Graphic designer Javier Jaén describes his new monograph as “a diary without a lock”. Over 392 pages, Greetings from Javier Jaén Studio is an exploration of the many paths Jaén has taken during his career and aims to be a source of inspiration, advice and insight.
Having created work for the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, Time, National Geographic, Louis Vuitton and many, many more, Jaén has created a visual language that sees him play with everyday objects, images and words. Experimenting with double meaning and symbols, the designer’s output is vast and the main challenge of putting the monograph together was condensing his work down and then thinking of a way to organise it in the book. “Although there is an iron structure, it is invisible. I wanted to build a system flexible enough to allow me to speak with multiple voices and at various tones,” explains Jaén.
“There is not a single main theme in the book, it talks about environment, technology, love, sex, diversity, art, literature, religion, science, gastronomy, health, sport, wild capitalism, social movements, economy, terrorism, war, politics, justice, archeology, coronavirus, music, theatre, fashion, wine and some graphic design and illustration…. For me it is very important to work with the rhythm of reading, ordering the material in this book has been like making a movie.”
A big part of the book is the insight Jaén provides into his creative process and the advice he has for those wanting to enter the industry. “I’ve never been interested in secrecy. If this book can help someone in any way, all the work I’ve done will make sense,” he says. “It is not a book where I explain how to do things, it explains how I do them and why they have worked or have been a disaster.”
Born in Barcelona and based there now, Jaén decided to have the monograph printed in both Spanish and English. “I’ve always had a very internationalist view of the world,” he explains. “I understand images as an almost universal form of language, and although English is the Esperanto of the 21st century, it was important for me to also be able to express myself with the nuances of my mother tongue,” explains the designer.
The book has been published by Counter-Print and as with its other publications, the design of the book has been carefully considered and was a collaboration with Jaén. “They have been professional and human and have given all their support both in design problems, logistics and my endless existential doubts during the process of the book,” the designer says. “The final design of the book tries to be practically invisible, giving prominence to the content. The book is a strange Frankenstein of projects and reflections.”
Jaén says that after exploring different avenues for the design, he felt a stripped-back and straightforward approach would work best. “We wanted a book of a nice size to read and enjoy the images and a paper that was consistent with the original of many of the works that appear in the book,” he explains. What made the process trickier than normal however, was the arrival of the pandemic and most of the book was put together during lockdown. “For some weeks I had serious doubts as to whether it made sense to make this book in the strange world that I saw from the window. It’s a pretty introspective book in some ways, and the interior landscape wasn’t particularly colourful those days, either,” says Jaén.
Despite the challenges, Jaén values what he’s managed to achieve with the book and hopes that anyone who picks it up finds it useful. “Those who buy it should know that my mother is very happy every time one is sold. Also, buying the book doesn’t force you to read it, so if you don’t do it for me, do it for her,” he says. “There are still about seven billion people who have not bought it, it is a frankly embarrassing number from a business perspective.”