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Thinking Like A Book Designer

Lesson 4 of 15

Approaches to Art Book Design

Jessica Helfand, Michael Bierut

Thinking Like A Book Designer

Jessica Helfand, Michael Bierut

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Lesson Info

4. Approaches to Art Book Design

Lesson Info

Approaches to Art Book Design

We want to now move into the subject of some interesting innovative experiments that friends of ours have done with books. Astrid Stavro is a wonderful designer. She's one of these designers who speaks about 19 languages. She lives in Spain, works in London and the United States. And she made this book last year called Pain. And the thing that's so amazing about this book is that in order to read it you have to rip open all the pages, right? So, you physically have to go through this like violation of the book in order to access the book. So this is another kind of experimental view of what a book can be in terms of something that is a physical object that's very three dimensional. And I think sometimes we tend to think of books as very 2D, because they're paper, they're words, but this is the idea. And so in the next few minutes we want to talk a little bit about the idea of that sort of cumulative consummate experience of the book as a three dimensional object. Lizzy Hitchcock teache...

s at RISD. She's an interesting designer. She has a degree in English history, I'm sorry, in English (mumbles). Has a very poetic way of working with language and I think because of her background really understands language. But, this is a beautiful example of a spread that just you know there's a fake face there. You know that there's text there. But, the idea that over the spine of the book it introduces this sort of shape of a house starts to intimate promote the idea of the secondary story. Then it's a book that I did, an art book, a catalog for an exhibition with lots of different artists coming together who were active in Cologne in New York back in the '80s. And we just thought that the typography was the key to making the power of their work known. There were lots of reproductions of painting and sculptures that these artists did, but their names form such a roster of great work to people who are familiar with that era that kind of like really using them in a prominent way throughout the book and then carrying that over to the cover. And you see the front cover and the back cover there. The exhibition was called No Problem, but we put the name on the back cover because the front cover had Cologne, New York '84 to ' then the names of all the artists on there. And it sort of, what I liked about it is that it was sort of a very rambunctious time in the art world, and that looked a little bit like a fight poster to me, like these guys were all gonna just be-- Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger! Exactly. This like cage fight in a gallery sort of. And I think it's-- But it's such a celebration of the black and white and the white on black and just letting it be it. Yeah, and I think when you're designing a lot of times again I like working with type but I didn't say, "Give me that book. "I just want to do type all over it." It was really a deliberate decision we came to realizing that we needed something that could work in counterpoint to the images and that became the typography, and realizing as well that the images were in often vivid colors, really different, if you know some of that work you can picture how vivid it was, having a black and white kind of frame for it, actually let the work come forward and shine. So, we weren't trying to imitate or to compete with it. We were trying to provide this counterpoint to it. Another time when you actually have to deal with typography as illustration or want to is when the images you have to work with are not very great. And so these are for ... I'm gonna skip down here. These are some layouts from I was the magazine designer at The Sunday Times magazine at the Philadelphia Inquirer. My first job out of grad school. I had no budget. It was during the Gulf War. Not great photography, except for these amazing photo journalists who gave me huge picture stories to do, and then I would have to do these little stories. And I thought, "Alright well." So, we had an election and I made a layout that looked like a flag. And you know, this is like a bad photograph and put baseball cards that in those days back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth you actually had to pay someone to colorize by hand, and so I actually hired Jonathan Heffler to do this illustration for me. But, I got very interested in the idea that the scale of a letter form could become its own structural component in the visual narrative of something. And I think there are many tricks that you can do when you're dealing with content that maybe isn't that exciting. I think you should start to get comfortable with the idea of type as illustration. It's one way to entertain yourself and hopefully entertain your viewers. I have to admit, I in many ways if faced with two choices you love it when you have a big budget and beautiful material to work with. That's great, right? Who wouldn't want that. But on the other hand, if you have crummy material to work with and no money, that really puts it on you to figure out how you're gonna