Last week, as we were hunting for our usual design-based joy to write about, one designer and his brilliant project was causing quite the stir over on Twitter. The project at hand was a series of books for sale which, through their humour, on-the-nose design attributes and focus on content, presented a very refreshing take on how we view, read and even hold a book. One, for instance, is on the subject of cheese and is therefore entirely made out of plastic-like cheese slices. A variation of books depicting currency are literally just bounded dollar bills.
Each of these books live under the umbrella of Catalog Press, a small publishing house created by Ben Denzer. A graphic designer originally from Kansas, Ben initially studied architecture and visual arts at Princeton, before going on to work as a book cover designer within the Penguin Art Group. He is also the curator and visual genius behind the Instagram account Ice Cream Books, amazingly praised by Bella Hadid (!?) as “the most important Instagram out there today”. We’d say this project is even better.
Catalog Press was borne of Ben’s fascination and unique design stance on books, interested in them because “they are both content and object; simultaneously sculpture and catalog, singular contained multitudes,” he tells It’s Nice That. In turn, Catalog Press’ output builds upon this stance and Ben’s overall attitude of trying “to find ways to approach the book as a physical object,” he explains, noting previous projects where he has modified books with wheels, nails, holes, hooks and bolts.
Each of these projects over the years has led the designer to view books as “inherently catalogues,” forming the basis of this project and providing “a jumping off point [which] lets me play with what a book can be,” says Ben. “A stack of napkins? A pile of dollar bills? A pack of American cheese? I can use the idea of the book as a catalogue to explore these wackier ideas while at the same time experimenting with more constrained design moves.”
While experimentation and wit can be seen across his entire portfolio, another running theme is his love of materials. “There’s something nice in thinking and designing through a physical process,” he notes on this point. “I feel like decisions come more naturally.” As a result the humour and fascination with Catalog Press by viewers develops from how straightforward it can be. “For example, the primary reason I chose $200 for my book $200 In Order is that the thickness of a stack of 200 one dollar bills felt like the right size,” the designer points out. “I had to get a stack of bills to see that and make that decision.” Consequently, Ben’s books allow the viewer to see this line of thinking. There is an immediate reaction of “I get this” when viewing one of his creations, and then, in our experience, you start to think “I want it” too.
The reaction to Catalog Press has been one of mammoth excitement and joy, and one Ben wasn’t particularly expecting. “While I intended for the books to make people question what it means to be ‘a book’, I had no idea they would elicit such strong responses!” And his particular favourite? “Probably The Details, a book of 200 architectural details sorted by formal characteristics.” Featuring solely iPhone photos Ben’s snapped over the past few years, the designer has removed each of the backgrounds in order “to highlight the specific architectural element I found interesting,” he says. But when it comes to the book design these details explode: “As an object, I love how it is big, you feel the content.”
And, for those of you who maybe don’t share our fascination with books, Ben has started a sibling site exploring objects too.
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.