The primary tool of a book cover designer is Adobe Illustrator, but sometimes the design for a book starts best by hand.

Book Cover Design

Notice the yerba mate to the left (in the top image), just above the jar of ink and plumin: a telltale sign of the Argentine book cover designer at work.

A future post will show the full color concept that arose from this preliminary book cover design.

By |December 28th, 2009|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , |Comments Off on A BOOK COVER DESIGNER at Work

DESIGNING BOOKS: why we do it?

The end of year approaches, bringing that time to reflect on what it’s all about.

It’s easy to let the production aspects of any job overwhelm your daily work, whether it’s the deadline of completing tasks to deliver a book on time, mastering a particularly challenging feature of InDesign, selecting the best typeface for a specific project, or devising an attractive layout that presents the information on the page in an engaging manner. These are all elements that comprise the day-to-day occupation of a book designer.

Ultimately, our greatest satisfaction in designing books doesn’t come from any one activity. It’s all about the whole thing: the book, obviously. But it’s not about holding the book in our hands, viewing our design. For us, it’s all about providing the author with a superbly designed book, a book that the author loves, a book that brings the author’s vision and words to life on the page.

We’re thankful to our great clients who give us the opportunity everyday to design books.

Book layout that we're currently working on!

By |December 4th, 2009|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , |2 Comments


Working with self-publishers & small presses is a wonderful thing: they are dedicated to each project & open to new ideas. The work turns into a very collaborative process and I can offer new approaches to the book design.

This is a project we’re about to finish for a new customer, a small publisher: a poetry book for children.

Poems are very delicate creatures, and normally I wouldn’t dare manipulate the layout of poetry. However, the client specifically requested a book designer’s approach for the typography and layout.

By reading the poems I realized that each one had its own individual identity within the whole group of poems. I thought it would be interesting to bring out the story of each poem by using the typography to reinforce that unique character or situation.

I envisioned a book that the reader would find engaging & attractive to the eye. So, I mixed text and illustration by allowing the lettering to form parts of the illustration.


One of the reasons I started looking for alternatives to the more traditional approach was that the publisher wanted her target audience to be children from 6 to 12 years old. Six-year-olds need bigger font than 12-year-olds. Using different font sizes throughout the book opens the book to a broader audience, whereas setting all the text in one size would target a more specific age group.



Since the book will be printed in black ink only, a few pages with black background sprinkled throughout the book is a good option for breaking the black on white (caution! you need to discuss this option with your printer).


By |October 12th, 2009|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , , |8 Comments

Book design: How to Take Photos that Move Houses

A great book that we designed last year is Ed Wolkis’ How to Take Photos That Move Houses. This full color book represents an example of the complex challenges in book design. Ceci is going to have a very in-depth post on the book design issues for this title. Meanwhile, head over to the book’s website and take a look at some sample pages from the book.

BTW, this book is not just for real estate professionals. It’s a fantastic book on photography for anyone.

By |September 30th, 2009|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , |Comments Off on Book design: How to Take Photos that Move Houses

One of our clients & the Frankfurt Book Fair

The Frankfurt Book Fair is coming up next month and one our clients, Ellen Bryson, will have her debut novel promoted at the fair.

Ceci did the illustrations for the novel (and, yes, it’s adult literary fiction with illustrations). We’re also in the processing of building Ellen’s website. Her novel will be released by Henry Holt in the summer of 2010. I’m going to have more posts about the developing of Ellen’s author website, but for now you can look at the preview page at ellenbryson.com.

Publishers Weekly has a great list of books promoted by publishers and literary agencies at this year’s fair. Here’s the brief on Ellen Bryson’s novel:

On the adult fiction front, Foundry has the debut novel The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson (Holt, 2010); set in 1865 New York, the book follows the titular character—he performs as the “living skeleton” in P.T. Barnum’s American museum—whose life is changed after being hired by Barnum to be the showman’s personal detective.

By |September 29th, 2009|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |Comments Off on One of our clients & the Frankfurt Book Fair

Catching up: We’ve been designing books, not blogging

Our book design blog has been fairly quiet this year. 10 posts all year. That’s not much blogging. The lack of blogging isn’t from a lack of things to say, simply a lack of time with all the books that we’ve been designing. Despite the global economic crisis, the freelance book design business is healthy. Now, it’s time to make an effort to catch up on the blogging. And along the way perhaps we’ll get a chance to update our online portfolio, which is woefully out-of-date.

Stay tuned for more posts. I’ll be making brief posts about many of our current and recent projects while Ceci will offer more in-depth posts examining specific design aspects.

By |September 28th, 2009|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , |Comments Off on Catching up: We’ve been designing books, not blogging

My Book Design Process(ed)

or ‘Letter from a book designer to a writer’ (particularly to those writing non-fiction that integrates text, tables, graphics, & other elements).

We believe that a book’s design should reflect the author’s voice as well as the concept that the author wants to transmit. Cover art & page layout are all parts of the message that the book is attempting to communicate. A book’s design presents the way through which the reader interacts with the text. Done wrong, a book’s design (or lack of design) can turn an engaging text into a boring and monotonous read. Of course, on the other extreme, poorly conceived page layout composition results in a book design that intrudes on the reader’s enjoyment.

As a boutique book design studio we craft each book carefully, dedicating the time that each book needs without rushing into random ideas.

We usually design the cover first since that’s the first contact the potential reader has with the book. Once we have designed the style for the cover, then we start on the interior page layout. In the page composition we purposefully incorporate some elements from the cover design so that the overall result is a book with cover and interior that presents a unified style, making the book a stronger and unique presentation.

