Medium Rare Books

Intercom 2018

The Medium Rare Books Library began in early 2018 with the acquisition of a selection of rare books from Dave Cuzner, Founder and Senior Editor at Grain Edit for the Intercom Brand Studio. Our brand director, Stewart Scott-Curan, started the library to help the team get better at critically assessing what elements should and should not influence their work. Our experience with the library inspired us to better organize and make available that material online.

My contributions
layout, type design, icons, web development
Kelly Carpenter
creative direction, design, branding, illustration, photography, cataloging
Matt Yow
design, cataloging
Carly Wright
Our new library of over 200 uncatalogued books was useless.
With day to day deadlines and priorities, nobody had the energy to get some casual color inspo by laboring through the mammoth collection. That problem definitely needed to be solved, but we thought we could go a little above and be cool about it? From the beginning, Kelly was scoping more than just a website.
We tried using each book's unique ISBN and the OpenLibrary API to populate the cover image for our database, but very few of our books had ISBNs, and the ones that did were so rare that no scan of the cover existed.
And what's a design library without visuals! Kelly scouted some props a-la the 1950s Betty Crocker cookbook in our new collection, and she and Matt got to the task of shooting the 200+ covers with two interior shots each.
“I spent 2 days shooting the cover and inside pages of each book. Matt helped. I don’t regret any of it”
Kelly Carpenter Lead designer, living embodiment of medium rare
Type and Layout
With a database of books, type will be your most predominant design element. As Kelly's branding work started to settle on Aktiv Grotesk and other vanilla sans serifs, I put together a few sample sketches for Medium Rare Sans: a small type family that took some foundational vanilla ideas and added just a lil choco syrup.
Medium Rare Sans Light
Medium Rare Sans Bold
“Custom type is the crown jewel of any project: to be able to dictate the visual form of language. Medium Rare Sans is exactly what this project needed to level it up to something special and memorable.”
Matt Yow Designer, Old Book
What started as a complementary headline font ended up a small typographic village. The goal of Medium Rare Sans was simple enough: feel rare, feel like a local used book store lost gem. Unusual proportions, overbites (see a), underbites (see g), flat bottomed t's and y's, and diamond dots all contribute to that feel. But the site was getting loaded with content, and diamond dots weren't gonna solve our hierarchy problem. The system needed something that could get small. Teaming up with Messer for body text, Medium Rare Caption became the bedrock of ignorable copy.
Medium Rare Caption
Medium Rare Caption
While Medium Rare Caption was the 12px workhorse, it still needed that thrift store find vibe. That exciting feeling of something found, lost, fumbled, fumbled again, recovered! Touchdown!
It also needed to...
feel like a cookbook.
Medium Rare Caption included some good ol’ unicode icons for common data attached to each title. Behind the scenes, our yml database file was tracking 9 data points, but most were less than interesting to display.
Icons (LTR): Author, ISBN, Date, Publisher
Launch party
We held a launch party to intro the two-hundred employees at the San Francisco Intercom office to the library. The night was a success with many books perused, hors d'oeuvre eaten, and nearly 20 books checked out.
Dream team! LTR: Grumpy, Doc, Happy, Bashful
The party included free book totes and bookmarks for guests, and the whole library of books to checkout!
“Kelly, Kyle, and Matt are the best designers to ever work for me!”
Liz Gilmore Design manager, Sketchers advocate
Kyle is an art director, letterer and illustrator in Sunny Oakland California. He runs Very Cool for a love of the game, is a brand lead at Intercom for love of the wage, and stumbles at Song Club Records for love of the fame.