welcome to bookish design

Web presence is not the object. It’s certainly not a book object. Let’s make beautiful books that we can hold in our hands, feel the weight of, and get engrossed in, page after page.




cover of the everlasting meal cookbook

the everlasting meal cookbook

This collaboration with Tamar Adler produced the latest “my favorite thing I ever did.”

salt fat acid heat

I always wanted to have a #1 New York Times bestseller This is how that dream came true!

on the edge of your seat

(In the same voice Cathy uses to say “Chocolate! Chocolate! Chocolate!”) Chairs! Chairs! Chairs!



When 56 high school students each write a children’s story that volunteer artists will illustrate, the world needs to see the outcome in a format that exalts the results.

the creative growth book

Never had so much fun with art as when Creative Growth gave me access to 40 years worth of artwork and free rein to organize it in a book-length celebration.


Exploring the definition of what a “book” is.

all over coffee

Paul came to me with a particular problem. He had heard feedback that a lot of people who read his comic strip were confused because they thought each one led to the next. Here’s what we did to break that convention.

everything is its own reward

The second “All Over Coffee” collection continues the design of the first, where placing the binding on the top of the book breaks the convention of continuity to help each page stand alone in the reader’s mind.

come to light

A triptych in a slipcase

on to the next dream

This novella is Paul Madonna’s further exploration into illustrated fiction as he chronicles gentrification in San Francisco.

the believer magazine

During its original run at McSweeney’s—more than 100 issues—this magazine was a literal workshop to fine-tune how I see color, not to mention all-caps Clarendon bold.

catamaran literary reader

This literary arts quarterly started more than 10 years ago and the design still looks fresh and modern in a format that has never been stumped by the shape of a poem, the length of an essay, or the proportions of a piece of art.

alcatraz escape files

This book may lean on a bureaucratic look but the history of escapes attempts (and successes?) is nothing to merely rubber stamp.

alcatraz: the last day

Follow Leigh Wiener step by step for one day in 1963 as he documents the closing moments of Alcatraz as a prison.

all known metal bands

Before there was discogs, the only way to look up the name of every heavy metal band was through this (probably) demonic directory.

wicked plants

Don’t be fooled by those innocent-seeming plants all around us. Let this book cover be a warning that they will definitely try to wind around you and cut you with thorns.

aunt sandy’s cookbook

As popular perception of marijuana began to change, this cookbook focused on the 1950s-style domesticity of this cooking ingredient.

paris postcards

This book is a time machine that takes you to the street corners in Paris where the earliest postcards where photographed.

the tenderloin cooking school

If you ever heard “form follows function” but weren’t sure what that meant, click here.

protect your garden

Even field guides with pictures of root rot can be fun to work on.

ciudad de payasos

This book is typeset to highlight the movement in the words of Daniel Alarcón and the drawings of Sheila Alvarado.

the day after the day after

When stock photography can’t provide anything that feels like that one day when a made-for-TV movie changed what your biggest fear is, you have to recreate the scene and shoot it yourself.

woke up lonely

A book jacket in four flat Pantones printed to gain the illusion of layers and depth.

four new messages

Following the impulses of this collection of fast, postmodern fiction led to the creation of an accidental Mondrian.

how to be inappropriate

Why yes. Yes, I do think it’s funny.

red plenty

A book cover that channels early Soviet optimism and graphic arts.

10 years at the edible schoolyard

Repurposing public-domain etchings from an 1800s Italian cookbook to celebrate using food to teach middle school.

unleashing group genius

Testing all the signals of navigation: color coding, levels of experience, calendars and timing, mapping and orientation, and clear descriptive typography—but, you know, in a way that looks good.

radio ambulante

The logo of this Spanish-language podcast was literally inspired by street vendors in Mérida, Mexico, and created on a bus ride from there to Campeche. In other words, diseño gráfico ambulante.

campo de encanto

It’s too bad this company folded, and not just because these labels aren’t around anymore, but also because this pisco was truly the best I’ve ever tasted.

who is bookish design?

Mostly, it’s me, Alvaro, working from an office overlooking the Sacramento River, where I respond to the demands of new design challenges by myself, or by building a team of collaborating editors, proofreaders, coders, illustrators, photographers, or whomever the project calls on to succeed.

My favorite projects are those that use all my faculties. Give me an unusual organizational problem to solve through consistent hierarchies and clean typography. Give me an author-illustrator collaboration that has to be planned out toward its eventual book form even before the writing is completed. Give me an unexpected stumbling block born of the subconscious expectations that every reader holds. Give me a 40-year archive of art to narrate a story out of. Give me a couple classrooms of aspiring high-school authors to help them write, to lead editors through their writing, to find volunteer artists to illustrate every story, and to design it all into a lovely hardcover that saves money on the print run with 4-over-2 plating (don’t worry, I know what that means so you don’t have to).

Whatever problem your book project is going to need solved, give it to me! Pretty soon, we’ll both be pleased.

what is bookish design?

Bookish design is the accumulated experience of a creative individual who never set out to be a designer per se (in fact, he thought he’d end up a novelist or cultural critic), but discovered a natural and comfortable place at the intersection of his life-long interests: narrative, culture, vision, composition, color, shape, and problem solving (i.e., where design happens).

why is bookish design?

Because books are the best! And the best book challenges are immersive, complete projects where a new and unexpected challenge arises in its making. Whether the author isn’t sure how to present the content to help the reader the most, or the organization of materials is unclear and could go in different directions, or, even better, a challenge we haven’t yet imagined but that you’ll bring to me soon, that’s exactly why Bookish Design is here.

how is bookish design?

Bookish Design is not afraid. Not of color, not of black and white. Not of huge, not of dainty. Bookish Design explores new ideas just as much as it values tradition. Bookish Design has strong opinions as much as an urge for dialogue to see if they hold up. Plus—which must absolutely be said with character—typography, typography, typography!

how can bookish design help you? send a note and let me know!

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