The Shelf Journal 2
We first became aware of the independently published, and rather esoteric, The Shelf, when we happened upon the journal’s impeccably designed website. With its simple yet chic black and white colour palette (our favourite) and scrolling bookshelf design that reveals hidden content at every click, we were charmed – and intrigued – before we even knew what The Shelf was. As it turns out the website’s composition represents more than just appealing visuals; the journal itself is devoted to the subject of book design – “the cult of the shelf” – and celebrates the book as object at a time when the death of conventional print publishing is constantly being proclaimed. In fact, having launched in 2012 and with only two issues released so far, The Shelf is very much a part of a movement to return the magazine to its roots as a covetable design object. In its articles, which laud innovative book design and typographic interventions, the journal is an impressive reminder of the power of the printed page.
Perfectly bound with a thick grey card cover and red tipped pages, The Shelf itself has an appealing tactile presence and the magazine’s design mimics the layout of the website with a bookshelf cover that is repeated in the interior in lieu of a conventional table of contents. The bookshelf motif continues throughout the magazine, with text columns and images adorned with shelf icons and bookends placed seemingly at random throughout the articles. While we typically find this sort of graphic intervention to be irritating and nauseating in its cuteness, somehow it works as a coherent if idiosyncratic design strategy in The Shelf. The typography is equally as unconventional with each article published in both French and English in side-by-side columns. The book and magazine pages reproduced to accompany each article are photographed and laid out in a manner that emphasizes their objectness which offers a dimensionality to the page spreads that is quite intriguing.
The Shelf’s editorial content is just as compelling and unusual as the magazine’s design. In the latest issue, articles run the gamut from graphic design guru Derek Birdsall detailing the books that have proved most influential to his career to an investigation of the history of modernist design through a discussion of the inaugural issues of four significant magazines. The section detailing a series of letters exchanged between French typographer Maximilien Voz and his British counterpart Stanley Morrison in which the designers identify the variances in their respective national approaches to type is both extremely esoteric and infinitely fascinating. Reproducing a selection of the letters in their original form breaks up what is otherwise a fairly standard page layout and makes for an extremely engaging read.
This issue reveals the rich history of book design while making a strong case for the enduring relevance of traditional publishing by exploring the seemingly limitless experiments in design and form that continue to occur in print. The Shelf is perhaps one of the most unusual magazines we’ve ever encountered yet we find its mere existence to be extremely heartening; the fact that there remains a place in our culture for a beautifully designed magazine that celebrates innovation in typography and page layout is a powerful argument against the idea that print nearing obsolescence.