do that. And that's where you have to be like Macgyver in a way. You have to figure out a way to defuse the bomb with a paper clip and some chewing gum. And that's what they make movies about, right, not people with big budgets and beautiful images, but clever people who with the clock ticking can figure out how to avert disaster. And so some of the things I'm most proud of, and I'm not surprised that you show those images from your first job basically, because we really remember those things where you had material and you had to figure out some way to make it sing. Yeah, and you have nobody who has any idea what it is you're doing. I was working and I was the only designer on a staff of 500 journalists. And prior to my coming there, the way newspapers work, which is a big editorial world, they often will promote somebody from within. So like the tennis guy likes fonts. He's like, "Hey, I'll be the art director." So, maybe you're lucky, maybe you won't be so lucky. So, I realized I was the only designer on a staff of 500 journalists, and I loved the content, I loved the collaboration with all these smarty pants editors, but they couldn't design nothing. So, I started to realize that we didn't always have great material and I wanted to try to work with typography. What we want to talk about next though is, and Michael's book was an art book, this is a different approach to art books. Barbara Glauber is one of the great book designers of the world, and she specializes in working with artists. And she has found a way that is so inventive and so graceful and never repeats herself where she identifies something in the work of the artist and gleans and extracts that work and uses it to sort of embrace a design gestalt or a design direction for the book that then doesn't denigrate or overshadow or compete with the art, but extends it in a way that is extremely literary, extremely responsible, and extremely I think compelling as an extension of that narrative. Barbara teaches with Michael and me at Yale. She did her training at Cal Arts. She is somebody who loves graphic design. And loves books. Yeah, I have to say she once said to me, "I am one of those people who if you cut me "graphic design bleeds from my veins." (audience laughs) So, I'm not sure we would all say that about ourselves, but she really believes in it. And she loves books. She loves working with artists. She's done exhibitions. And she is somebody for whom the grid is obviously an infrastructure, but a really interesting tool in understanding how to articulate not just the work in the book, but all of the ancillary components that allow your reader to navigate the book. And we'll get into that a little bit later when we talk about the actual under the hood mechanics of the book. But she doesn't let ... Everything is grease for the mill for her. She doesn't look at a footnote as something that's just a thing, or a running head. She will actually find a way to peg it to the work. And so these books are enjoyable, and they're transformative, and they're very complete in their exposition of the work. And you can see the work of the design not being hidden but being very much in concert with these other things. So Barbara, this is so exciting to be here with all of these books that I don't even know where to begin. So, I'm just gonna jump right in and ask you do you always start the same way? No. No, it depends on the book. Sometimes I am very familiar with the subject, the artist, and sometimes I have never heard of them before. And for the sake of this conversation it's primarily artists. Are they all artist books, books about artists? No, I have two material culture, but the rest are-- But you're mostly a designer of museum publications? Yes. And you're somebody who I think of all the book designers I know you take great joy and you really relish the sort of what I call the innards of the book, the inner side, thinking about the grid, but not only thinking about the grid thinking about how the artist's work might best be matched with your grid. So, I want to ask you, I want to start if you don't mind with this circus book, which is one of my favorites. And this thing you just told me before we started shooting is called the fore edge? Fore edge printing. Fore edge printing. And so-- Head, tail, and fore edge. Head, tail, and fore edge. And so this is a book called The American Circus. And I always thought that designers did this at the end, but it sounds to me like you did this at the beginning. Right, well so it's the circus, and this was an interesting project in that it's a scholarly publication by Bard Graduate Center. So, it's not just the, "Oh, aren't circus posters pretty and fun, "and look at these clown costumes." It was a very serious look at how elephants are mistreated, how lion tamers costumes came to be, how the music in the circus works. So, there were 17 very dense academic texts to go in this book, so it's a very word heavy book. And you read-- And I actually read about 15 of them. Did you really? I learned a lot. It was actually fascinating. But, I did need to read them first to just kind of grasp this. But they just didn't want a really playful book. So, I started this book with yellow as the second color, and I ended up with gray because I was too fun. So I talked about this like Adam Sandler doing Hamlet or something, you know like-- That