Fausto Coppi design process & review

18 Apr 2013

I think it's safe to say that Fausto Coppi, along with Eddy Merckx belong in the category of the greatest cyclists of all time. There is a certain mystique surrounding this Italian 'Il Campionissimo'. 53 years after his death he's still interesting enough to write a new book about him. That's exactly what Grinta editor & Coppi fan Frederik Backelandt did.

Fausto Coppi cover

Un Uomo solo è al comando della corsa. La sua maglia è biancoceleste, il suo nome è Fausto Coppi.
— Mario Feretti

A man alone is leading the race. His shirt is white and blue, his name is Fausto Coppi.
— Mario Feretti

A childhood dream come true

Frederik Backelandt is a true 'Coppiano', that's how they call a Coppi fan and this book project is a childhood dream come true for him. This is the story about a long term project. The linen cover refers to the kind of blue that was also found in Coppi's jersey. This book isn't the ultimate Fausto Coppi biography, but more like an interesting mix of facts, stories and experiences. It has been written with passion and that is noticeable throughout. The book contains 4 chapters:

Chapter 1

Even if you are too young to remember Fausto Coppi, you still have the opportunity to get to know the life and work of Fausto. In chapter one you'll get to know the high and lows. There is a lot to discover. Here are a few things you'll discover: you'll read about the epic rivalry between Coppi and Bartali, and about Fausto's controversial relationship with the White Lady. The second World War, and his tragic death on Saturday morning January 2, 1960.

Chapter 2

In chapter 2 you'll get to know Fausto Coppi through the eyes of others. Frederik talked to 13 people that knew Fausto personally to gather never been told stories. Some of the stories are told by Fiorenzo Magni, Andrea Carrea, Raymond Impanis, Jan Nolten ('the Dutch Coppi') and Raphael Geminiani. Stephan Vanfleteren photographed these folks in his beautiful unique style. There are also a bunch of never been shown pictures that make all this an exciting trip down memory lane.

Chapter 3

A few weeks ago I was at the Ronde van Vlaanderen centrum listening to Wilfried De Jong. He is such an excellent story teller and writer. You'll notice that in chapter 3 too as Wilfried talks about Fausto's death.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 of this beautiful book is something special. In this part Frederik gets on his bicycle and does the legendary ride from 1949's Tour of Italy, from Cuneo to Pinerole. In this stage Coppi rode his biggest stunt of his career. On that June 10th he rode an unbelievable 192km alone at the front and won this 254km stage with five Alpine Cols. Coppi had those days when he became one with his bicycle and that June 10th was one of them. I'm not spoiling if Fredrik also became 'the great heron' or not :)

Saving the best for last — the design process

The best part of this beautiful book is its look & feel. Yes the internet is great and exciting, but nothing beats the tactile feedback of paper & the smell of the ink. Some people still care about this craft luckily. Cannibal Publishing are without a doubt leaders in creating the most beautiful sport books you'll find. The question that comes to mind is; how does such an amazing book come to life? I'm happy & honored that I was able to talk to the designer that created this wonderful Fausto Coppi book.

His name is Tim Bisschop and runs houtkaai zeven and he will guide us through his design process.

Designing the layout of a book like this one seems like a big undertaking. How do you get started? Can you reveal the mayor steps of this design process?

Everything starts with the briefing of the publisher, the photographer and/or the authors. I get to know what the book is about, I receive a piece of the manuscript, possible an overview or Table Of Contents, and most of the photos. We examine together what direction we can go (style, audience, format, paper, special finishes etc). With this information I'm able to kick off the project.

After doing some research —both in terms of style and content— I start with a first design. I read a piece of text. This way I get an idea of ​​how the pace and structure is built, and I'm looking for a way to translate it typographically.

The hardest part of this choice - especially with this type of book - is that by using a typeface you are guiding the reader through the book without the reader noticing that he is being supervised. The typography needs to be subtle. I'm not fond of shouting, or spectacular constructions that draw all the attention, and as a result take away the role of the photography.

To me a thorough upfront study of the typography is most import and very crucial. During this process I especially watch: the proportions, the contrast, the shape, the style, the durability, the tone of the body-text and how the figures look, the cursives and citations. In short, an analysis of the whole font family. I define a font for all elements: titles, body-text, captions, and citations.

After having chosen the typefaces, I start with the architecture of the book. I create a raster, sometimes on paper, sometimes directly on the computer, where text and photos can live/move. The photos are placed in relation with each other. This happens in consultation with the photographer (in this case Stephan Vanfleteren). Furthermore, I also try to look for other possible combinations e.g. typo-image, image-whitespace, typo-whitespace etc. Gradually the structure and hierarchy between the different elements are evolving.

