LaVerne Dagras
Profile of an American publishing firm: William H. Sadlier, Inc., New York

Publishing in the United States has often been referred to as the accidental profession. It is an industry in which many people find themselves by chance. Traditionally, the generalist with a liberal arts background and a love of books receives on-the-job training, with the quality of that training often haphazard and dependent upon the teaching talents and time of the supervisor at hand.

Designers may bring some formal training to the job, but more frequently they learn the specifics of book design as assistants to senior designers. By performing routing chores and observing the interplay among authors, editors, marketing people and production managers, they are able to develop skills in the context of the total publishing process. However, this process seldom leads to unconventional, successful design solutions.

William H. Sadlier, Inc., a successful 150-year-old New York educational publishing firm, has strengthened its visual identity in recent years by emphasizing the importance of the design department and recognizing the need for a more modern approach to book design in an increasingly competitive market. To break from the traditional, nonaggressive attitude that had been prevalent, management’s first step was to ask Swiss-born Willi Kunz to restructure the graphics department. As design director, Kunz accepted the challenge because he believed that he could make a real contribution here. He envisioned a comprehensive approach to book design, relating design to the book’s content.

Several divisions and subsidiary companies, with combined sales of $14 million and employing approximately 150 people, comprise William H. Sadlier, Inc. The original firm, today the Sadlier Division, is a leading catholic textbook publishing company, which contributes about 75 percent of the revenues. The Sadlier Oxford Division and Arrowhead Publishers, Inc. specialize in language, arts, mathematics and social studies programs. Keyway Books, Inc., Novo Educational Toys and Equipment Corporation and the Sadlier International Division complete the company structure.

As director of design, Kunz relates directly to top management, which to him is the only acceptable platform for design decision-making. He firmly believes that to insure success the support of the top echelon of a company is a must. Restructuring of the design department began with an entirely new staff. Since Kunz is interested in giving talented new graduates the opportunity to begin work, the majority of the design staff at Sadlier is young, with little experience before joining the firm. Most of them received their training at the three American schools, which Kunz believes provide excellent education for graphic designers: the Philadelphia College of Art, the University of Cincinnati, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Yale University.

Today the department is a self-contained unit. All projects are done in-house, with the assistance of five designers and three mechanical people. Outside assistance is called upon only occasionally when heavy workload demands. The department is equipped with a stat camera and a Redactron high speed typesetting system to perform all the necessary tasks on the premises. The advantages gained with this method over the way Sadlier had previously handled design projects are several. Those involved are thoroughly acquainted with the design standards Kunz has set for the firm. The design group is aware of the company’s objectives, the markets it is trying to reach and what the competition is doing, and consequently, an cohesiveness and continuity which was difficult to maintain when work was done outside is now achieved.

The department is responsible for approximately 50 new covers per year, 30 totally new publications, 20 revised editions, corporate collateral material, numerous direct mail promotional pieces, catalogs and price lists. Since all sales are made by Sadlier’s own sales staff directly to schools, parishes and other organizations, the promotional material for each product represents an important aspect of the design program.

This constantly high volume of design and production work has resulted in systemizing the common elements in books and promotional pieces, a process, which Kunz believes, saves the designer time and the company a considerable amount of money. The success of the revamped design department rests not only on the development of staff and procedures, but, more importantly, with the experience and talent the designer Willi Kunz personally brings to it. Because of his Swiss education, Kunz’s style takes on a unique appearance when seen next to most work produced in American publishing. His design is characterized by a looser-than-Swiss style, employing both illustrative and constructive design solutions depending on the appropriateness to the project.

The design philosophy encompasses a clear presentation of an idea. Kunz maintains a close relationship with the content of the book so that he can communicate important aspects of it on the cover. Each book is a total product from front to back, including cover design, title page and text design, replacing the previously accepted finished product that usually consisted of merely a nice cover accompanied by text design set up by the typesetter. To fulfill the ultimate goal that he had projected for Sadlier – to create a unified image for the company – Kunz has set up a system to make the visual language the same in all divisions of the firm. The result is that religious textbooks are treated with the same rigorous graphic philosophy as the company’s more recently acquired secular subsidiaries, a revolution in itself in textbook publishing. The newly implemented corporate identity program demonstrates the new design approach. The advantages of employing an in-house team became apparent in the development stages as both management and design were aware of the basic requirements and the more complex problems of implementing the program.

By developing the logo, nomenclature and design system internally, Kunz was able to direct the execution of the program from the inside out, rather than from the outside in as an independent consultant would have approached the problem. As a result, the benefit of being exposed to the firm’s expanded organization over the past two years is evidenced in a system that reflects the inner qualities of the company rather than one imposed on it from the outside. The finally chosen symbol illustrates the image of the publishing firm as a growing company through its bold, contemporary properties. It has the ability to communicate strongly on the spine of books as well as being adaptable to various sizes and printing techniques. With it, the company’s commitment to the importance of graphic design has come full circle with its own image.

Feedback comments on the direction Kunz has established for Sadlier are positive. Management and sales recognize that what has happened in the last two years to design at the company is innovative and fresh and a definite break away from the established mold. In this short time Kunz has won recognition from the Art Directors Club of New York, the Type Directors Club and the American Institute of Graphic Arts for his work – professional recognitions which satisfy him personally. For designer Willi Kunz, joining William H. Sadlier, Inc., as director of design represented a tremendous opportunity with great potential for his continuing interest in educational processes. His positions as teacher of design in Switzerland and the United States strengthened his desire to be involved in the educational field, but at Sadlier Publishing Kunz found the vehicle with which to approach this area from a new and different perspective – not only in analyzing how one learns, but also in promoting design awareness.

TM, Typografische Monatsblätter 2/1979