was the metaphor? I did. It was probably not the right one for my client, but I just wanted to have fun but be serious at the same time. So, to sort of, it seemed wrong to me to just be serious. There's so many playful and amazing elements with the circus. So I thought that like this is the circus tent, so there's the top-- From the aerial view. Yeah, so that's kind of the end paper becomes the circus tent. And so I-- These are the end papers. And you always probably have a lot of fun with the end papers. We're gonna talk about this again. So here they're shifting direction. And of course this typeface is probably adapted from a circus typeface? It's Bau, which is not at all-- It's not at all. Circus typeface, but I put little corners on it to Tuscanize it. That's what allows-- You added them. I added them. Wow! And then these things are called catch words, and they're found like in the, of the, you know, little words like that. So what we would call the (mumbles), the kind of constellation of the way you handled the typography evokes this sense of a circus (mumbles). But a kind of like modernist version of the circus. And so here on the half tile you silhouetted the-- Madame Omega on her tightrope. Of course that's her name? Can I change my name to that? Yes. I would like to be Madame Omega. I think maybe I'll get paid more. Okay, so the stripes are continuing and then the grid begins in earnest. Right, and you'll see it a little bit more as you get into a chapter, but here's the grid. And I needed to divide it evenly so my stripes would land in the right spots. So I then thought, "Well, these red lines," well, they're pink, "Indicate the grid of the type," so it's an even grid line all the way around from the edge, kind of like the ring in the middle of the circus. Interesting. And you can see that in the book, but there's little dotted lines that run to break the columns and then diamonds that work here. The heavy ones, and all in gray. And what's the typeface, Barbara? A Sentinel Hoefler typeface. And why did you choose that typeface? It's very legible, it's very American looking, and I wanted a serif. So, that's why I picked that. And it had pragmatic reasons. In keeping with the kind of geometric things we're talking about, the stripes and the orientation of the grid, did you justify the type so that you would be able to manage that geometry more, or was that just-- Yes. That's a very good way to put it, but it's always like do I want this irregular shape or do I just want a block? Because it's really not, many designers would say not in vogue to justify type. I love justified type for just that reason. It seems to rationalize the dimensions of the geometry. Well, it just depends on whether I want a block on my page or I want something freer. Or something that has ... Because it does have a grade value when you look at it. So, you're using this grid pretty consistently throughout the whole book, and the picture grid is the same as the text grid. Do you ever design books where the picture grid and the text grid are different? Yes, I do. You have any that you can show us? Corita. Is that the next one? That's very good timing. We might come back to this. I'm not sure I'm done with it. Well, but here's like a case where there's the catch word in this title. Right. So I continued it in the titles of the essays. So it goes all through the book. And it kind of gives it this nice it almost feels like a flag flowing or something. So this is one I didn't need to research much, because I was familiar with Corita and I love her work. But, it had a very different grid for it, because we had essays, and then we also had this oral history, and then we had images. So, it had three kinds of sections within it. Now, I just want to step back. I'm so interested in what you're doing here. So here you're on a two column grid that's justified, and when we get to the purple pages you're on a ... Five column. Five column grid that's not justified. Right. But it's the same grid. Well it's in the grid. In the grid, and you've wrote that grid, too. So, oh, here it is. So, here's the five column grid and here's the two column grid, and then the images get centered on this, I think they get centered on this. So centered this way the way. Yes. Kind of the way you would do in an exhibition. You would either hang them from the top. Yes, like a hang line. Like a hang line. Or like an eye line that would go through it. So this one was a little trickier in that I had to figure out how many. I went back. A lot of times I set a grid up, then I start putting the real stuff in and I realize I have to change my grid. So, it's a fluid process. Because there's too much content to do it-- Right, or it turns out the proportions aren't quite right for the size of the images, so then I shift it around. And this book actually changed trim size as I was working on it, so I then had to shift everything. I'm not done with asking my millions of questions about the grid, but how does the determination of image size, is it something that you are very conscious of in terms of the curator you're working with or the artist, or is it really a decision you make yourself? It depends, sometimes one or the other. But a lot of Corita's images were wide posters and she often worked in a fairly similar size. Could you talk for 30 seconds about Sister Corita Kent for the listeners