The rebellious design approach of publishing studio Amulet is “consistently inconsistent”
Entering no project with the same format, the Copenhagen-based institution leads with the mantra: “We fight for literature that dares to be angry, challenged, vulnerable and believes in beauty.”
- Olivia Hingley
- 22 November 2022
Designer Paw Poulsen is no stranger to how “conventional” book design has become. With the heightened commercialisation of the industry, more so are covers now being churned out with the sole aim of visually emulating previous bestsellers. Through his independent publishing studio Amulet – founded alongside editors Jakob Slebsanger and Emil Hee – Paw counters this occurrence by working at the other extreme: entering no design the same way.
Playing around with the title’s mandatory elements, like the barcode, spine, cover and hierarchies – a barcode takes up the entirety of a back page, for example – Paw refuses to use the same format, redoing the typesetting and grid every time. This helps Paw to avoid the “production mentality” which plagues mainstream literary book designs today. “From the beginning, Amulet's visual ambition has been an experiment questioning visual coherence and identity,” Paw summarises. “I am trying to be consistently inconsistent.”
Amulet was founded by Paw, Jakob and Emil in 2018, after they worked together on a literary magazine for another project. A fruitful collaboration, the trio decided to start their own publishing house. Leading with the desire to work autonomously in both their editorial and design work, Paw soon realised how good of an opportunity the project could be. “In the publishing world, designers are mostly only hired for one publication at a time, and their creative span is usually minimal,” Paw explains. “Being a part of Amulet has allowed me to have long-term thoughts, ideas and creative freedom.” After setting their goals and pillars early on within Amulet, the three devised an encompassing mantra for the venture: “We fight for literature that dares to be angry, challenged, vulnerable and believes in beauty.”
Not being one to take things off to a slow start, the house’s first publication Amulet Magazine 1 rejected perhaps one of the most prominent features of a book: its front cover. The entirely blank cover represented what Paw describes as “complete creative freedom”, with the rest of the book being printed in two text sizes with two different versions of Garamond, printed in red Pantone. “The printer called me, saying I had forgotten to attach the cover,” Paw laughs. “It happens occasionally, and I know I’ve got something right when it does.”
In a more recent project, Amulet last year released a collection of articles and essays about Danish psychiatry called Hjertet er en fold med heste, which translates to The heart is a padlock with horses. To visually emulate the text’s contents, the cover is in uppercase script, shaped like a horseshoe, and the pages were printed on blue, pink and yellow paper, inspired by psychiatry journals. Randomising the pages before print, not only is each book unique, but when shelved together a pleasingly un-uniform rainbow effect is achieved.
Primarily, Amulet is a space in which Paw can experiment as much as he pleases. “The free visual language is an excellent platform to challenge me and use techniques that I'm not so comfortable with,” he details. Recently, he worked with a collage approach, and for the third edition of Amulet Magazine he is developing a “goofy variable font”. In the hands of Paw, publication design has the potential to be something ambitious, rebellious and wholly unique.
Amulet: Amulet Magasin 2 (Copyright © Amulet, 2020)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.