It has been a week. I have survived this week, this week of making my own boundaries and schedule (which is really hard and deserves its own post at a later time).
So when I’m not a) doing Goddard homework, b) writing otherwise, or c) trying to glue the bits of my life together in a coherent collage, I’m doing design. Book design, usually, but sometimes business cards or other print design. I’ll also be working towards web design, but that will come with time.
But what is this “design” of which people so eagerly speak, and how does it apply to books? It’s hard to define, but I’ll take a few stabs at it:
- Design is a series of choices made about the shape of the work.
- Design answers questions like “how will the reader interact with the book?” and “what is the essence of the work and how can I make that into a nice tactile/visual object?”
- Design is what you’re judging when you judge a book by its cover (and we all do it, proverbs be damned).
- Good design is invisible; bad design is obvious.
Right, pontification, lovely, but what does it really look like to make design choices surrounding a book?
Pick up a book. Any book will do, but for now let’s look at a paperback. The first thing I pulled off my shelf was Grant Morrison’s Supergods. The cover of the book already has many design choices going on. It’s black with a large dotted line cutout of a Batman mask, almost like a do-it yourself project in an activity book of a previous era, except it’s labeled “fig 1” in small text. Other elements on the cover are the title, the author, the phrase “national bestseller,” and a quote from Entertainment Weekly telling us that the book is “fascinating” and that it’s “an analysis of what superheroes…can tell us about ourselves and our culture.” Nice of Entertainment Weekly to have written such a succinct description of the book. It makes it seem more legit than if it was Grant Morrison saying those things, or his mom or something.
So here’s a visual, for those of you following along at home:
Some of the design choices that went into just this front cover include:
- Choice of image
- What information goes on the cover
- Placement of information on the cover
- Specifically, how to deal with the title and author. This book gives the title and author equal weight. You know those thrillers in the drug store that have “DEAN KOONTZ” or “CLIVE CUSSLER” in huge letters with the title in little teeny letters? Those books people buy because they follow the author. You probably couldn’t get away with designing an edition of the Inferno with a huge metallic raised-letter “DANTE ALIGHIERI,” although I am now tempted to try. Heheh.
- What font all the words are in. For Supergods, Morrison’s designer chose not to have everything in “comic lettering” font, but rather chose a simple, easy-to-read sans serif font, although he does maintain all caps like you would see in a comic book speech bubble. The font is bold and condensed for the title and author, bold and not-condensed for the “national bestseller” bit, and light on the bottom in the yellow strip (which makes it suddenly readable).
- Color. Supergods has black, white, and yellow in very bold unshaded swaths. To recap: Book about Superheroes is Batman color. Good job. If it was mildly ecru and salmon, we’d have a problem, or else this book would be all about Aquaman, and sales would plummet.
Also, for this title alone on a simple Google Image search, I found four other designs which one presumes have been published. If you want Design Looking practice, take a look and see if you can figure out what design choices were made.
I must warn you all of something now. A dire warning. If you study design, you will suddenly notice things. They will not be good things. Remember how good design is invisible and bad design is obvious? Suddenly you’ll notice all the bad design choices. Like how sometimes movie posters get stupidly repetitive.
…And how Trajan is the movie font.
It’s like learning filmmaking, and then watching crap sitcoms and noticing how like half the time the camera focuses on the background instead of the character.
Which is to say, I’m sorry. Everything is ruined forever.