McSweeney’s Issue 36
McSweeney’s Issue 36
McSweeney’s Issue 36

McSweeney’s Issue 36

McSweeney’s Publishing, San Francisco, California, 2010


Project brief: All McSweeney's books and journals are edited and designed by the eight-person staff of McSweeney's Publishing in San Francisco, CA. Our goal, every time we design a book, is to inspire very busy strangers to notice the book, pick up the book, read the book, and enjoy the reading experience.

McSweeney's Quarterly Concern is our flagship publication, and we aim to rethink the design with every issue. Making an issue in the form of a cube-shaped, life-size human head felt viscerally right. The format seemed like it could be fun, memorable, and even motivating for all the writers and artists involved.

Approach: It seemed important to have a lot of air in the box. We wanted enough empty space inside the head so that readers could really dig in with both hands and sift around. But even with all the airspace, we packed something like 600 pages of material in here, plus a forty-inch scroll of fortune-cookie fortunes and four postcards. With the possible exception of the broadsheet newspaper issue we did in 2009 (McSweeney's #33 — the San Francisco Panorama), the head box is, by a long shot, the issue with the most writing and artwork in it.

We liked the idea that readers might feel the urge to stick foreign objects into the head — like a toy, or another book, or a can of Vienna sausages. The issue's introduction invited readers to send in pictures of themselves holding the head, and we were blown away by the hundreds of amazing shots our readers took the time to shoot and send in. It felt great to connect with readers like that over a ruddy, sweaty mustachioed head.

Here's how the issue is described on our store website: "Inside this 275-cubic-inch full-color head-crate, there are all the things you'd hope for: a 100-page annotated fragment of Michael Chabon's lost novel, incredible new stories from John Brandon and Colm Tóibín, Jack Pendarvis's "Jungle Geronimo in Gay Paree," a play by Wajahat Ali - eight astounding booklets in all, along with some other things on top, enough for hundreds and hundreds of pages of perusal, every bit of it, like we said, contained in a more-or-less life-size, friendly-looking head. It will fit on your shelf, it is compatible with most hats, and the stuff inside is wonderful."

Effectiveness: When the first heads came back from the printer without any unforeseen structural problems or glaring errors, we felt instantly relieved. A few days after the issue shipped out to subscribers, we had fun pausing to think pointless thoughts like, "At this very moment, the U.S. Postal Service is placing hundreds of disembodied heads on doorsteps around the country. And it's because of us." In an reader review, someone began their review like so: "Where to begin? I've never received a more surprising object in the mail." That was a satisfying comment to read.

Juror Notes

Just plain fun. There’s simply no way you wouldn’t show this to anyone who likes books.

Collections: 50 Books | 50 Covers of 2010
Repository: Denver Art Museum
Discipline: Book design
Format: Book, Book cover