Under the covers

Publishing alchemy: a nerdy book with curb appeal

It takes real skill to make a book called Landmarks of Chair Design something people want to pick up.

It is properly nerdy.

But then Charlotte and Peter Fiell - the publishers of this new book - know a thing or two about sexing up subjects like chairs and tables and lights. They have spent part of the last twenty years writing and editing design books for glossy pictorial publisher Taschen.

The decision to launch their own eponymously-titled publishing company in 2010 - the year of the read it on a screen iPad - is a bold move which suggests they have insight we don't. (Some people still read books?) And gives them extra kudos for doing something which seems a little counter-intuitive.

But then we expect a bit more from the Fiells. This is the Sotheby's trained couple who became experts on furniture of the 1950s and 60s when the mid-century period was deeply unfashionable. They are partly responsible - through books such as 1,000 Chairs and Design of the 20th Century - for its popularisation and revival today.

While one of their skills is undoubtedly foresight - how did they know Danish furniture would become so hot? - another is their ability to present fairly dry subject matters in a beautiful package. 

It's probably not the title that's selling this book: Lifestyle Illustration of the 60s

Their new collection of books is remarkable for the lush photography, high production values and uniformly bold, colourful and graphic covers. And what's written inside is pretty geek-friendly too.

The Fiells have been quoted as saying "society is increasingly gravitating from a literary culture to a visual culture". Which roughly translates as you need a picture to tell a story - perhaps now more than ever.

So will they sell many copies? That remains to be seen, but don't be surprised if an iPad-friendly version is available soon. While the Fiells may be standing up for traditional publishing - and the tactile delight of an actual book - they also have a pretty good track record of predicting the zeitgeist.

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