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?”

THE SHORT ANSWER:
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?