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Thinking Like A Book Designer

Lesson 15 of 15

Best Practices in Book Design And Final Q & A

Jessica Helfand, Michael Bierut

Thinking Like A Book Designer

Jessica Helfand, Michael Bierut

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Lesson Info

15. Best Practices in Book Design And Final Q & A

Lesson Info

Best Practices in Book Design And Final Q & A

Closing comments. Here are some things we think you need to bear in mind. Pay for the typefaces you use. Those people actually make a living by designing the type you use, so it's easy to download it illegally, don't. Here's another thing you should never do. That, a book like that, you don't stretch type left to right to top to bottom, a good typeface comes in multiple sizes and weights and that's why you choose a typeface like Universe, which is pronounced univere in Europe. But there are many typefaces that have been designed so that the latitude that you require is already there and you don't have to stretch it. We think you should read the things that you're designing. Being better informed as a maker of a book, there's just no way you can't win, in talking to editors, in talking to writers, and understanding the depth with which you can go into a project. And thank the people that made you who you are, every single person who's work is shown in this and every collection we went t...

o is on this little list here, alphabetized for your future use. (audience laughs) There are, by the way, amazing collections online for using things in creative commons, and a lot of great things online in terms of archives, so as you continue your education as book designers, we think there's great resources out. What we showed you today is just the tip of the iceberg. We have some additional resources here for you to look at in terms of further reading and support. And thank you. (audience claps) So Jessica, Michael, would love to sort of get your, we have a very young audience here today in the studio, and can I get your final thoughts, your final calls to action for a person, whether they're a web designer, or a logo designer, and they really wanna get going on designing books. What's some steps you can help them, sort of big picture steps that you would encourage them to do? Well, there's a few things. One, it's when, at least I'll speak for myself, when I began my career, books and the manufacture of books were, that was the purview of people who owned printing presses and major publishers and things like that. And in fact, 35 years ago, every aspect of the production and graphic design involved capital expense and specialist tools, and really as a young designer, I could really only contribute with what I had available to me, which was some pretty humble tools, notebooks and pens and rulers and things like that. No way to set a type, no way to get things printed certainly, and then no ways to get them manufactured and out there. Now I think we live in a world where it's actually through on demand publishing, whether it's Blurb or other sources, you can really kind of create books, have them published and sort of see what they look like, what they feel like as books. And it's actually easy for anyone to experiment with that medium, much easier than it ever was in the past. And so, the first thing to understand is that there's nothing stopping you from doing it really. You can get out there and kind of create things, and then that brings a responsibility that we have been talking about in the later part of the lesson today, which has to do with, if you are initiating the work yourself, how do you choose your subject? What point of view do you take to that subject? And I think that's actually the hard part. We've made the rest of it relatively easy. I think the challenge is, in the end, how do you make sure that something you're doing is worth doing, and I think when you talk about designers humanitarian, I think not stretching type, not stealing type, thanking people, those are all absolutely important, but I think maybe the most important humanitarian choice we make is how do I ensure that the work I'm doing is worthy of the time I'm spending on it, and worthy of the attention that I'm asking people to pay to it? And I think the books in a way are the oldest of all the disciplines that you can think of that graphic designers do. It's no mistake that the oldest design competition for graphic designers is about the design of books, and I think those are the ones that kind of end up, as we talked about at the very beginning, end up enduring. And so I think it's so easy to do these days, you just get started on it, and I think the hardest part of a challenge is making sure you've got the inner resources to find your own voice and figure out a way to articulate a point of view that's worth the time that you and the world will spend on it. I would add to that that education is obviously your best weapon, and if you don't have the time or money or wherewithal, or whatever to go to get proper design training, there are some credible resources. I can't say enough about Ellen Lupton's book, it's online, she keeps updating it, it's written in English, it's extremely comprehensive, she makes no mistakes, she pulls no punches, it's really wonderful. So some of the resources on our list, hers being perhaps my favorite, the Muller Brockmann book, you can get a lot from those things. And then I think it just helps to just really keep looking, and to keep going to museums, and keep looking at design magazines, and keep asking questions. I think I've said this before, and I may even have said it today, that one of the reasons we call Design Observer Design Observer is that we felt that at the core of all design was the value and the importance of observation. And you can't accelerate observation, it's just like the scientist has to wait for what happens in that Petri dish. And it is very much science, I think that is where it links to science best of all. I wouldn't elevate design to say that it is, it's not an industry in which you need to be certified to practice, but I think the actual looking and understanding, to understand type, to understand the gray value of type, to understand the white space of type, to understand grids, you can't do it overnight, but if you believe in it and you believe in yourselves and you think that this is something that you want to do, it's a wonderful world, and I think books are never going to go away, publications will never go away. It's a whole relationship on which that exists to your point Jim in websites and logos, and I think that it's a wonderful, expansive career. It's never been a better time to be a graphic designer, I think there's so much opportunity, and they need us, that world of people who are not us. Yeah, and I think, as we said at the very beginning, thinking like a book designer doesn't necessarily mean you have to design books. I think that books involve working with sequence, and that means that what you learn from working with sequence in a book is just as valuable if you're designing motion graphics or anything that moves in time. It involves, as we said, grids, but grids and the relationship between disparate elements is important in digital design, and it involves scale. Scale's important if you're doing exhibition design or architectural graphics. It involves kind of understanding what cues you're giving to readers so they understand how to navigate your book as they hold it in their hands, and those same elements are important to understand if you're designing UX or interfaces for digital products right? So I think this ancient outmoded, tree-based form of communication actually has a lot of lessons for almost every other kind of design work that you can undertake these days. And so even if you never design a book, it's still possible to think like a book designer, and I think get something rich out of that thinking. So Jessica and I have two podcasts, one of them is called The Observatory, and it's available on iTunes or SoundCloud, or however you take your podcasts, and it's basically every two weeks we get together and we just talk to each other about things that are on our minds and in the air, things that we've seen out there. And generally, sometimes it gets very nerdy and we talk about real designy things. Sometimes we talk about bigger, broader things, but we bring 'em back to design. If a day's worth of this isn't enough for you, or if in a few days you think, boy I really-- You feel bereft. I wish I could go back and just listen to Michael and Jessica talk to each other, this podcast is for you, and there are 40 plus episodes already in the can. Yeah there's 43 already. Yeah you can really-- That's true, easy to find, hours of fun. Wallow in it. So it's just the two of us talking in a kind of casual sort of way and with a lot of fun stuff. And then there's this, this is Michael and I are now teaching at the School of Management at Yale. We have a course there we teach called 12 Design Ideas That Changed The World. Each week we bring in a designer and a client. And a designer or a client. To talk about some transformative role design played in their lives and initiatives. And this is everything from people talking about public health to public space. We had a movie producer, we have designers from museums coming in, we have digital strategists-- Urban planners, architects. All sorts of different people talking about design, and so it's a quite interesting way of exploring design at the nexus of innovation and business. And so our first episode aired this week, with John Bielenberg, these are all the people that are gonna be coming in coming weeks. Doug Powell, who's the head of design at IBM, Leslie Koch, who was the head of Governor's Island. Steve Duenes, who does all the amazing graphics that move The New York Times. Paula Scher, my dear friend, and Michaels' partner Pentagram who did Shake Shack with Danny Meyer. Many other interesting people, there will be another 12 weeks in the spring, you can follow, and we hope for many years to come. It's fun, it's lively, and these people are very spirited individuals who's experience really I think comes across great on podcast, even though it is visual-- So it's the design of business, business of design, and that's also iTunes and SoundCloud, or however you take your podcasts. That's it.

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.