who don't know who she was? She was a nun in the brief liberalization of the Catholic Church in the '70s. She lived in Los Angeles and she taught at a school where she actually taught people who were going to become art teachers. And she did a high volume set of assignments. So, you went and you made 100 in one night, and nothing was that precious. She always wanted people looking at stuff. And she would make these little finders, and so you examined things and you continued cropping them, and you would make things and just look at the world in a different way. And then she would take letter forms and she would photograph things off of packages and things like that, which we have some of them in here. So, she would rip signs up and photograph them and then cut her stencils from these things. They're just incredible. She's kind of graphic designer mon-kay. Was she trained as a graphic designer? She wasn't trained as anything, was she? She was trained-- A nun. At this school. Oh, she was. To be an art person. But she saw an Andy Warhol exhibition at the Ferus Gallery and it just like-- That was her come to Jesus moment. Can you say come to Jesus moment if you're talking about a nun? Yes, I think it really is a come to Jesus moment. Anyway-- Never more aptly said than for Sister Corita. So very, very pop, and anyway, that's where that work comes from. But so a lot of these sizes-- So you got the color for the end papers from that. Well no, different things. She used fluorescent inks. Yeah, what we used to call DayGlo. So we printed ... Right. So, we printed certain images in fluorescent. Was that a nightmare? No, it was great, it was great. But we had to pick, they had to land in certain spots in order to work on our press sheets where we had a side where we had a fluorescent color on it. Where did you print this book? Oh, it's Trifolio in Italy. And you don't go on press with these books. No, but this guy was a genius, yeah. He's a really great printer. Wow, amazing. So this, like I knew this size so I designed the page around wanting it to sit on that page with the right margins. And then she played with stuff reading upside down and right side up and backwards, so my captions just go in the gutter. I didn't want to get in the way. I wanted to stop you right there. That's something that I see you do in your books in a really inventive way, and I think not enough designers work that way. So, there's a line between, and correct me if I'm wrong, there's a line between respect for the author and respect for the artist and the designer's voice coming in and what would you say, kind of amplifying some aspect of that work that doesn't get in the way but in fact is orchestrated or choreographed to be part of the larger package. And I think you do that so beautifully with artist's books. And I think as we go from book to book you could maybe point those things out for us. Before we move onto the next book though, would you just explain something I saw here that I thought was so beautiful, which is picking up on that second DayGlo color and doing these very small footnotes on the side. This refers to what? Well, I like to make a very reader friendly book, so within the book anything where it was a quote from Sister Corita I typeset in Cooper Black, and all of her titles are in Antique Olive. Both of those typefaces she used in her posters. I happen to love them, too. And so you can see they're-- And your main text is in? Fakt, F-A-K-T. So, I just want a plain vanilla to contrast with it. Is there a typeface called Vanilla? That would be a great typeface name. I don't know if I want Vanilla though. Vanilla Gothic. I think we have it. It's Helvetica. So anyways, when I centered these under I centered the images within that text block. But what you're pointing out are page references. So, you know, "If let the sunshine (mumbles)--" Says page 174. And then if you go there-- And then I go there And you can see it. So, I try and make them reader friendly in that way. Really no stone left unturned. And one other thing about this book is that Corita would, because of that finder thing we actually put one in the book. So, there's a little hole in the back of the book that you can-- Wow! You can make your own finder. And it's perforated. I don't know who would rip it out of the book, but it is perforated. So, for the initial caps within these I just took her posters and found letters. In each one. Oh, isn't that lovely? I findered Corita. So, I think that there's this way that I want to have my fingerprints on the book, but I don't want them to overwhelm what's already there. And she was big and loud, and I could be small and refined. And just pick up on these things as like grace notes in your articulation of her work? And this isn't getting in the way of you looking at them. Not at all. And the other thing that I did is she would do split fountains where color would change from like a pink to a green, so I did that with this oral history. So, it goes from like a purply blue or blue purple kind of through a blue, and then as you get towards the end it goes. It just changes page by page. But really, really subtle, which it has to be because the work is so not subtle. Her work was really bold and saturated. It helps you find those sections, too. Wow, really interesting. Thank you. So typographically really kind of a tapestry of her work