INSPIRATION vs INSPIRATION

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?

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

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

DRAWING LETTERS & Fileteado Porteño

Have you ever felt some unstoppable desire to do something? I get that once in a while and I let it grow until one day I just can’t do anything but that that I’ve been craving for: it could be to paint, to draw, always something handmade.

Lately, I’ve been feeling the need for handmade stuff (stuff = letters, miscellanea, doodling, etc) to maybe start introducing it into my usual designs, I think that it could produce some interesting results.
So I started a Fileteado Porteño workshop. The maestro fileteador is Héctor Rapisarda and here a couple photos of the class & his beautiful letters on the blackboard.

& some of the letters I’ve done during the class:

If you want to see some more Fileteado Porteño, there’s a flickr group with very interesting pieces.

*The star ornament on the side of this post is from the free font Lucky Charms by Blue Vinyl

By |September 3rd, 2008|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , , |9 Comments

PRINTING in small town COLOMBIA

Just north of Bogota is the small town of Zipaquira. It’s known mostly for a cathedral that’s carved deep inside a salt mine. The town also played a small role in the development of literature. Gabriel García Márquez received a scholarship to a school in Zipaquira, where he spent more time in the library reading rather in the classroom.

View of Zipaquira

Wandering through the pleasant colonial town we walked by an open doorway where an elderly woman was printing funeral notices, a common custom in small Colombian towns where the notices are pasted on street corners.

Zipa5117

Curious, and slightly enchanted by the old tools of the printer, we asked if we could come inside and take some photos.

Zipa5121

Type in Zipaquira

By |April 23rd, 2007|Categories: printing|Tags: , , |Comments Off on PRINTING in small town COLOMBIA

ERIK SPIEKERMANN & TYPOGRAPHY

In the last posting about Helvetica I mentioned the typeface Meta. Anyone interested in typography should become familiar with Erik Spiekermann, the person who designed Meta.

Spiekermann recently has rebranded his design firm as SpiekermannPartners. Here’s a great statement about their recent work for PC Professionell magazine: “Our task as designers was nevertheless to make the content look good and not show off with all sorts of graphic gadgets.”

Spiekermann’s blog, SpiekerBlog 2.0, is worth following for its nuggets of information such as this posting about the redesign of The Economist.

Another typography site has a brief interview with Spiekermann where he is asked the one thing that every student of typography should know: “That you are designing not the black marks on the page, but the space in between.”

Stop Stealing Sheep

Finally, if you want an introduction to typography then consider reading Spiekermann’s book Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works



By |April 21st, 2007|Categories: typography|Tags: , |1 Comment