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

Certainly.

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

Images

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

Typography

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.

Typography

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

Website

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