and also the period in which she was working, which I think is actually really important for these books. So, when you're dealing with a contemporary artist, somebody who is working right now, and you don't have that historical rationale to draw upon, what are the kinds of things that you're looking at? Well, I could-- Look at Fred Tomaselli? We could look at Tomaselli. Tomaselli is a good one. And we could look at maybe (mumbles). But Fred, I knew this work because I'd done another book on Fred. And they're pretty simple, but super wonderful. So, Fred Tomaselli is an artist and he would take the front page of The New York Times, scan it, and then do things to it. It was kind of his way to talk back to the Times, and he's got a lot to say. So, this was a book that was a collection of them. So what's kind of great is it's sort of it's cyan, magenta, yellow, and black printed on newsprint, then he prints it out, then he paints on it, then we had it photographed and then we printed it in our book. So it's like it's this kind of it's back to cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, which is where is started. So yellow. Okay. That was a long way. In case I wasn't sure, that's-- Magenta. It's good to know, it's good to know. But it's not just willy nilly, people do this. Then you go to the half title and you do this very subtle thing where we're just looking at his name through newsprint. Right, and it is actually one piece. So, that's the headline and that's the text from one piece. And that's exactly what I did here. This is the same. Like if you took my white off of here it's the same piece of paper. Sometimes nobody pays attention to these things, but it matters to me. So, he would take these things and he'd trim them. They weren't just the whole paper. It was trimmed. So, what we did when we set this grid up is took The New York Times' full width. If that was a full page, we just laid it where it would be. So, if this thing was whole it would extend to here. So your reading of it over time becomes cumulative once you figure out the trick is what you're saying? You don't even need to figure out the trick, but it kind of was one of these things it gave me a nice little frame. So here where they're wider you can see how wide that one is. This one is a little narrower, because it got cut there. Right, but The New York Times logo the name plate is the same size. Yep. That's very interesting. Yeah, so it just kind of was this interesting good thing to sort of have also just talked about grids. Well because if we pull back form the idea of the grid, what you're talking about with the grid is the relationship between variables and constants, right? So you have the grid is your constant. It's not a straight jacket. It's an armature upon which to build. And so if you actually work with the grid it can give you incredible liberty. I love this, because I came up with the idea and it designed itself, except it was still a total pain in the ass to get them positioned properly. Now let me ask you a question. This is a man who works on newsprint. You printed this book, you speced this book on coated paper. Yeah, well you need it sharper. Because it wouldn't be otherwise. And so the evocation of the newsprint did not depend upon an uncoated sheet. Right, but the cover is uncoated. The cover is uncoated. Which is really nice. That's really nice. This was actually the editor's decision, but I thought it was a great decision. Yeah. So that was a nice thing. Really interesting. Can we talk about this book for a minute? Because I just saw this one recently, and here's one where you've done this beautiful thing with the fore edge. Was that at the beginning or at the end that you chose to do that? At the beginning. And this has to do with this artist's work? Yes. So here to me this is pure Glauber. This is you really respectfully looking at documenting a process that you can then evoke as a graphic designer. You're not trying to be the artist. You're not trying to elbow in on this artist's work, but this is a fiber artist. It's actually not fiber. It looks like it. He's from-- Oh my goodness. Ghana, but they're liquor bottle caps that he gets. And he has people that actually fold them. So it's wire? And then he has tons of them. These are all the bottle caps, they're all recycled, and then they stich them together like quilt squares or circles. And then they sort of evoke like textiles, but they're hung on walls and they're shimmering. So here the language of you using the underline and using the bracketed line, is that an effort to kind of create a visual language that matches with his materials? Right, well so the idea that I was taking a book that you saw the seams in was an obvious reference to what his work is like. To the recycled. But you made it his name, the red and yellow. Well, this was a tricky one to figure out. I've gotten better at these sorts of trickier production things. So, it's called an exposed sewn binding, and then you every 16 pages I needed this little slice of yellow and they were gonna all have to line up to say, "El Anatsui." And then I had to decide if I wanted to be able to have that visible when you saw it. Like did I want to have a little piece of if I bled things into the middle? You might see it on this edge. So, the inside edge is always white, so I didn't have to deal with that. But the