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Thinking Like A Book Designer

Lesson 12 of 15

Abbott Miller: Personal Book Project–Case Study

Jessica Helfand, Michael Bierut

Thinking Like A Book Designer

Jessica Helfand, Michael Bierut

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Lesson Info

12. Abbott Miller: Personal Book Project–Case Study

Lesson Info

Abbott Miller: Personal Book Project–Case Study

We've talked a lot today about the challenges and pleasures of designing books. A lot of that has to do with, you know, you get a manuscript, you get material. How do you turn it into a book? You're working with authors and other collaborators. How do you come up with ways to serve their... To honor their intentions and serve their needs? We're going to end up by talking about a different situation that I think almost every student is in, at one point or another, and many of us, as designers, are in, where you, yourself, are the author. You are the client, in a way. We're going to start with an example of the work of one of my partners, the designer Abbott Miller. Abbott published a book on his own work that is a really, really worthwhile book, if you can get a hold of it. He'll talk about it and show it to you, as you see. I think what he was forced to do was kind of look at the body of work he had done over his career and figure out a way to get it between two covers. Some people who...

are watching this thing may not be in a position to do that themselves, but every one of us, at one point or another, has to represent ourselves to others. Whether it's putting together a portfolio, doing a thesis book if you're a student, just any kind of instance where you're actually trying to figure out who your personality is and how you can get it between two covers or in a series of pages. I think that process is different. It's actually, in a way, the most challenging one you can undertake. So starting with Abbott, we'll look at some people who have taken on that challenge and prevailed. Including the two of us. I just wanted to say that Abbott, in addition to being a book designer, has done exhibitions and done many other things. Part of what you'll see in this short film that we shot at Designums about a year ago, is how he actually makes manifest in his monograph, examples of things that are in fact, not two dimensional, but three and four and time based, and visual and really quite compelling. (dynamic music) My interest in book design is that in some way getting the content to kind of lock up with the physical manifestation is what's really exciting to me about books. My name is Abbott Miller, and I'm a graphic designer. I'm a partner at Pentagram. (mellow music) One of the things that I was eager in doing the book, is to see whether my work held together visually. I thought, well this will be interesting to learn, if my work actually looks like something, as opposed to looking like whatever the topic might happen to be. This is about a third or a quarter of my work, digested so that it kinda tells a bigger story about design practice. It's hard when you tell someone who doesn't follow design that you do a fairly broad range of work. In some ways, the book is really about knitting all of that back together. I kind of define my career around working with other people and suddenly doing a book of your own work... I don't wanna say that you're alone, but you're more alone than in most design contexts, because it's just you. With this project there is a similar feeling of, "Now what?" It sort of marks a passage and feels like it's sort of a time frame. It feels like the slate is completely clear now. So, you can see that Abbott sorta set out all the themes that I described in the abstract. He sorta gets specific about. As Jessica said, I think he had an unusual challenge, because he does so much three dimensional work, things that are print, as you see here, but also exhibitions, signage, product design, architecture on a sorta like a small scale, and figuring out how to make that compelling between two covers is a real challenge.

Class Description

Print is not dead, and in this class you’ll learn about the elements that go into designing a book. Jessica Helfand and Michael Beirut are renowned designers and experts in the field of design, and in this class you have the chance to learn from their years of expertise! If you’re interested in designing a book, personally or professionally, this class will teach you what you need to get started, including:

Lesson 1: The History of Book design

Lesson 2: How to work with Grids, Grid Systems, and Text

Lesson 3: Approaches to Art Book Design

Lesson 4: How Book Design Engages and Entertains 

Lesson 5: Approaches to Cover Design for Fiction 

Lesson 6: What Makes a Successful Book Cover

Lesson 7: How to Approach Cover Design for a Series

Lesson 8: Detailing Book Anatomy Part 1

Lesson 9: Detailing Book Anatomy Part 2

Lesson 10: Approaches to Fine Tuning Typography

Lesson 11: Methods to Creating your Own Book

Lesson 12: Abbott Miller: Personal Book Project–Case Study

Lesson 13: Michael Bierut: Personal Book Project-Case Study

Lesson 14: Jessica Helfand: Personal Book Project–Case Study

Lesson 15: Best Practices in Book Design

Jessica and Michael also share a series of behind-the-scenes interviews with seasoned designers working at the publishing giant Random House and award-winning design studio Pentagram. This class provides a full- bodied robust understanding of all the things that go into being a book designer, a classic tenet to anyone who makes things in the world. 


Leonie Holzman

I had an opportunity to be in the live studio audience for Thinking Like a Book Designer. The session was rich with content, taking us through the whole process of what goes into designing a book as well as interviewing top book designers in the field. I also appreciated the lively exchange between the presenters Jessica Heifand and Michael Bierut. As someone who over the years got burned out as a graphic designer, feeling more like a machine than a designer often times, it reminded me of why I was drawn to become a graphic deisgner in the first place.

Sonny Pham

I had an opportunity to attend this amazing workshop by Michael Bierut and Jessica Helfand. I was gained information about the history of book design, the do's and don'ts, and even insight on the industry itself. It was a surreal experience! My favorite part of the lesson has to be when Jessica and Michael interviewed other artists about their books, with an very in depth analysis on their design choices and process. After seeing Michael explain his design process for his book, I bought it after the class was done. Definitely worth the money for the lesson, and will be back for more!

Anna Pankin

Very engaging and informative class! My only 2 recommendations for the creators (if they read the comments) would be to add a pdf file of the presentation available to download (since it has all the references and visual examples) and, as someone below already mentioned, it would have been nice to actually see the magazine and book pages close-up just as they were being discussed in the videos. But overall I loved the course and the lecturers, who are a true inspiration.