Despite the fact that I have created a general form upfront, each page is looked at individually. This is necessary in order to develop a certain rhythm. Otherwise as a reader you would quickly sense that the book has a certain systematic feeling, making it hard to navigate and the risk that it comes across as boring. By designing each page separately you create a certain spontaneity in the lay-out.

After laying out all pages everything goes back to the authors & editors. They indicate any possible text corrections. After adjustments and approval of the publisher, everything goes to the printer. The cover of the book is usually designed after I have finished creating the inside of the book. I believe you can only design the cover after this previously intensive work.

How long did the entire design process take?

The duration of the whole process depends on the size, complexity, and the type of book. It's obvious that a book with info-graphics, illustration, a lot of text and a complex structure (such as Kleine man Grote Tour) takes longer to complete than a regular reading book (such as Sportduivel). I think on average it takes about 2 to 3 weeks of full-time work.

Besides the splendid photos, this book is the perfect proof that beautiful typography also makes half the design. It shows that you've chosen all the typefaces with the best care and eye for detail. What are the criteria that you generally take into account when you choose them? Can you also reveal the names of the typefaces?

As I mentioned before, the typography needed to be very subtle, as the reader must never be distracted. I would find it rather odd if the typography would play a major role, and grab all the attention. The fonts were chosen with that in mind.

For this book I chose for Gill Sans and Minion Pro. Gill Sans is perfect for headers. This modern sans serif typeface was originally designed on the basis of classical letters. As a result, this typeface has beautiful curves, classic quotation marks, and a graceful "g" which gives this letter more character than many other sans serif letters. He therefore goes perfectly together with Minion. Minion also gives a nice smooth image in larger text blocks, it has a clean look and shows little gaps.

Choosing a typeface is of course highly subjective, but I'm convinced that the photography and the subject of this book, can tolerate stylish and timeless fonts. And maybe most importantly, it just reads well!

For the quotes and the cover I used a script. Normally I'm not a big fan of scripts, but here it worked really well, as I wanted to translate certain aspects of the content of the book in a lyrical way. The script-font also somehow felt very Italian.

Did you have a saying in the dimensions of the book, the choice of paper, the cover, and the finishing etc.? Did the editor involve you in the printing and finishing process as well? If so, what was your experience during this process? Which criteria did influence your choices.

The choice of the paper, the finishing, the type of cover,… is usually done in dialogue with the publisher and photographer. Paper is chosen by its color, opacity, thickness,… The tactility of the paper is always tuned to the mood of the book. For "Fausto Coppi" it was OK okay to go for a retro feel. We chose for an off-white paper, namely 'Gardapat Classica'. The dark spots and images also work well on this paper. The black is beautiful deep black and there is also little shining.

For the cover we opted for a light-blue linen wrapper which refers to the 'celesta' blue cycling-shirts from this period in time. I created the graceful retro letter based on logos of old Italian race-bikes. The wonderful name "Fausto Coppi" also invites for a calligraphic approach, and is beautiful as an icon itself.

Which technical advice would you give a print designer designing the lay-out of his first book? Which criteria, in your experience, does he/she definitely have to keep in mind (to avoid the most common mistakes)?

The design of a book is a creative process under strong time pressure. Therefore, it is important to check beforehand whether your solutions are feasible within a certain time. To achieve a perfect result, it is also convenient to involve the printer during the entire process, because printing technology-wise not everything is possible. Also ask the publisher what is and what is not possible in terms of budget.

That's it! I hoped you enjoyed this interview and I like to thank Tim for his time & enthusiasm to do this. It's beautiful work proudly produced in Belgium!

Where to buy?

The book can be bought at Cannibal Publishing for €39.95 (delivery charges included). At the moment it is only available in Dutch. Dimension are 28 x 28cm and it has 168 pages. Highly recommended if you love beautiful books like me and are interested in the legendary past of cycling.


  1. 1 Marco 18 Apr 2013

    Being Italian and a Coppi fan (that’s how I call my wife!), now I want this book!  The Cannibal’s link doesn’t work though.

  2. 2 Veerle Pieters 18 Apr 2013


    The Cannibal’s link doesn’t work though.

    It’s a language problem on their site but I used the Dutch link now and you should be able to order it. Thanks for spotting this Marco.

  3. 3 Tien Trinh 18 Apr 2013

    Brilliant! Thanks for the post!!

  4. 4 Nico Wallays 20 Apr 2013

    One word: WAAAAUWWW!