Jarrett interviews the great photobook designer about designing the invisible.
“The details are not the details,” said Charles Eames. “The details make the design.” I think Eames is saying that all the little, seemingly invisible decisions that no one else will notice, these are the things that make a piece of design work or not work. This idea is perhaps never more evident than in designing a photo book. As a long-time photography enthusiast, I’ve always found the book to be the ideal format for looking at images: it’s intimate and accessible, sequential and narrative.
I’ve collected photo books for years but, strangely, never considered their design. My interest in them was purely photographic — I was interested in the photographer or the narrative or the type of images. In the case of a photo book, this is often the marker of good design: one shouldn’t be distracted by the size of the book or the quality of the paper or the typographic choices: all of these decisions are in service of the photographs. The details make the design.
Over the last few years, I started to notice that many of my favorite photo books were designed by the same person. Morgan Crowcroft-Brown is the designer and production manager (or “production manager and designer,” she tells me. “Because I’m uncomfortable calling myself a designer”) for MACK, the London-based photography publisher. Since 2018, Crowcroft-Brown has worked on books for photographers ranging from Stephen Shore to Teju Cole, Luigi Ghirri to Deanna Templeton.
Many of the decisions Morgan makes involve these invisible details: what paper to use, the type of binding, how big the margins should be, how the photographs should be printed. If there’s a through-line through Morgan’s books, it’s a respect for materials: a clear understanding of the physicality of these objects and how they shape our reaction to them. Morgan and I spoke over Zoom recently to talk about how she negotiates these design decisions, as well as her own design education and why the details really are the design.