Behind the Cover: Tom Eykemans on “Emerald Street”

What an honor to have the opportunity to design this comprehensive history of hip hop in Seattle. As someone who grew up nearby in the ’80s (listening to Sir Mix-A-Lot of course) and moved here in the ’90s (when the Sonics still played, the Kingdome still stood, The Rocket still published, and the city still felt scrappy), I feel that working on this book has been a small way to give back to the community from which so much creative energy has emerged—and continues to flow.

When I approach a new design for any book, my first step is always research. I’ll review notes and suggestions from the author and editor. I’ll read the manuscript (or at least an introduction, if available), skim the text for key phrases or visual metaphors, browse any associated imagery, look up comparable designs, and often disappear down internet rabbit holes, chasing one thing that leads to another. It is important to be able to justify any design decision I make, no matter how obscure the reference or inspiration.

Fortunately, the Seattle hip-hop scene is rich in visual history. Posters and zines from the ’90s set the tone for the design direction. My initial concepts spanned a range of approaches but shared some commonalities: a limited palette of green and black that recalls the cheap printing used for posters advertising clubs and performances and a distinct color that echoes the title; bold typography that calls out to a reader; and most importantly a sense of time and place that feels fresh and engaging.

In one draft I paired a bold-type Emerald with a graffitied Street. In another I constructed a street sign from the title text itself. These both felt a little generic, like they could have been set anywhere. In a third I built the composition from flyers stapled to a utility pole — a nod to Seattle’s regrettable poster ban that was in effect from 1994 to 2002.

The final design literally turns the city on its side and makes a statement by letting the title rise from the ground and dominate the skyline. The type is a bold, all-caps, condensed sans-serif—the ubiquitous Impact—reversed out of black and paired with an elegant italic Bodoni. Both typefaces are used throughout the interior as well to make a cohesive whole. The cityscape is rendered in a high-contrast halftone pattern against a brilliant solid green that again alludes to posters done on the cheap . The overall composition is, like its subject, complex and diverse. I hope that I did it justice.


Tom Eykemans was senior designer at University of Washington Press from 2007 to 2016 and is now design director at Lucia | Marquand. As a freelance designer he continues to design covers for the press, including the recently reissued Murray Morgan classics, Puget’s Sound, Skid Road, and The Last Wilderness. See his work at design.eykemans.com.