interview: jiminie ha's latest book design traces a poignant tale of hearing loss & punk rock

interview: jiminie ha's latest book design traces a poignant tale of hearing loss & punk rock

jiminie ha on her collaboration for the sterns are listening

 

Jiminie Ha, Guggenheim Museum’s Senior Director of Graphic Design, and founder of With Projects, presents her punk-inspired endpaper design and book jacket for The Sterns are Listening — a debut novel by poet and memoirist Jonathan Wells. The story, published by Ze Books, traces the life of a New York family teetering between collapse and renewal, touching upon themes of Boomer laments, revolt, rock and roll, and sacrifices. Amid the raucousness and ache, Wells even unpacks the ageist stigma attached to hearing loss and the entrepreneurial journey of a hearing aid designed to be worn with pride. He ties that back to one of the character’s youth at the CBGB — an iconic NYC venue that pioneered American punk and new wave bands like the Ramones, Blondie, and Patti Smith Group.

As music and hearing loss become intimately linked across the novel, Jiminie’s design takes on a hybrid identity, compiling famous musicians’ ears to develop the book cover art . She tells designboom: ‘The manuscript spoke to me deeply, and inspired my own nostalgia with the punk scene, the DIY flyer art and collages.’ Read on as Jiminie Ha delves into this collaboration, sharing her passion for music and journey into publishing design.  

interview: jiminie ha's latest book design traces a poignant tale of hearing loss & punk rock
all images courtesy  of With Projects and Ze Books (unless stated otherwise)

 

 

interview: exploring the punk-inspired book design, and more

 

designboom (DB): Talk to us about The Sterns are Listening and how this collaboration came about.

 

Jiminie Ha (JH): I have been working with Michael Zilkha since the start of Ze Books, creative directing all the titles since Glenn O’Brien’s first volume. We had proposed a visual system for the book series which he used throughout the project, but he was also working on other manuscripts that weren’t part of the original series, and had requested we work on Adele Bertai’s book cover. After that experience, Michael has been commissioning us to concept covers for many of the books published with Ze. I think our experience working with visual artists, galleries and art institutions provides an agility in straddling the artistic and the commercial.

 

DB: Could you discuss the inspiration behind the book’s punk aesthetic? How did your creative process unfold?And what were the challenges, if any? 

 

JH: Working on a novel set at a time when CBGB’s was still around felt very close to my own passion for music. Music was hugely influential on me growing up in France. I was playing piano and violin for decades at that point and yet…only listened to punk music wrapped up in teenage angst. My obsession with punk went as far as me interviewing Hilly Kristal, Ivan Julian / Voidoids, John Holmstrom/Punk Magazine in college for my thesis on race and subcultures in punk!  I even went to a Fugazi show in Paris to continue the work, totally thrilled to meet Ian MacKaye. So the manuscript spoke to me deeply, and inspired my own nostalgia with the punk scene, the DIY flyer art and collages. Since the book is also about hearing loss tied around family, we thought it would be great to collect the ears of famous musicians for the cover art. The only challenges really were the permissions for the ears and managing to get them all at the right angle!

interview: jiminie ha's latest book design traces a poignant tale of hearing loss & punk rock
Jiminie Ha’s book cover design for The Sterns are Listening

 

 

DB: As someone who has led on several magazine redesigns and created her own arts book series, how has your approach to design publishing evolved over time?

 

JH: I think the only thing that has really changed is the rigor in which my studio approaches every client. When I first started out, I used graphic design as a tool to work commercially while I supported my more artistic endeavors. Somehow along the way I figured out a way to collapse the two worlds, but ultimately it depends on what we all want individually. I always tell my designers to never show work to me that they would not be proud to stand by in public. I think ideas and concepts are really what set you apart from your competitors. Forms can be generated endlessly, without purpose. I think there is still an appetite for not only well written content, but also well designed books—why else would all these book fairs exist around the world? And yet there is some fear around taking risks in commercial publishing. You hear a lot of ‘We need an image to sell the book’ or ‘We need to use color’.  Our audience has changed, and continues to evolve quickly, and publishing too should be more agile in adapting.

interview: jiminie ha's latest book design traces a poignant tale of hearing loss & punk rock
book end jacket echoing the novel’s exploration of hearing loss

 

 

DB: What distinguishes this particular project from your previous works?

 

JH: Ze Books has been a very special ongoing collaboration with Michael and his team. We have worked with some of my biggest literary heroes over the course of six years, and continue to be so excited about the roster of authors and artists we are getting to work with. What is super interesting is that I actually had Glenn O’Brien write a piece about TV Party x TV Dinners for my arts publication, White Zinfandel in like 2014. We then reconnected many years later working together on a commercial project in Miami, so it was not only heartbreaking to hear of his passing, but an honor to start working on the branding of this book series with Michael, inaugurated by Glenn’s unpublished works. The energy of The Sterns are Listening fits right into the family of Ze Books, and again, feels so personal to myself and the studio.

interview: jiminie ha's latest book design traces a poignant tale of hearing loss & punk rock
finding inspiration in punk/rock flyers | image courtesy CBGB via Instagram

 

 

DB: Beyond your extensive publishing background, your experience spans different fields like fine arts, fashion, and the recent renovation of Wolfhouse in NY. Are you considering venturing into other territories? If so, what areas are you interested in exploring?

 

JH: We are looking into product development in the wellness sector, and curating programming for the Wolfhouse. We really want to align with art institutions and organizations to use the Wolfhouse as a satellite location for potential programming. As a result, we have been working with a client on developing some programming and content for a very exciting project in Brooklyn. But more importantly, we all want to approach our projects more mindfully, and figure out new design practices that won’t yield more waste into the world. I think I need to do less but the projects I’ve been taking on seem to keep growing in scale.

interview: jiminie ha's latest book design traces a poignant tale of hearing loss & punk rock
portrait of Jiminie Ha

interview: jiminie ha's latest book design traces a poignant tale of hearing loss & punk rock
The Sterns are Listening is a debut novel by Jonathan Wells

sterns-are-listening-jiminie-ha-interview-designboom-full

 

project info:

 

name: The Sterns are Listening

author: Jonathan Wells

book designer & interviewee: Jiminie Ha | @jiminie

publisher: Ze Books@ze_books

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