2014 AIGA Medal
1964, Reading, Pennsylvania


By Ellen Lupton
September 8, 2014

Recognized for possessing an intuitive understanding of narrative and creating books and book cover designs that are at once intriguing, clever and entirely unique.

Comic books were Chip Kidd’s gateway into graphic design. Batman and Superman populate his earliest childhood memories.Born in 1964, Kidd never outgrew his passion for comics. His obsessive attraction to Krypton and caped crusaders did not doom him, however, to a life of idleness and crime. Today, Kidd is a designer and writer of astonishing talent and influence; he is also known as one of the world’s leading Batman experts. (His first book as an author/designer/art director was Batman Collected, published by Bulfinch in 1996.)

Kidd studied graphic design with Lanny Sommese at Penn State, one of the largest public universities in the US. Sommese’s brutal and eccentric teaching style is the subject of Kidd’s 2001 coming-of-age novel The Cheese Monkeys, a book that aimed to “distill the grueling ordeal of becoming a graphic designer into a narrative that anyone could understand.” After graduating in 1986, Kidd moved to New York City and landed a position as a junior assistant in the art department at Alfred A. Knopf. He has been working there ever since, creating dozens of clever and eccentric covers each year for Knopf as well as for freelance clients across the publishing world.

Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design
Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, 2013Publisher: Workman; Author, art director, designer and illustrator: Chip Kidd.
Jurassic Park cover
Jurassic Park cover, 1990 Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; Art director, designer and illustrator: Chip Kidd.
Naked cover
Naked cover, 1996 Publisher: Little, Brown; Art director, designer and illustrator: Chip Kidd.

For designers, the allure of book jackets and covers lies in the opportunity to work with authors and to shape the physical form and public identity of literary artifacts that have lasting value. The jacket designer stakes a claim to authorship as well, with a credit line printed on the back flap. As soon as Kidd started working at Knopf, authors and editors took notice of this new name printed on those flaps, and he became the go-to designer for such well-known writers as Bret Easton Ellis, Haruki Murakami, Dean Koontz, Cormac McCarthy, David Sedaris and Donna Tartt. Best-selling author and neurologist Oliver Sacks has a clause in his contract demanding cover designs by Chip Kidd.

Billions of inhabitants of planet Earth have seen the marauding T. rex skeleton that Kidd created for the cover of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park in 1990. (Kidd traced and simplified the image with a Rapidograph pen from a diagram he found in a book he purchased at the Museum of Natural History.) He admits, “Because the cover was used for the visual identity of the film, it became one of the most recognizable icons of the 1990s. My obituary will probably lead off with this and not go much further.”

Wind-Up Bird
Wind-Up Bird Chronicle cover, 1999 Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; Art director and designer: Chip Kidd; Photographer: Geoff Spear; Illustrator: Chris Ware.
1Q84 cover
1Q84 cover, 2011 Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; Art director, designer and illustrator: Chip Kidd; Photographer: Matthias Clamer.
The Cheese Monkeys
The Cheese Monkeys, 2001 Publisher: Scribner; Art director and designer: Chip Kidd; Illustrator: Chris Ware.
The Learners
The Learners, 2009 Publisher: HarperCollins; Author, art director, designer and illustrator: Chip Kidd; Illustrator: Charles Burns; Lettering: Chris Ware.


Of course, Kidd’s contribution extends far beyond a single cover. The fusion of story and graphics that drew him to comics as a child continues to drive his creativity today, allowing him to conjure narrative power from design’s most basic elements. His recent book, Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design (2013), is a deeply personal account of the design process, directed at artists in the tween and teen years. Illustrated with visual stories curated from Kidd’s own career and from his arsenal of collected artifacts, Go is no ordinary textbook. This design treatise for youngsters proves that color, scale, cropping, texture and type need not be merely abstract. They can simmer with as much emotional portent as the opening lines of a good novel.

Today Kidd lives in New York City with the poet J. D. “Sandy” McClatchy; the couple married in November 2013. He received the Cooper-Hewitt’s National Design Award for Communication in 2007 and the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award for Design in 1997.

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