Alex Steinweiss Booklet

Catherine Wang
10 min readMar 16, 2021


3/9/2021 — 3/30/2021

Initial brainstorming

I had certain themes that I wanted to include in my booklet while I was working on my poster:

  • a spread to showcase different ways Alex portrayed the piano
  • a spread showing the different printing layers that overlap to make one album cover + complement that with how Alex uses grids
  • a spread related to the “tombstone” album cover story — albums before the 1940s were leather bound and only mundane type, like the bareness of tombstones

More ideas I had when drawing spread thumbnails:

  • dedicating a spread to Alex being introduced to the world’s first LP over a coffee chat — a break from Alex’s work and also an interesting anecdote
  • a spread with multiple portraits of Alex to show his personality + relationship with his wife/family

Flat plan variations

I quickly realized that many spreads I had thought of may need to be condensed to a page to fit into a 14 page booklet. I also played around with the pacing to eliminate or stretch out certain stages of Alex’s life (ex. eliminating his military experience and dedicating more space on his time with Columbia).

Final flow

This flow allowed me to include as much of Alex’s story as possible. I want to use the Columbia blowout spread as breathing space because it only contains one album cover. I am a bit iffy on condensing the jazz+ rock and the retirement info on one spread because there’s a lot of text/information for both topics. I do like having the darkness/tombstone spread to stretch across the page even though it’s not the middle spread and may cut off weirdly.

First spreads for Tuesday Crit (colors are inaccurate)

I first tackled the spreads that I assumed required a lot of extra drawing and photoshop collage work.

As I was making these, they start to look like they come from different booklets. I was treating these as individual spreads instead of spreads a part of a greater system.

Spreads for Thursday Crit

My first priority was to make my blank spreads in my flat plan not blank anymore. However, I was also occupied with making changes to the spreads I already created. Finally, I tried adding folios + page numbers and creating the first iteration of my front + back cover.

I tried making the whole booklet more cohesive by having similar background colors and toning down some of the crazier image and text treatment I had before (shrinking the floating layers, not making the tombstone spread body text diagonal etc. etc.). However, I knew that I had to find more ways to make my booklet cohesive and not just changing a couple of colors.

Design Decisions and Refinements for each spread

Although I usually format my medium posts in chronological order, I decided to just focus on each spread and how they evolved. Although I try to consolidate a consistent caption system and have a reoccuring color palette, I was very focused on how each spread tells its own story and the refinements unique to each spread.

Table of Contents

I had an idea to showcase Steinweiss’s large collection of piano illustrations, and so I wanted to have many pianos and have each element of the table of contents point to a unique piano. However, I quickly realized that having so many different pianos was very chaotic and I had to squish my table of contents spread to one page to include other information. I made the text more compact and readable, accidentally added the Alex and Blanche drawing and thought it looked cool, and also labeled each section of the booklet after a musical section like “reprise” and “verse”. I had the “early years” section on the second page. I tried including many of Steinweiss’s portrait in the shape of piano keys and had green captions that complimented the images that I colored dropped from the leaves of the flower piano.

Tombstone spread

This spread went through less drastic changes compared to the table of contents. I did spend quite a long time in the refinement stages rearranging the large white text, tombstones, and body text. I also added the record album cut-out and newspaper article to add more information onto the spread. Finally, I was interested in the fact that the Columbia logo appeared in different fonts in Alex’s albums depending on the style of music the album contained. Therefore, I used this spread to scale up typography and showcase more timey fonts like Playbill and Onyx.

Close-up Spread

This spread fulfilled multiple needs I had:

  • I wanted to give some breathing room to my reader.
  • I wanted to really zoom in on a few of Alex’s albums instead of always showing them in a dense collection.
  • I wanted to showcase the prolific-ness of Alex without showing every single album he’s created.
  • There was a really good quote about Alex from Kevin Reagan’s book that I thought really exemplifies Alex’s impact on the record industry: “[His] colorful album covers.. took the record shop out of the library-like atmosphere and put it right back into competition, moved from the rarefied air of penthouse and museum back to Broadway and Main Street.” — Will Burton, art director, Fortune magazine, 1947

This spread definitely took the least time to create, but it serves its function, and its simplicity contrasts well against the busy spreads sandwiching it.

