The second book in his portfolio, which was equally ambitious, featured airbrush type, illustration, handwritten headline type, foldouts, photography, and images of cigar wrappers and other collected art. Kidd had painstakingly created all of these special effects with antiquated equipment in those precomputer days. I was looking for a fresh designer, someone who wasn't overly influenced by popular trends. Kidd's willingness to mix mezzotints with shaded line drawings, collections of cigar wrappers, photographs, formal texts in French and German, and scratchy informal handwriting immediately caught my attention. At the same time, in spite of its incredible daring, his work had a formal quality to it. The images were bold, irreverent, and noisy while at the same time rhythmic and well-paced. In each book, Kidd also chose a subject that was meaningful to him—drumming and his passion for collecting common everyday things. But of all the parts that caught my attention, his illustrations were the most powerful. I told him the drawings reminded me structurally of Fernand Leger. Twenty years later, I might say a merger of cartoons and Leger. Either way, his portfolio was extraordinary.
Jim Drobka had one particular piece in his portfolio—the so-called fish book—that single-handedly landed him a job with the design department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It's a simple burlap-covered book, wider than it is tall, with only a silhouetted fish on its front cover. The book opens with a poem, printed on two contrasting paper stocks: one transparent and the other brown opaque. The transparent sheet allows deliberate show-through of image and text, reminiscent of traditional Japanese book design. This smoky layered effect evokes the sense of fish in water and expresses the dreamlike quality of the poem. To separate the text, Drobka used a combination of Trump Mediaeval and Univers.
From this beautiful book, Deenie Yudell, his creative director, was able to determine several things about Drobka. The most important was that he was a talented typographer who chose his faces thoughtfully and used them well.
Yudell was also impressed by the ambitious project's complex layers, papers, and text-setting styles, including his decision to set phrases in sans serif type, which is quick and easy to read and draws in the readers' attention.
In many portfolios of young designers, the text is too small, gray, or dense to read, which almost never engages the viewer. If the reader can't easily read the text, then the meaning is lost. A nice image or photo with illegible or sloppy typography diminishes the impact significantly. When you look at Jim Drobka's fish book, however, you are invited to read it. The book's story takes place in the desert, so the horizontal format, tan paper, and rough burlap cover give a tactile sense of this expansive environment. One finishing touch, while minor, illustrates the designer's attention to detail: a colophon at the end identifies the typefaces, paper, and art.
Another example of a portfolio that helped secure a job is a book created by Will Staehle, now a book designer at HarperCollins. During his senior year at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Staehle compiled his best student work into a book, which he had commercially printed in a limited edition. He produced six copies at a cost of $100 per copy and gave them to his biggest design heroes at an Adobe awards ceremony. The move landed him a job with one of those heroes, Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich at HarperCollins.