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Jackie Littman is the graphic designer behind the liner notes and design of the cover image for "How to Go On: The Choral Works of Dale Trumbore," Choral Arts Initiative's debut album. Currently a designer for Sosolimited in Boston, MA, Littman also designed Dale Trumbore's composer logo nearly ten years ago. The following is an interview between Trumbore and Littman about the design process for the album.
Dale Trumbore: What's your process like when you start a new project? What are the very first steps you take?
Jackie Littman: When I start a new design project, I start by asking a lot of questions and researching the topic of to get a the fullest understanding I can in a short amount of time. I love that my design work is always giving me the opportunity to learn other people’s fields at an intimate level as I work to organize, structure, and style the content. In a layout project like this one, I try to gather text and images and understand the constraints early on (printing dimensions, audience, the client's style preferences). This planning helps to define the goals of the design.
Then I’ll move on to finding visual inspiration and references, selecting typefaces, and sketching layout ideas. In the case of the liner notes, I worked on the look of the cover first, which I then used to set the tone and underlying structure for the rest of the booklet.
DT: Can you talk about your inspiration for the design of the liner notes? I believe the notes we gave you were that we wanted something fairly minimalist, reflecting the color schemes of the album's cover photograph (taken by Jennifer Garza-Cuen) and the overall design of CAI's website and mine. How did you translate all of that into the album design?
JL: The liner notes provide practical information that enhances the listening experience, but also set a visual tone to complement the music. Your design direction was very helpful in figuring out what was important to incorporate, both practically and aesthetically. Jennifer’s striking photograph of the road disappearing over the hill set the tone well, so we made it focal on both the album cover and the disc. I paired it with clean typography and layouts that have underlying structure and rhythm.
It was important to me, and to you, to respect the texts of the poems you used for the lyrics, so we worked together to figure out how to best typeset them within the limited space and preserve as much of the original formatting as possible. The blue accents pull in CAI’s identity and the look of your own website, and also echo the colors in the photography. The gridded structure and thin lines helped to unite all of the graphical elements together, from the lyrics to the logos.
DT: I'm curious; when you send over a bunch of potential design options, do you have a personal favorite you're hoping your client will pick? There were so many other options for the cover of the album that I loved, and although the one we picked was definitely the best fit for the album, we were tempted by at least three of the other designs!
JL: I learned early on never to present an idea that I wouldn’t be happy with a client choosing.You might think that presenting a great design alongside a mediocre one would make your preferred design seem even better, but it never works out that way. Someone is bound to love the one you threw in as the “wrong” option, and then you’ll be stuck moving in a direction you don’t stand behind. I’ll make many, many iterations as I work, especially for a cover design, so I go through and cull out any options that seem wrong or underbaked before I share them. That being said, I’m happy we went with the one we did—I really like the way the thin white line in this design ties the typography to the photo as it disappears behind the horizon.
DT: I know you do a lot of diverse work for Sosolimited that merges technology with design. You've worked in theater, too, designing sets and costumes, as well as in more traditional graphic design. Across the board, what unites all of the design work you do?
JL: The design process I learned in the theatre is still the basic process I use for graphic design. Getting to know the content or problem, finding visual inspiration, sketching, experimenting, prototyping, and honing in on a solution. At Sosolimited I get to reference the skills I learned in the theatre—like working with three dimensional spaces, considering audiences, and telling a story through a visual design—and apply them to digital installations and computational sculptures and other tech and data-driven formats. And, like in theatre, I often get to collaborate with great people to take the designs to places I couldn’t go on my own.
Lorraine Joy Welling