Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Tag: book design

Game Design, Book Design: A Tale of Woe

Last week I was very excited because at long last, the video game I backed on Kickstarter in 2013 was finally coming out. The game in question? Armikrog, the “spiritual successor to The Neverhood.”

cover image for ArmikrogThe Neverhood is a point-and-click adventure game that came out in the mid-90s, and is possibly still my favorite video game of all time (or at least my favorite puzzle adventure game). What made it delightful included not just clever puzzles, but a gorgeous, well-conceived world built entirely out of clay, with Doug TenNapel’s weirdo visual design. Also, Terry S. Taylor’s brilliant soundtrack to the game was the first (!) thing that I ever bought off the internet back in middle school. So. Needless to say, Armikrog had some emotional capital tied to it for me.

neverhoodLike The Neverhood, Armikrog is a point-and-click claymation adventure game. The old creative team came together to make it; however, unlike before when they were backed by Dreamworks Interactive and had a big ol’ budget, this time they used Kickstarter for their funding. And they had a great Kickstarter, raising the better part of a million dollars. They got some A++ voice acting talent in addition to the old crew. Tragically, though, they neglected a vital part of the team, it would seem: QA. QA, or Quality Assurance, are the fine folks who do their very best to break your game so that you can uncover any bugs the developers missed. The released version of the game didn’t run on some systems (fixed pretty quickly with a patch, but still) and was generally riddled with bugs. A disappointment, to say the least. I’ll try playing it again after another patch or two come out.

You might be saying at this point, hey, what does all of this have to do with book design?

Let’s talk about a pair of related design concepts, User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI). These are basically a way of talking about how your user interacts with your game, book, or website (UI), and how they feel doing it (UX). In the case of Armikrog, I felt frustrated, and not in the good “this puzzle is hard” way, but the bad “I am not sure if this is a bug or a puzzle” way. For example, one of the UI problems in Armikrog was a cursor that never changes to indicate if you can interact with an object or not. This contributed to me not being able to tell when I couldn’t do something (e.g. push a button) because it wasn’t connected or powered or whatnot, and when I couldn’t do something because it just wasn’t something I could interact with. There are multiple UI ways that my user experience of “not sure if puzzle or bug” could have been improved. But rather than dwelling too much on that, I’d like to look at how UI and UX apply to books.

Examples of bad experiences readers (users) could have when reading a book:

  1. Hard to read the words
  2. Annoying to physically interact with the book
  3. Feeling of irritation for no easily discernible reason
  4. “Not sure if typo or intentional choice”

Let’s break those down a tad and connect them to some “UI” reasoning.

  1. If it’s hard to read the words, there could be a variety of reasons. A poor font choice can make reading painful. Words on top of an image that do not contrast well enough will be hard to read. Words in a color/background that “resonates” wrong, i.e. makes you feel like your eyeballs are buzzing, will surely be painful to read.
  2. Another way that reading might become difficult is if the margins are too small.
    diagram of a reader's spread of a book
    A small outer margin will mean your thumbs get in the way of the words when you hold the book. If the gutter margins are too small, then you’d have to open the book to the point of cracking the spine just to read the words. If the trim size of the book is awkward, making it hard to hold, your readers will want to quickly put the book down.
  3. If you are reading a book and feeling annoyed, but aren’t sure why, it may be a visual design problem. Particularly in books with pictures, if the designer’s done a bad job, you may see margins that are different on the recto and verso pages, pictures that are poorly aligned, imbalanced, or a number of other visual design sins.
  4. If the book you’re trying to read is riddled with typos (especially ones that are the correctly spelled wrong word), then you’ll feel like I did trying to play Armikrog: annoyed, and occasionally unsure if you’re looking at a typo or an intentional choice on the part of the author.


TL;DR: If you’re making a game or a book, you need to think about UI/UX. If you’re making a book, hire a book designer. If you’re making a game, app, or website, hire a UI/UX designer.

Back from the Underworld

…and by “underworld” I mean “drafting-heavy semester of work in which I completely ignored my blog. *cough*

So, since the world didn’t end, here’s the haps with me:

1. Finishing Grad School!

I am hard at work on my last semester of school for my MFAW from Goddard College. If you want to be a beta reader for my thesis, shoot me an email.

Also at school, I designed the interiors and cover for the Pitkin Review this go-round. Check out Chelsea Jean Warner’s exciting dinosaur picture couched in my classic design. Hooray! Also buy a copy!

2. Book design!

Designing the Pitkin fostered in me a wild, mad crush on book design. Seriously. This past residency theme at Goddard was “The Shape of the Work,”  and the reason why I love book design is that it takes the essence of what the book is about and makes it into a nice, easily grokked pieced of packaging. This TED talk by legendary and fabulous Chip Kidd totally inspires me:

Designing Books is No Laughing Matter..Ok, It Is.

If you need a hot hot cover/interior design in your life, please contact me. Aside from the Pitkin, I have designed a chapbook for the talented Seattle poet Shae Savoy, and have a few more contracts in the works, not to mention…

3. Last but in no way least, Minor Arcana Press!

Minor Arcana Press is an exciting new-ish Seattle press run by the supremely talented Evan J. Peterson. We publish mostly poetry, and mostly weirdo stuff: zombie poems! furry poems! shuffle-able poems! poems about superheroes! blatant disregard for capitalization! and other things as well.

I have officially signed on as Internal Layout Designer, a.k.a. the Hermit. So far I’m loving the heck out of it–I did the internal layout for their latest release, Zebra Feathers by Seattle poet/performer Morris Stegosaurus. I’m also working on learning how to make eBooks. Hooray!

So that’s what I’ve been up to. More to come in terms of proper blog content. I may have entered some sort of unholy pact with certain other bloggers to update every Monday by 9AM. Oh dear.

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