Most people ask me “What do you do? What IS book design really?”

Photo © Robert George

one, are the days of letterpress; however, I see a resurgence, as evidenced by the recent anniversary of the publishing house, Godine, and the celebratory show marking the occasion at the Grolier Club in NY. It is the book/publications designer’s challenge to draw from the vast machinery and computer hardware a product of precision and beauty. We must, of course, have the cooperation of the author (in some cases!), publisher, editor, production manager, etc. According to Allen Hurlburt, in his straightforward book, The Grid, “It is the knowledge and imagination the book designer brings to his or her layouts that will influence the success of the book or publication as a vehicle of communication. Most designers prefer to rely on their intuitive sense of proportion in approaching the design problem, but a knowledge of the principles of proportion can be useful in determining the correct division of the space within a layout and assessing the quality of the resulting design.”

Adrian Wilson’s The Design of Books is a great book to learn from. For contemporary designers, the use of a grid can have a harmonious effect (though this is a matter of controversy among designers!) and it can give the overall design a sense of cohesion and continuity.

Remember, the margins of the page are as important to the design as that of the type area. Look at them as part of the design, and have fun with them. For example, Jan Tschichold’s “Golden Canon” is one way to look at the construction of a grid. I do not, however, adhere to his standards in current book and publication design. I don’t view design as a series of mathematical relationships, but I think it is important to create a page that is both pleasing to the eye and readable.

Sometimes an unconventional design calls for unconventional margins. Other items to be considered in the design process include alignment, type selection (and use of bold, italic, letterspacing, etc.), sinkage, use of graphics and rules, and, just as important, the margins, which will provide a sense of structure or “hierarchy” for the elements within the overall design. The use of white/negative space is effective, as well, for it allows the design to breathe.

Some letterpress work I did with the artist, Michael Oatman.

One thought on “Most people ask me “What do you do? What IS book design really?”

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  1. Ded: This is so impressive! I would love to get your help on my next printing or next book.
    My limited-printing book i put together with the help of Nick with no budget, but clearly a well-designed book makes all the difference.

    I am half-way through a novel that i would love to get some help on later in the new year.

    Best to all, again.


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