“…that we of this age should generally produce ugly books, shows, I fear, something like malice… a determination to put our eyes in our pockets wherever we can.”
William Morris (1834-1896) believed that books should be both useful and beautiful, and he didn’t mince words in his critique of the bookmakers of his time. Most books produced in the 19th century were printed through mass industrial processes, and assembled by wage laborers. Morris accused industrialists of removing beauty from the experience of reading. In the ideal world that Morris envisioned, workers should be able to offer their artistic contributions to the quality products they helped produce. He founded his Kelmscott Press in 1891 to reintroduce beauty and originality to book production.
A lot has changed since William Morris established his Kelmscott Press in the late 19th century, but the mass industrial approach to book production—whether in physical or digital format— has not. Today the conversation about books inevitably turns to technology: digitization, eBooks, tablets, iPhones. Do you think William Morris’s ideas about books are irrelevant in today’s tech-focused world, or is there still room for discussion about the aesthetic of books, whether printed or digital?