawn to the book by its cover, and like many of the books I pick up, I was inclined to investigate who was behind the design. Newman's debut led me to Dave's Instagram, which led me further down a rabbit hole, where I was amazed and inspired by the work he had produced. 

Over the year that I've been running my book blog, I've become just as interested in book covers designs as I have in books themselves. And by interviewing creatives like James Iacobelli, Olga Grlic, and Michael Storrings, I've come to understand so much of the cover design process, and just how much work goes into the finished product that we readers hold in our hands when a book goes to print.

All that said and done, I was keen to speak to Dave about his creative process, the most memorable cover he's ever designed, who inspires him most, and what books he's reading.

Your covers are really eye-catching. I loved the cover for The Final Girl Support Group and read that you actually dipped a folding chair in paint for the final image. What was your creative process like for that book? 

To clarify, yes, but it was a miniature folding chair, like 3 inches tall, tied to a piece of string, dipped in house paint and photographed in my backyard.  For a second I did have a vision of hoisting a full sized folding chair into a vat of paint, but it didn’t seem very practical. That said, I’ve always loved the use of miniatures in the bygone days of filmmaking. This book is an homage to classic 70s/80s horror movies, so I knew from the start that I wanted to get analog with it and think of myself as a pre-digital era practical effects guy. 

The image of a bloody folding chair came to mind right away. The problem of how to achieve the shot became the most fun I’ve had designing a cover in recent memory. 

What's the most memorable cover you've designed and why?

My earliest covers stick with me the most. The cover for Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday was the first novel I ever worked on. I think about that one a lot, and how I would approach the execution differently today. I printed the type and image on a sheet of paper, folded it into an airplane and photographed it. Every time someone wanted a tweak to the image or the type I would have to recreate the whole process, the whole photo shoot again, and hope for the best. 

Now I’d probably shoot a blank paper airplane and add the image and type in photoshop, assuming that there would be input from everyone involved, which, I didn’t realize at the time, is almost always the case. There is something to that process though; making an unchangeable form influences design choices in a way that doesn’t happen with an Undo keystroke. The final paper airplane has a permanent place on my pin board as a reminder and a warning. 

Who in the book design world inspires you most?

Really, everyone. We have a great community of designers on social media, where we’re always sharing new work, discussing process, commiserating about killed concepts. It’s always inspiring, cathartic, all that. I also work in-house, where I see the incredible work that our team is putting out every week in our jacket meetings. A truly great cover that I see in a meeting or a post on Instagram or visit to a bookstore challenges me to up my game, and I love it.

I imagine your job involves a lot of reading. Have you got any books on the go right now? Any important must-reads for the coming months?

This will probably be an unpopular answer, and certainly not true of every designer, but when I’m reading for work, I’m really not reading critically. I’m focusing on content, a mood, a character, a sense of place, an overarching theme, and so on and so on. People often ask if I’m reading anything great at the moment and the honest answer is that I’m not sure! I enjoy reading everything I’m working on for the challenge of finding the visual, and look forward to a quieter time when I can return to certain books and read them for the simple joy of reading.

For more info on David Litman, check out his website and follow him on Instagram.