Timeline Spread

My original ideas for the last two spreads of my booklet was 1) an anecdote of how Alex invented the record jacket and 2) a spread dedicated to what Alex did in retirement. However, I was very reluctant in working on these spreads and left them to rot for a couple days.

First, the jacket invention spread had too little information and there was little image and text to play with for an interesting composition. I also couldn’t settle on what illustration style to use and what color palette to use.

Invention of LP over coffee chat

For the retirement spread, I had an idea of playing with type found in the jazz/blues era and how it transitions to rock era typefaces. I also wanted to include Steinweiss’s photo of him and Blanche returning from their world travels as a playful ending. However, through my iterations, it’s apparent how much I struggled in making the typographic mess understandable and how the photo is integrated with that mess.

Later years/retirement

After talking with Grace about what story I wanted to tell with my booklet, she helped me realize that there were a lot of information I didn’t include about Alex that made me fall in love with him. He received a lot of thank you letters from music artists he designed for. His wonderful relationship with his wife. He never stopped designing and creating things until he passed away. Instead, I was trying to omit all that information and quietly end his story with little hassle.

I instead came up with the idea of ending with a timeline. I hadn’t had a chance to include a timeline in my booklet yet and I usually see timelines put at the start or middle of booklets as an intro or a break from reading blocks of text. I had this timeline span three pages and already had a long list of quotes and images I cut out of previous spreads. This timeline is like a swell towards the end of a song, a firework-like conclusion to my homage for Alex Steinweiss.

I took a big A and S, wrote it loosely in the Steinweiss Scrawl style, and had it be the spine for my timeline. I wanted this spread to feel more organic compared because I felt really stuck and rigid in my coffee mug spread and my type mess spread.

(insert wireframes)

I also had consistent header, quote, and caption styles to make the organic-ness more consistent, and I ended up adapting this new caption style to captions in my previous spreads. Finally, I brought back the travel portrait of Alex and Blanche for the last page so that the reader’s last impression is Alex’s smile and friendly spirit.

Break Time! Re-doing my flat plan + Re-thinking my booklet cover.

Now with my new timeline idea, I realized that I need to reorganize my spreads. I put my close-up spread in between my grid spread and my timeline spread so that the reader gets a quick chance to breathe before they meet an info heavy spread again. I also put the process spread closer towards the beginning because understanding how Alex made his work adds more context and appreciation when viewing the work itself.

I also wondered if I could try out some other ideas for book covers. I tried doing more collage and hand-lettering. I chose to stick with my previous cover and changing the dull grey into a more vibrant red because it seems to be a quiet intro to a more complex story. I did think of the large A and S spanning the two pages for the book cover before I thought to apply it to my timeline, so there was one good thing that came out of this short brainstorming. I am also thinking of doing more collage for the mobile experience.

Process Spread

The first iteration of my process spread was soooo loud. I was using saturated complementary colors, large images, and a lot of hand-drawn elements. This was really the way I imagined the spread in my mind, but once I started adding fidelity to other spreads I quickly realized how much I needed to tone it down. I quickly switched to a dark background and scaled down the images. I also focused on the grid lines and how the vertical lines on the left help show the planes falling downward. I also used colors to point out how Alex used his grid and hand wrote some comments to enhance the idea of analyzing what happens behind the scenes.

Grid Spread

I was first inspired by Maggie’s spread where she included a lot of Kiyoshi’s work but cropped them with unqiue shapes like ovals and rounded boxes. It was a very good mix of showcasing his work while including her own voice. Therefore, I thought of cropping Alex’s square covers into vertical rectangles using the six column grid I already had. It was an interesting exploration because the rectangles could create long snakes or even weirdly-shaped music notes.

showcasing a large amount of Alex’s work

However, after many people pointed out that the music notes weren’t readable, I decided to stop messing around with Alex’s dimensions and instead figure out a way to organize square images in an interesting manner. I started laying them down like bricks and leaving space for text/captions. I also made the gutters between images consistently in consistent to make the square-ness more organic. Later on, after working on other spreads, I realized my grid spread still felt flat, so I came up with the idea of adding pink colored shadows to add more life and depth. I also organized it in a way where album covers related to the large caption surrounds it and small captions written in Alternate Gothic explained why the image connected to the large captions. Ex. an album cover would be captioned with “a broken clarinet” next to a large caption that says “Alex often ….”

Final iteration for Grid Spread