advantage of a sewn binding is that the pages lay really flat. They're always sewn, but yes, this kind because you know-- So you don't do cover board? No. Not ever? No, no. Did you ever? Probably, yeah, I'm sure I did. But art books never are? No, art books never are. Never are, okay, yeah, okay. And so this is the language I'm talking about where you're looking at-- Yeah, so these are like me doing out of kind of like (mumbles) or just backwards slants and dashes and stuff. And are they random or can they actually-- Sort of piecing them. Well, I have the same pattern each time. It's a certain number of backslashes, straight ups, forward slashes, and dashes. And then I wanted to just, his are all irregular, so I wanted to maintain a very crisp thing. So, my footnotes indent. So it's like a receipt, because each of these chapters had several articles, essays, which I could've broken into discrete spreads, but they were slightly over a page or slightly under a page and it was not gonna break up very well. So, I just ran one after another after another through each section. And there's a lot of these detail shots of the works themselves. So this comes back to my first question which is how do you start? Did you start in this case by really looking at the work and saying to yourself-- I went there and saw the work. And then you say to yourself, "What is it about this work that speaks to me "and that might create or introduce or suggest "an organizational conceit from me as the designer?" It's like my hook. Your hook. I'm looking for my hook. You're looking for your hook. And so that was part of it. And so in the case of not working with an artist, what do you do when there's not visual work to guide you? What would that be? Everything is visual. Everything is visual. So is there an example of-- Oh! Okay, let's look at that. But I found visual in it. Okay. Okay? So this is a book that is on the 10 most important molecules of the 20th century as determined by the Chemical Heritage Foundation in an exhibit that was at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College that was a collaboration between a biochemistry teacher and the director of the museum and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. So, it was the idea that these molecules were synthesized and in some way had a huge impact on the world. So, one of the molecules is polyethylene. And this is it? That's polyethylene, I found one-- You're like the goddess of materials. Well, it was fun. It made sense here. So it's actually, it's just glued in there, wedged in there, or does it goes all the way through and then this covers it? It's the book board. It's the front of the book board. The book board. What you call a three piece binding. So, it's two pieces of plastic, so instead of book board it's plastic. Got it. And then that-- Were you just so deliriously happy when you discovered one of those molecules was something you could use? Yes, of course. Speaking of come to Jesus moments, that was yours. So, we had all of these things, which are molecule models, like aspirin which is our first one, and there's a way that they're rendered. I couldn't really govern these so much, but I could twist them in shape. But, they had been rendered. There's conventions to that about how high hydrogen and carbon and oxygen are particular colors all the time. There's that idea of science space, which I thought was so interesting. Like it doesn't really look like that if you looked at a molecule. It's just how we visualize that structure. So, it's a kind of false visualization. So, I wanted to amplify that by adding these little shadows. So, it's this science space, fake science space. So, I had things cast shadows. More beautiful justified text. I am such a sucker for this. This? That's the chemicals that are in aspirin. So you created a sort of shorthand. It's an index, yeah. A shorthand indexical visual language. Right, so there's nylon. Nylon is a chain, so it keeps going. And so every chapter has these visual illustrations. And then at the end are you dealing with indexes and footnotes? Not a lot. Not a lot. And so there's your color key. I asked them to include a glossary. To do a glossary. And the fact that these are-- Blurry. That these are blurry because? The shadow. It's part of the shadow idea, got it. And I had them include these, too, because they would send me these things and I read all these little interesting facts about the molecules, and they weren't necessarily incorporated into the essay. So I said, "Why don't you keep those, "because people aren't going to necessarily "read the whole thing." So, it's kind of more reader friendliness to this book. Wow. Look, Fred Tomaselli. It all comes back. It does. What haven't we talked about here that we need to add? Would you like to show us a book dummy, a binding dummy, a bulking dummy, to give us a sense of how you work with the book object? Okay, so this is another one for the Bard Graduate Center, and it was on Swedish wooden toys, which seemed like a lot of fun to me. And it was going to be thick, and ... So, I wanted to kind of visualize the size of it, and this is always very helpful to do. I had one of them for this, too. And you can see how the little page index was gonna work along the side. But, I wanted to also show that you'd see this clown going around the edge. And so I used this Remo Stencil and took it apart on the back cover. So, those are those letters but all taken apart on the back. All taken apart. What that eventually became was this instead. So, it's this dog that goes throughout the back. But you can see kind of the-- Why did you ... What was the choice ... I actually prefer the dog, but why did you choose the dog over the? I can't remember anymore? It's interesting, a much more dynamic cover to have this thing going this way than going that way. But this is just, this is great. This reminds me of the French designer Philippe (mumbles). Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Who makes these letter forms in these systems. It's true, and they come over it. And then I often do these little things where the little cord comes around. So here are your end papers and they're made of wood. Well, it's wood. Of course, right? My half title. Your half title, and then the color palette really comes out of-- Oh, this was a tricky one, because-- It's so beautiful. So they're blocks, so it's this block system, and I got the colors, a lot of them, directly from the toys or I just needed to differentiate. I needed three blues, but they needed to be slightly different. And I had like an orange in here, but there really are no, there weren't any oranges. But the palette, I have to say, the palette really doesn't feel of this century. I mean it feels very much 20th century. It feels very of that kind of kindergarten block to shoot these things on these flat colors. That's not a very beautiful one. Let me find a good one. So this is a very simple grid, and you're using the stencil letters again. And again, it's very similar in a way to American Circus. The letters that would be the catch words are just on plain wood, and the other ones are on color. Very nice. And it's two columns, it's two columns. And we couldn't silhouette everything, but every now and then we have a silhouette. You have a silhouette. And actually it doesn't, I don't mind it, but they have, they're sort of like stacked boxes. What are the lines? Well, they help you find-- The arrow. The arrow is green. So instead of just saying opposite and this page, you've created this playful way that becomes its own kind of block. Well, and then when it's mentioned the underline is in that color. This made it very annoying to do, but. I'm just blown away by this. Now, we haven't talked about how you cycle through the inventory of images given to you by a curator or an artist, because it's really an editorial (mumbles), right? Are there certain things you reject? Are you allowed to reject things, make certain things less important? Sometimes, sometimes. But sometimes I don't ... I'm happy to weight in, but I don't know what's more important to that curator. So they will tell me, "This is a really important piece." So it's possible you could send them something and they say, "This is so important "it must be a double truck spread. "You can't make it tiny. Sometimes yes. And then you go and you pull your hair out and-- But a lot of times what I'm picking is like it just looks great, or I love it. Conversely, what happens if somebody gives you something where the quality of the art is really poor? Do you have-- Oh, I tell them. You tell them it's bad. Do you have any tricks? Do you duotone things? Do you play with them in Photoshop? I have great printers. You have great printers. Hopefully we can get there. As long as we have the resolution we can usually try and make something really wonderful that was not. Somebody should write a book called It Takes a Village... Of Printers, because I think they really do, a good printer, yes, it's true. It does a lot. This is it's just such a playful book, and yet it's serious as befits the kind of Bard. And it has a plexy bind, which I don't do very often, but it's plexy, which is kind of a nice one, too. So the binding dummy, or this would be more like the bulking dummy to just get a sense of what the whole thing is like. I wanted to just say, I just came from spending two weeks teaching an editorial design workshop in Portugal, and the most important thing we said to the students was they had to stop working on the screen and they had to print things out. Oh yeah. Because not only do you see what it looks like in front of you, you also see the sequence in a totally different way. And I see over here you've brought one of those. I wondered if you could talk about how you deal with this, how you print things out, at what scale you print things out, and do you go back in and mark them up based on sequences that you think work or don't work? Well, I have a couple different ways I do that. I think I brought another one, too. This is a good one, partly because they're mostly one plate per page and they're very graphic so you could see it. And we have pages with red edges, because this whole book is gonna have red edging on it. This is still in progress. But, it was very helpful to keep doing this as we were working so we got a sense of the sequencing and pacing of the book. But a lot of times it's like you know the work is often chronological, so how you're telling that story chronologically. And breaking it up perhaps with essays, but a lot of the times those people are writing about particular periods in that artist's-- So I'm looking at your notes here. So this says that this that you've circled becomes incidental. We