When working on page layout, we seek to find a harmonious relationship between the fonts in the different parts of the text. Also, an integral part of book layout is balancing the text with the surrounding white space. We actually think of the white space as containing the text. Certainly, a simpler approach is just to dump the text into a template. But that method doesn’t work well for a non-fiction book that utilizes many elements, e.g., images, tables.

Most importantly we strive to work with the publisher (or author in case of self-publishers) to transmit the spirit of that particular book as a one & only piece that will provide an engaging experience for the reader.

This doesn’t mean that the process is long, sometimes is only a few weeks. We just think this is a good direction and it works for us and our clients.

By |September 26th, 2009|Categories: Book Design, page layout|Tags: , , , |5 Comments


I recently finished designing How Tall is the Easter Bunny?, a humorous book for parents about the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, & Santa Claus.

Book CoverFrom the back cover:
This is not your typical parenting book.
“How Tall Is the Easter Bunny?” takes you on a humorous romp through 51 questions that as an adult, you would never think to ask. The authors posed them to parents like you, and came up with some unexpected results:
“The Tooth Fairy sells teeth to dentists, pirates and witch doctors.”
“Santa’s favorite food is beer and enchiladas.”

Hilarious responses such as these, along with “tips from the pros” and actual bitter-sweet personal stories make this truly a one-of-a-kind humor book you won’t want to put down.

The authors Dan & Danielle Morton did research, surveys, and interviews to hundreds of parents to get all sorts of answers to their questions, and I wanted to reflect that in the book.


The book has a number of elements interacting in the page, making the separation of elements into different categories important for finding the right style & font:

  • section number & title
  • chapter number & title
  • main text
  • quotes within text
  • charts
  • lists
  • humor illustrations
  • vector illustrations*
  • tips from the pros throughout the text
  • real stories section at the end of each chapter
  • pullquotes

* I suggested to add the vector illustrations later to break the monotony of the grayscale illustrations and text.

Book layout -elements
When working on layout we want to find a harmonious relation between the different elements interacting in a double page: fonts in the different parts of the text, the blocks of text with the images, and these elements with the space that contains it. At the same time we try for it not to be monotonous or boring, but neither noisy. Contrast is the key, and finding the right contrast between the elements is what will make it easier or harder on the eye.


The humorous nature of the book made me think of comics and the way each scene in a comic is presented as a frame. Then I started to think of each question (i.e., chapter) as a scene. I tried a few hand-drawn frames but that didn’t work since the beginnings and ends started to bump into each other. Finally, I decided to keep the comic concept but use it in a more simple way: to “frame” the pages.

For the front matter & section dividers I used a thick frame, while in the interior pages the frame was a hairline:

Table of Content


I wanted a strong face for the headers, and after trying many geometric possibilities I found Zuzana Licko’s Modula, which different weights & variants made the elements have their own style while maintaining the same style. For the text I used the neo-grotesque Whitney in lightweight.



For a book with so many elements, the grid is essential: it will define the width of the elements and help distribute the space within the page, which allows the elements to flow in a systematic manner.

Book Layout- Grid

By |August 18th, 2009|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |6 Comments


Last week’s post was dedicated to the book layout of the book Awakening Possibility. Well… here one on the cover.

This project was quite complicated, and changed concept a few times. And since I started working on the cover long before the layout, as the layout progressed I had to work back and forth on the cover as I wanted cover and layout to be consistent.
To transmit the idea of workbook and implying interaction I used some of the elements from the interior of the book like the dashed lines, Escher drawings, etc.

Book Cover for Awakening Possibility

And here some of the earlier drafts (even one with a change in the title!):

Book Cover -alternatives

By |March 18th, 2009|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , |8 Comments


Awakening Possibility is a book I designed a few months ago. The author described it as a ‘self-help book (workbook) on career and life planning‘, and the manuscript was about 66-page Word doc and I was asked to make it in about a 150-page book.
After reading the book I realized that it had a lot of ‘visualizing work’, so I thought that having a book with lots of white space fit the purpose of making it to the page count and also went very well to the content by leaving open space as a means for thinking and reflecting.


Being a workbook, there was not only text but many other elements to design: workbook pages to be completed by the reader, along with diagrams, charts, exercises, etc. Below a little look at the original manuscript. (Several of the textual elements in the manuscript that were converted graphically can be seen in the last two images of this post.)
Manuscript pages


I proposed a 2 column layout: a wide one for the text and a thin one for full width to be used with the elements mentioned before. Two thin blocks to the sides were used on the right for chapter title and on the left for folios (book title, page number & author).

Grid for 2 column book layout


The column width is about 70 characters, and the text block is justified to add to the overall ‘clean feel’.

Text on the page

The main typeface was Filosofia by Zuzana Licko: Filosofia Roman 10/15 for the text (yes, generous leading) and Filosofia Unicase for the chapters. Looking for a typeface to combine with Filosofia, I found that ITC Conduit could work, designed by Mark van Bronkhorst. ITC Conduit is the opposite of the contemporary-modern roman Filosofia and with a wide range of variants for all the elements required (headings, diagrams, etc).



Some of the elements were interesting to reformat, like this list that got formatted as a tag cloud:

List into Tag Cloud

I also added some ornaments to complement a few pages, which relate to the content (Escher’s drawings). Here are some double pages of the final design:

double page layout

double page layout

double page layout

By |March 11th, 2009|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |7 Comments