Hillbilly Highway

Hillbilly Highway by Max Fraser tells the story of the migration of white southerners to the industrial American Midwest in the twentieth century and the lasting consequences it had on American history and culture—from industrial labor movements to today’s white working-class conservatives.

The jacket design features custom type inspired by hand painted banners from the 1937 General Motors strike in Detroit, an event detailed in the book. Alongside are images that relate to themes in the book—such as labor, country music, and automobiles.

Published by Princeton University Press in 2023.

Jacket design by Felix Summ.

Art directed by Maria Lindenfeldar.

Final jacket layout

Initial concepts

Examples of hand painted banners from the 1937 General Motors strike in Detroit. Letterforms isolated from the source image.

Defining details

The banners in the reference photos looked to be painted with large flat brushes. This method of lettering resulted in details such as the spur serifs, extremely small counterforms, and angled terminals—all of which I wanted to highlight in the final design. I was also drawn to the mixed-case ‘N’ though in the end I used just the lowercase variant.

Interpreting weights

Given the length of the subtitle, I wanted to devise a lighter weight so that it could have a distinct hierarchy from the title. I had to deviate from my reference images since there were no examples of banners done with a smaller brush size.

The resulting font aims to retain the details of the original weight—such as the ‘G’ without a crossbar and the angled terminals on the ‘S’.

Book cover as banner

I made the choice to justify the typography and lock it up into a rectangle. Justified text was found across many of the strike posters I researched. The urgency and importance it evokes also works to grab the attention of book-browsers.

The text lockup was sketched out in Procreate and the letterforms were drawn in Glyphs 3.