“It’s an exclusive design competition – Per-Ole, we would like to invite you to join”. Intriguing, don’t you think? The invitation was from Gyldendal, Denmarks biggest, most prestigious publisher.
It got better. The subject was none less than a redesign of the grandmother of all Danish cook books, “Frøken Jensens kogebog”. If you form a sentence involving classic Danish food, the chance of mentioning Miss Jensen is about 1 to 1.
I was excited. For a bit. Then I got nervous. Who was in the competition? … I researched all the publishers freelance designers and narrowed it down to a sizeable group. It looked grim. Skilled designers on board. Some of them former in-house folks. I’m always ready to compete on skills, but on the relational? I was way behind. It had been more than 10 years since I had created with managing director Lise Nestelsø.
Then, I got competitive. I submitted biweekly design process documents, for the team to follow my research, sketches and preliminary ideas. I got feed-back on the go, analyzed the existing and former versions in detail. Meanwhile, I grabbed any occasion for more phone meetings, to hone in on the projects aspirations and limitations. I jumped into a maelstrom of ideas and executed like a kamikaze pilot. Deadline was grinding against my forehead, adrenaline pumping.
Weeks of excited anticipation followed. I knew, my chances were slim. Still: I had a blast doing this. I was, honestly, quite honored for the invitation in the first place. This is the cookbook my grandmother, Rena Lind snr. absolutely loved.
I had a few cards on hand. A textile + gold foil simple / classic, a classic porcelain inspired Indigo on damask table cloth pattern background and a fun, folksy frying pan iconic design on red-checkered background.
I had tested numerous typeface combinations, to ensure a careful balance between traditional and fresh. If you go all-classic, you end up with old hat. If you push the innovation-button too hard, you miss the mark. I had to make it look classic, yet new. Express the grand story that the book withholds, while exciting new generations.
One thing was in place: the interior. My analysis was in check. The existing design had forth-running layout, all recipes running one one after the other in two columns. I had tested 14 pages worth of a dynamic layout instead, splicing up ingredients, recipes and headlines and found that the page economy could handle it:
And a version with brown ink on beige paper. Brown ink, baby.
I fanatically checked my email. Inbox-silence. Eventually, my confidence dropped. No word so close to national holiday. Oh, well. It was still a blast to give it a shot, and … Oh, an email from the editor … Hmm … ambiguous … Oh, another one: I read it 4 times: I got the gig. My competitors had gone either too classic or to innovative. I had, in the editor, Ulla Selfort‘s words “managed to bridge the two”.
A month later, I submitted an updated process-document, based on the first feed-back:
The old-school logo on damask had most traction. For the interior, brown ink on natural paper. Silver foil: Optional. The cutlery icon as a branding element got some attention.
500+ pages of forth running recipes to be carefully dissected and rearranged. 1200+ recipes.
As the layout progressed, it became clear that cover did not match the interior design. Blue on white against brown on beige? … Not exactly integrated design. Imagine a stately classic blue Mercedes. Would beige interior work? Absolutely. Indigo on damask had the right Grandmother feel.
Yet, great design grows from content. And in this case, the calm care of the recipes, not decades but a century of testing in the kitchen. It was also clear, that indigo was too much a remake of the previous publication. This one needed it’s own voice. The answer was in the icon.
Silver cutlery on discrete damask simply made sense. The color for the type carried over from the interior. 53 versions of the typography was tested, before this handheld, rounded version held over.
The final result:
Bonus: Tests of logo designs, final stage: