What we’ve been up to at SoroDesign

We’ve had little time to blog in the last couple of years. A young daughter and a lot of work fills the days & nights. Here’s a brief recap of some of our current & notable past projects (images upcoming in future posts for many of these projects).

In Development

The design and development of two iPad apps for BelMontis Publishers. These are both children book apps:

* Rom and the Whale of Dreams
* The Little Sand Bear

The design and development of an iPad app for boutique hotels

* Phileas Fogg boutique hotels

Book designs in progress:

* It Girl 4 Life by Tamara Branch
* Edgy Conversations by Dan Waldschmidt
* Nestlé: 100 Years in Egypt (for Nestlé Egypt)

Completed in 2011 – 2012

app design & development

* Stray Boots iPhone app

* Recoleta Cemetery iPhone app

* Buenos Aires in 4 Days iPhone app

book design (not a complete listing)

* InsideOut Enneagram: The Game-Changing Guide for Leaders. 100% Fresh by Wendy Appel. Palma Publishing

* Eve’s Breast by Calvin Luther Martin. K-Selected Press

* Keepers of the Black Stones by P.T. McHugh. Glass House Press

* Upgrade to Free: The Best Free & Low-Cost Online Tools and Apps by Beth Ziesenis. TSTC Publishing

* The RV Centennial Cookbook: Celebrating 100 Years of RVing by Evada Cooper. TSTC Publishing

* Lust, Violence, Religion: Life in Historic Waco by Bradley T. Turner. TSTC Publishing

* Wide Awake & Dreaming: A Memoir of Narcolepsy by Julie Flygare. Mill Pond Swan Publishing.

* Tantra, the Play of Awakening by Shambhavi Sarasvati. Jaya Kula Press

* 20 Years Later by Emma Newman, Dystopia Press

* How to Become a Superhero: The Ultimate Guide to the Ultimate You! by Michael Sage, Superhero Press

* Despite Lupus: How to Live Well with a Chronic Illness by Sara Gorman, Four Legged Press

* She’s Six Steps Away by Eric Disco

* Data Dynamite: how liberating information will transform our world by W. David Stephenson,

* The One by Cheryl Robinson, Rose-Colored Books

* Who Will Care When You’re Not There? Estate Planning for Pet Owners by Robert E. Kass, Carob Tree Press

* prototype design of MyTime series for Acco/Mead
* facsimiles of 19th century documents inserted in the page layout of the novel The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson. Henry Holt and Co.

Ceci promises that she will soon get back to blogging about book design. Here are a few links to some her previous posts that you shouldn’t miss.

If you’re interested more in what I’m doing then follow my fairly new blog Endless Hybrids where I write about creativity, learning, and leisure in the age of mobile computing and Internet TVs.

By |January 18th, 2013|Categories: Book Design|Tags: |Comments Off on What we’ve been up to at SoroDesign

Storytelling in the mid-century

My daughter Mila, born on the second day of this year, will grow up in an era dominated by multi-touch tablets, with ever decreasing thickness and ever increasing capabilities. (Her adulthood likely will be spent with even more flexible devices for consuming information.) Eagerly I will introduce her to reading. Already she hears my voice babbling as I read aloud what she will one day read for herself. Her generation, however, is poised to encounter the stories of the world in manners that are as yet only partially known.

She will come of age in a time when writing is not simply textual (though the careful use of words will persist…must persist). The world of 2030, when Mila is in college, will view one form of writing as a composition elegantly mixing many elements, among which will be words, images, sound, and video. A critical aspect in the coming decades is that the careful use and mixture of those elements must exist.

What do we call these compositions?

Those are not the books we cherish today Those are not e-books. They most definitely are not enhanced e-books. Neither are they documentaries. Technically, the compositions will be contained in some type of app. Maybe they’re just websites. Ultimately, they’re simply stories: narratives for examining the themes that engage civilization, compositions through which we learn and share our experiences of the lives around us.

(And the twenty-first century form of storytelling is as much about the reader as it is about the author.)

A word loosely tossed around these days by media companies is content. Content is often defined by the container. Book necessitates text, perhaps joined by the occasional image. What about other containers? For instance, documentary films necessitate motion images joined with voice-over narration. With the iPad possibilities exist for a hybrid exhibiting capabilities not found in either print or film.

Feeding the reading space of 2030, through whatever magical hardware brand dominates the delivery of digital media, will be apps that are hybrids of books and documentaries.

If we think of the iPad, though, as supporting a new genre then we should step back to examine the whole experience of reading, even asking what is non-fiction? (For the sake of this discussion I leave fiction for another day.) Why do people read and spend time with non-fiction books? Ultimately, I suspect the answer revolves around learning. The desire to learn prompts us to read and, preferably, have an enjoyable experience while doing so. Similarly, that desire to learn in a satisfying manner drives us to view documentaries.

The challenge is in exploring how to leverage the tablet platform for storytelling. The iPad brings a new way of reading. Likewise, it carries forward a new way of writing.

While the publishing community scrambles for today’s solutions, the real burden is on all of us to ensure that tomorrow’s writers & editors understand the elements of style required for creating the publications that will dominate the mid-century. My daughter will be less than forty years of age in 2050. Aspects of the world will be unthinkably different then. Much will remain the same, but the way humans communicate through media will continue its long trajectory. Perhaps what we’re doing now with apps will someday appear as quaint as magic lanterns or the early years of cinema. Undoubtedly, the techniques of writing and composition in a tablet-based digital environment will evolve with time, eventually forming accepted practices that support different types of reading experiences.

By |July 5th, 2011|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |1 Comment

Introducing our Jr. Book Designer

Mila Soledad is a native of Mar del Plata, Argentina and joined our team on January 2, 2011. Her special interests are children apps for the iPad (along with plastic elephants). We’re thrilled to have her.


And her mom Ceci promises to do more blogging about book design soon.

By |May 11th, 2011|Categories: Book Design|Tags: |3 Comments


Can one say that designing a book can change your life?


We often hear that books change people’s lives. I myself have been shaped by the books I’ve read over the years. But that was reading. This time I had the experience of designing the book that would change my life.

Toward the end of last year we received a 4-page manuscript by an author bearing the improbable name, “Calvin Luther Martin.”

Reading the manuscript was not like reading 4 pages of a magazine, or 4 pages of Nietzsche. It was like entering a forest inside oneself to ask, “Who are we?”  Then opening the mind to discover the answer.

The text blew me away. Rich in imagery. The potential was enormous.


Color proof

Let me add a footnote, here. Most authors & editors would find it hard to let go of a manuscript and give the designer this flexibility: it changes the book’s shape into a new one, it requires trust. Of course the work is a collaboration. Finding the right image and the right letter size for each word requires flexibility from both parties. Understanding that the voice is the manuscript’s and not anyone else’s is the first rule.

Cutting the text

I was given absolute freedom to design this book and cut the text into the appropriate pages and even paragraphs. After reading the manuscript a few times, the cuts became obvious. The breaks needed to occur every time I had to stop, breathe, reflect, think.

We didn’t have a page count at the beginning of the project (since it depended on where the text was going to be cut). Finally, it came out to a 72 page book printed in 120grm neo matte, full color — quite a beauty!

Text cutting

Layout style

The layout style required breathing space, allowing the mind to wander, reinforcing the line of text with images while not overwhelming the reader. A discourse where white space, letters and images play a part on each page to tell a story. Images can be used as words—and letters can be used as images—to deliver the message to the reader.

Sample double page


The book ended up with about 40 images—photos & illustrations that range from the photograph of a sheet of paper to a painting of “The Wing of a Roller” by Albrecht Dúrer, to Jesus on the cross. Whatever conveyed the message, whatever propelled the mind in the right direction was used.

Sample double page

Images page


After designing a few pages, I realized we would be changing sizes, spacing, and using the letters as images. For this task I wanted a classic roman family, with clear letterforms, without much contrast between the thin & thick parts, not distracting from the words—or the images formed by the words. From a shortlist of transitional families, I decided to go with ITC New Baskerville.


Book Cover

Early in the process we agreed on the “missing ‘I’” for the title. Only later, after absorbing the book, does the reader discover the ‘I’  on the back cover, illustrated by the images of the book, just as letters were illustrated in illuminated manuscripts. For, like those, this book is illuminating.

Book cover


Uncluttered, with plenty of white space. The website keeps the essence of the book. A place not only to click to buy the book but to go back after reading it.

The Great Forgetting website

By |September 23rd, 2010|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , , |6 Comments


A few days ago we got a comment that made me think about the concept of inspiration:

“I’m designing a layout for books and need lots of inspiration. It’s hard to find it in google. Any idea where a good place to start?”

it’s in front of you, in the manuscript.


NOW THE LONG ONE: how to find it in the manuscript?

I would start by forgetting about looking for “inspiration” in Google or examples of other book designs.
Why? Simply because nothing you may find there will be done for that particular book. You would have not being hired if the design was out there. Neither should you wait for something magical coming from beyond. But you must work towards finding something that strikes you from the manuscript.

In first place, reading the manuscript will give you a general idea of the kind of design the book needs:

  • is it a manual? Ask yourself how could you make it clear where instructions begin and finish? Explore font weight variations or different typefaces. Think about what kind of indicators could help the users when troubleshooting.
  • is it non-fiction narrative? Help people understand the concept better with a layout that aids the reading of the text. Think of spacing, letter size, white space, clarity, etc.
  • is it a 400-page novel? Make it comfortable to read by using a typeface and layout for optimal reading. Give people space to hold the book in their hands, such as good margins to rest a thumb on the bottom of the page, and on the side to turn the page.
  • a workbook? Allow the readers to breathe between exercises. Think of white space. Help them with simple typefaces, such as sans serifs, and give readers room to think and work their way through the book.
  • an inspirational book? Inspire them with a wonderful harmony between image and text. Consider typographical images, watermarks, and beautiful capital letters.

When you have the general idea, work on each particular aspect. Here the list could be endless, for every book is unique and alive in its own right.

As designers, we must find the best graphical way to present a book for a good understanding and reading. Each book carries within it a unique space, color, and contrast that provides a rhythm. Like music. We designers also need to remember that the best book design is invisible: guiding the reader effortlessly through the book. That can only happen if the design emerges from the manuscript. No other way.

Looking at other people’s work may be inspiring. I am inspired by other designers, but also by writers, by constructors, by a perfect color palette found on a petal, by dairy workers, by calligraphers, by the sun melting the ice in the early morning. By people that love what they do. By seeing dedication. To me, inspiration is the movement that such a sight provokes the desire to improve.

What is inspiration to you?

By |June 4th, 2010|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |6 Comments

Working with color

Here’s a sneak peek at one of the major projects we’ve worked on during the first part of this year: The Great Forgetting by Calvin Luther Martin, published by K-Selected Books.

Book design in full color proof

We’ll be discussing this book’s design a lot more but for a look at the cover go to the publisher’s page.

By |May 18th, 2010|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Working with color

A Q&A about book design amid the changes in publishing

Katie Peek over at A Canary in the Data Mine: Explorations of Data Analysis and Information Display blog posted an interview with me on the topic of book design and the changing world of electronic publishing.

By |March 11th, 2010|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , , , , , |Comments Off on A Q&A about book design amid the changes in publishing

Designing for the iPad

The day after. This is a book design blog, so you’d expect me to write about iBooks, the dazzling ePub reader built into the iPad. But I’m not. (Well, I will a bit). And I’m not going to write about what features are lacking in iPad (first generation, after all) or if there’s even a market for this type of device: duh. And I’m not going to waste time debating the backlight. There are a lot more important things to do, such as figuring out how to design content for this new device. Notice: I said designing content, not designing e-books.

iBooks is a response to the market-driven phenomenon of people wanting to read hundreds of pages of text on a computer screen. Is that the best we can do, read text on a screen? Personally, I want to use an ultra-modern computing device for engaging with content in ways not possible merely with text. (Of course, I’m talking primarily about non-fiction here. I love literary fiction & the interplay of words, sentence after sentence, though I still prefer my novels in print. But that’s just a personal preference.)

And I’m not talking about enhanced e-books, which often mean no more than just some multimedia tacked onto the end. Adherents of e-books are constantly stressing the importance of breaking away from the concept of the printed page. Yet, the ePub reader on iPad uses a page concept & strongly reinforces the concept of the physical book (transplanted to the screen).

I’m interested in breaking away from the concept of the page & the physical book. But I’m not too interested in a lengthy stream of re-flowing text. The page, the physical book, & even the re-flowing text are all great in their own ways if you want is to read 80,000 words on a topic. But I seldom have that much time. But I am interested in learning. And don’t we read non-fiction because we want to learn?

Maybe I only need a stimulating 10,000 words arranged in even smaller, bite-sized chunks seasoned with imagery for obtaining an overview of a topic. A multi-touch screen allows me to interact with the content, furthering my retention of ideas. A playful, game-like component pulls me further into the narrative. (Remember, narratives don’t have to be linear or even textual.) I would buy such a product, a content app that started me along the journey of exploring an unfamiliar topic. I love to learn, I love to read. So what’s next: I would then purchase a more in-depth book on the topic (either in print or as an e-book).

Listen up publishers: you just sold me two separate products. Think about that.

How can digital media aid in learning about a topic in a visually engaging manner? That’s the challenge we should address in designing for the iPad. The iPad gets us a big step closer.

As I think about designing content for the iPad, I’m not thinking so much about ePub. I want to breakout of whatever constraints & restrictions imposed by the ePub rendering engine. The iPad provides a robust canvas. When I think of paid content on the iPad, I’m not just thinking e-books. I’m also thinking apps.

The app development environment for iPhone is superb and is the basis for the iPad SDK. There’s an NDA around the iPad SDK beta. So, no specifics here.

Here at sorodesign we are working to develop some apps for the iPhone & the iPad that revolve around content but are not at all what one would think of as e-books or even enhanced e-books. We’re experimenting. Designing for the iPhone & the iPad requires creativity. That’s exciting.

And what is required from all of us for devices like the iPhone, the iPad, & similar products from other vendors that will come along: new ways of writing, editing, designing, publishing, & reading.

By |January 28th, 2010|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |20 Comments

BOOK COVER + LAYOUT + BOOK WEBSITE = one & only message for a book

One of my favorite projects of the past year was designing the book Tomorrow May Be Too Late by Thomas Marino. The work included the design of the book cover, page layout, and the book website.

From Rich Merrit’s review:
“Banker by day, stripper by night. Twenty-one year old Tom Marino invites you to be a voyeur on a year of his life, one of youthful exuberance and mistakes, loves and loves lost. Enjoy a sexy romp through the late eighties from Philadelphia to New York. You will cry, laugh and grow angry along with Tom as the man he loves takes advantage of him…. His honesty makes this a compelling read and perhaps you will avoid his mistakes, or if you don’t, perhaps you will have as much fun making those mistakes as he did.”

This is how I love to describe the book: Tom was married, worked in a bank & lived a straight life. When he started stripping & fell in love with a guy, it all changed. The book is a ‘naked account’ of his love story during that first year as a gay man. Oh yes, we had fun working on this book design.

This is the concept that every part of the project should carry along.


I consider memoirs delicate works by definition, so it needed to be treated carefully and at the same time it had to be true to the content, including many stripping nights & hot scenes.  After reading the book and discussing the cover concept with the author we decided to go with a hot-love cover. The challenge was to keep it masculine, because that is also true to the story. Helvetica Neue Caps with strong weight variations was a big part of the answer.

Book Cover Design for Tomorrow May Be Too Late


For the layout, I gave it good margins for holding the book (ideally, the reader’s thumb will fit in the interior margin to hold the book in your hands) and also for resting the eyes. (The book is about 380 pages). For the text:  Caxton Light, a very readable font that allows the text block to breathe in a normal line-height due to its small ascenders & descenders.
Page Layout

The Helvetica Neue in different weights (from the cover) worked well for the headings and Table of Contents.

Table of Contents


Using the story told in the book as a theme, I’ve done a set of broken-heart-icons to use in different pieces (back cover, chapter numbers, website & more).
Broken Heart -icon set


The Web site for Tomorrow May Be Too Late has grown quite a bit from the initial idea: we started with a basic book Web site (cover, blurb, reviews, about the author and about the book).

Later we added new features:

  • We integrated an author blog to the Web site.
  • Shopping cart -very important if you are self-publishing!
  • The time frame of the book (’80s) was used to create a soundtrack page with the music mentioned in the book.

Book Website

By |January 8th, 2010|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |3 Comments

How Book Design can Enhance Non-Fiction

Everyone wants an engaging book. Creating that engaging book is never a solitary endeavor.

Every writer needs an editor. Every book needs a designer.

Fiction narratives in print are generally all about text, unless it’s a graphic novel, a children’s book, or a novel by Sebald. (Actually, we recently did the illustrations for a work of literary fiction to be published by Holt in June 2010, but that’s another post). In designing a book of fiction, the book designer’s job is to present the text on the page in a way that is highly readable and without interrupting the reader’s experience of the story, or, in John Gardner’s words, “a vivid and continuous dream”.

But non-fiction almost always benefits from making the narrative more visual. Absent the hands of an extraordinary writer, non-fiction books often transport the reader not into a glorious dream but to a snoozefest (where the dream is probably something other than the book).

Making the narrative more visual doesn’t necessarily mean the use of images. It’s also about the use of white space & visualizing blocks of text on a page. (You’ll notice that writing for the Web is about much the same thing). Of course, decisions about chapter lengths, section sizes, etc., are the domain of the writer & editor, but book designers have a lot of latitude in how to present the text.

A friend recently gave us a set of three great books by Edward Tufte that came out in the 1990s: Envisioning Information, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, & Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative.


Tufte gets to the heart of what book design is all about without talking specifically about book design: the arrangement of information on the page (or, increasingly, the screen as in the case of e-books).

By |December 29th, 2009|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |3 Comments