Invisible Cities

No novel captivates me more than Invisible Cities. In a collection of poetic, meditative descriptions of 55 imaginary cities, Calvino explores so many ideas and emotions, with winding streets and diverse inhabitants as the backdrop. There is a fascinating structure, with the cities organised in thematic groups, the book moving through them in a rigorous mathematical pattern. I return again and again to this little gem, each time finding more wisdom. The conceptual and structural potency of this book inspired me to create a design for it that would fully express these elements.

Book cover

The cover

For the primary typeface I wanted something intricate and ornate. 'Voyage' from VJ-Type fit the aesthetic I was looking for perfectly, with a huge number of stylistic ligatures available to make the title feel specifically crafted. Much of the stories in the book are about the complex interwoven lives and crossing paths of each city's inhabitants, to reflect this I created a geometric, vaguely-architectural illustration that would weave in and out of the title and provide a motif to use throughout the book design.

As a secondary typeface I wanted something reserved and neutral so as not to clash with the intricacy of Voyage, but still with some warmth and personality, I found this in Linear Sans which is used for supporting text such as the author name on the cover.

Cover detail 1
Cover detail 2
Mockup spread 1

The cities

Each of the 55 cities in the book are roughly a page long and have rich variety of imagery and themes. The layout for a city's page includes an individual 'tile' design related to it, inspired by patterned tiles used in many architectural styles.

City tile 01
Chloe, a city that talks about the 'carousel of fantasies'
City tile 02
Olinda, a city that grows in concentric circles
City tile 03
Valdrada, a city of mirrors and reflections

Chapters and interludes

The rigid mathematical structuring of the chapters and themes in the book made for interesting possibilities when designing the contents page.

Each chapter is bookended by sections of dialogue between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, discussing the cities Polo has been describing. A full page chapter number is suggestive of the towering structures throughout the book and lets the beautiful details of Voyage shine. The dialogues are an opportunity to bring in Linear Sans again to mark the speaker.

Mockup contents
Mockup spread 2