call these things incidentals that broke up the-- Is that internal lingo in your studio or is that a thing? Our client actually called it that. Your client calls them that. Sort of interstitial moments that sub-navigate. Sometimes there are terms. So when you're creating a sequence for a book you're looking at what? You're looking at structure and freedom. You're looking at telling a story. You're looking at elements of surprise against what's expected. How do you navigate that? Well it depends on, like the Corita book we knew we wanted these three sections and we probably wanted them not exactly even but they were gonna be these moments where you looked at a bunch of work and then you got to go read what happened in her life. Then you looked at some more moments. So I mean that's often part of what guides it, and just like, "Oh, we have too many images "on the right pages. "Like this whole sequence is--" Lopsided. - "We got to break this up." Do you ever go back and see you have to cut? This is way too long? Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. "Give me a shorter headline "so the type can be bigger," or something? Not too often, but sometimes. Pick your battles. Right. I can make it work. If I really feel like I can't make it work then I say so, but. Do you ever feel like you're repeating yourself? I can't imagine you would, but I have to ask. I have little fondnesses. Fontnesses? Well, I meant it with a D. Fontness, oh. But, I have things I like. I try and do something different. Like I did that already. I want to try something else. The work is really, really playful in terms of your color sensibilities and also very respectful in terms of the Sister Corita book, this book, the Tomaselli book. Do you have any books that are more monochromatic where you really have to keep that in check because the work isn't colorful, and is that hard if that's the case? Okay, here's on that is not so colorful, which is this was one where I ... It's so heavy. I know, it's very heavy? Why is it so heavy, because it's alloy? This intentional? This an inside joke? But this work was not super colorful, but I addded a little bit of color to it. And it's Dario Robleto, and there's a sort of alchemy. Like these are melted down Patsy Cline records that he then turned into buttons and would go sew onto shirts and bring them to goodwill. That's like people taking their loved ones remains and making them into jewelry and artwork. There's a whole study of this now, cremains, the design of cremains. And these are actually the-- Those are like conceptual pieces. So he names them after the titles of the song, I see. Yeah, so the song titles are kind of in it. So what it's made out of, the alchemy, and the song title, are as important as what the thing looks like. This is early work, but something like this. So, we framed those titles, and a lot of that formal presentation is in Dario's work, so we wanted to acknowledge that. So you have a whole page. I love the folios and the running heads. Oh, thank you. You have such a graceful sense of how to work with the page and have the page respond to the work but also be consistent as a system. Can you talk about these? Well, it's Alloy of Love, so we picked the three metallics that you could get. There's a lot of fussiness to this, not fussy in a bad way. Well, it's colorful in a different way. I mean what you managed to get out of those three colors is just extremely-- So these are like ring finger bones extracted from-- Lovely. Yeah. So then in the back we had-- You should've showed me that before lunch. A pocket. So there's a pocket. Like we just had excuses to do fun things, and there's a little poster which says Alloy of Love with those buttons and the ring finger bones. Wow! And then on the back? This is a checklist from the exhibition. And then you get to put it in your little pocket. You can put it either way. It works both ways. I'm finding myself like there's this intense sense of envy in the joy of your work that when we go through these books. I think, "My God," and each one more than the last. I mean you just keep reinventing ways of evoking this material. I end up loving every artist who I make ... I love that work now. I love Dario's work. Is there an example of something that was really a struggle? Not really, but I mean this one is where the work was not so pizowy, but I needed to make a system for it. So, it was about class. So I guilded. It's more edging. More edging. Guilded edges, and this is purple leatherette. So, and then it says class on the front. (mumbles) society. And Less on the back. Well, and also there's this sort of graffiti looking font and then the golden font. It's like a supermarkets sign. Supermarket sign, so high culture, low culture. So I put gold, all the type in it is printed in gold. But it's really amazing how you can evoke these binary opposites through materials, through typography, through a grid, through the opposition of the form and what's inside, through (mumbles) grids. Really just remarkable. Barbara, thank you so much. This has been really fantastic. I could do this, I could filibuster with you on fonts and books all day. And I didn't even get through it all. I know we'll have to actually ... When it becomes a big blockbuster motion picture we'll invite you back. Okay, great.

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.