Books designed by KU professor gain national notice

LAWRENCE — Perhaps one can judge a book by its cover, as long as the appearance of its interior pages don’t go unnoticed. At least this may be true when perusing the work of Tim Hossler, visiting professor of design for the University of Kansas.

The Department of Design faculty member is an accomplished book and exhibition designer who once spent five years working as Annie Leibovitz’s in-house art director. There he worked with clients like Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Givenchy, Pirelli Tires and American Express.

Hossler designed two volumes have been getting a lot of attention recently. "What Time Is It on the Sun?," by artist Spencer Finch, was covered by the L.A. Review of Books just as The New York Times reviewed "Tim Walker: Story Teller." The book about the prominent fashion photographer has also been discussed in The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, New York magazine and elsewhere.

The design of art books in particular is a complex specialty in itself. Hossler selects fonts, sequences the images, specifies the way photographs will appear on paper, designs the covers, even the paper book jackets that wrap them. These can have a significant influence on whether they are successful, both as tactile objects and financially.

Working with artists who usually have their own strong ideas about design can be tricky.

“I navigate between the artist, sometimes an exhibition curator, the publisher and the printer,” he said. “These books must fulfill the artists’ desire to present their work in a way that makes them and everyone else successful. I take everyone’s ingredients, wishes and concerns and distill them into a physical object.”

Hossler grew up in Dodge City and graduated from architecture school in 1993. He soon moved to New York City.  While working as a freelance art director and graphic designer he caught the attention of Leibovitz, who was especially interested in his architecture background. He worked for her from 1997 through 2002, editing her photos, and doing digital compositing, a newly developed computerized method of combining multiple digital images.  

After receiving his master's degree from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2005, Hossler was director of design for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, in North Adams, Mass. Later he became art director for The Wolfsonian-Florida International University museum in Miami Beach. He returned to Kansas to teach at KU in 2011.

“I don't think either book or exhibition design are underappreciated tasks, but they are mostly under-credited. Most high-level creative enterprises take a large team to produce not just the named artist or photographer,” Hossler said.

Hossler also co-art-directed a major exhibition of Walker’s work at the Somerset House gallery in London and is credited as its typographic designer. It will be on display until Jan. 27, 2013.