2018 Graphic Design of the Year

Children's ABC Book Wins Graphic Design of the Year

A  children's book of ABCs printed on an old-school letterpress machine housed at Express Newark is making a big imprint on the design world.

Ned Drew and Brenda McManus at the IDE Awards Ceremony
(L-R) Vice President of the Farmani Group Astrid Hebert, Assistant Professor Brenda McManus of Pace University, Professor Ned Drew of Rutgers University-Newark, Professor/Executive Director Gloria Kondrup of The Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography, ArtCenter, Founder & President Hossein Farmani of the IDA Awards and Ron Taft of Ron Taft Design. Photo courtesy Ned Drew


This spring, Ned Drew, professor in the Arts, Culture and Media department, and Brenda McManus (SASN ‘96), assistant professor at Pace University, were honored in Los Angeles at the International Design Awards for their letterpressed children's book, Drew's ABCs. The book was chosen as "Graphic Design of the Year" by a jury comprised of artists, designers, and others in the creative arts industry. It also received an additional "Gold Award" 

Drew’s ABCs is a labor of love created by husband-and-wife team Ned Drew and Brenda McManus (SASN ‘96). It is a children’s book of ABCs, but the final product looks more like a work of art than something you’d give a child.

Created almost entirely by hand, the book is printed on a Vandercook letterpress using wood block images, type from the couple’s extensive personal collection, new images created from photographs, and other found objects. Each color is printed separately, so a single page spread can require as many as six runs through the press. The production was limited to 360 copies, and each book was trimmed, folded, and bound by hand.   “As much as it is a children’s book and motivated by [our son] Drew, it is also about history and appreciation of typography and design,” says McManus.

Drew and McManus said the concept for the book is to expose the richness of diversity within typography and celebrate its differences. "We wholeheartedly embrace the imperfections as they unveil the history of each letterform. By drawing out these unique distinctions and differences, our goal is to impress upon the audience that we learn to see as we see to learn.”

page spread from Drew's ABCs

The idea for the book first arose when the couple was expecting their son, Drew, for whom the book was named. Drew and McManus also wanted to bring to life their large collection of letterpress type. A book of ABCs seemed like a natural fit.

The couple also used the project as a teaching tool for their students, who helped with printing and production. “We know that learning this process and working in this way is the greatest way to sharpen one’s typography skills. When hand-setting type, the students notice the anatomy of the type, and become acutely aware of just how much detail matters in typography.” Twenty-six students and former students participated in the printing process. Four students were from McManus' classes at Pace University, while the remaining were studying graphic design at Rutgers-Newark. "It's not easier to use an army of students for a project like this," said Drew. "But it's four hundred times more gratifying." 

Drew and McManus both agreed the process changed them as well as the students. "You're all in the trenches, together, and there are things we’re working together as a team to solve, and I think the students really appreciated being part of that breakdown of hierarchy and truly being a contributor and equal partner."

Page from Drew's ABCsThis award is only the latest in a string of accolades the book has garnered over the past months. Earlier this spring, it received an Award of Excellence from Communication Arts Typography Annual Competition, as well as a Merit Award from the 2019 HOW International Design awards. 

The book is available through the BRED Nation website,  at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum Shop, and at the McNally Jackson bookstore on Prince street in New York City.