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Thinking Like A Book Designer

Lesson 10 of 15

Detailing Book Anatomy Part 2

Jessica Helfand, Michael Bierut

Thinking Like A Book Designer

Jessica Helfand, Michael Bierut

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Lesson Info

10. Detailing Book Anatomy Part 2

Lesson Info

Detailing Book Anatomy Part 2

Just a couple more things on back matter, I had to include this image of an index because it's just not a thing you see anymore. I thought this index was so incredibly beautiful it's from about 1810. But the index can also be a glossary. It can also be a list of, typically it's alphabetized. It's a systemic thing. Often people who are looking for particular things in a text book, if you are lucky, or perhaps unlucky enough to have to design a big tome of literature that's a text. The actual way in to particular kinds of information, often is a very didactic set of numbers, but these too I think can be made. You often will hire someone to generate the index. Which is, you know, An onerous task. An onerous task where it's proper names and other important words and the pages upon which they fall. You've ever done one that was like funny or kinky or anything? Not in terms of design but in terms of content. Not only have I not, I've worked really hard. Jim, you should know this. I'v...

e worked really hard to try find an example of a real exciting index, and I couldn't find one. Because I think they tend to be pretty didactic. But in a way, they are the ultimate navigation. Yeah. But the ones that I can remember, there are very few that I can think of that are very interesting visually. They sort of have to be in columns, but that T-board book. T-board just wanted to have index every time a swear word appears. So it just said, like, the f-word, then it was the pages upon which that word occurred. He was really into sort of, he wanted someone to scan this otherwise kind of boring looking list and have certain things jump out at them. And I think there's also examples of, there's been some celebrity biographies where the writer sort of wasn't quite a a fan of the subject and will sort of, in the index, kind of list things like, you know, I won't get political or anything People have these long entries where its like, Donald Trump, horrible views of Donald Trump, weird hair color of Donald Trump, something like that. And you can tell it's not just like a-- It's gonna be great when you watch in 20 years. Exactly. Thank you future people, I'm glad it all worked out. (audience laughs) There's all sorts of things about indexes, indices I should say. You have to indent. You have to have italics when you're doing something, they're backwards, they're weird, there's probably entire books written about how to do them. But they are really important for navigating through a book. Sometimes they can be quite playful. Tony Brook is a wonderful designer in London, works with Adrian Shaughnessy. They run something called, unit editions, and they republish great design books. They recently did a book where they put the entire index and all the credits on the back of the book. Which has been done before. I did this actually, on the front of my book. I did all the sort of boiler plate stuff on the front of a book that I wrote a couple of years ago. So sometimes you can actually just lift these things out of the kind of, bowels of the book to make them a little bit more front and center. The forward and afterward, like the table of contents, doesn't have to be didactic and boring. Neil Strater is a designer in the Netherlands. Wonderful book designer. Very computational, and goes about his work as a text designer, as a book designer, in a very algorithmic, digital, kind of, AV testing-y kind of way. Really, really beautiful, very dense things, but, when he sent this to me I said, "Are you sure that's a forward? Are you sure that's not like, I don't even know what that is." But apparently I like to go through the rest of the book there's also a way to set up a visual system that then references itself in terms of a color palate, and a grid, and a typographic rationale that exists through the rest of the book. Colophon's are really important. A colophon is where you identify what you did. And this can be, where it was printed, who printed it, why it was printed, the dates, the edition, 12 out of 26, one out of 150. Often its where you describe the typeface, which for Truetype nerds among you is a really great place to do a shout-out to your favorite type designer. Say this is their, Robert Grand John face that was designed in this year and not this year. Truetype colophon's can be quite involved. This one, by the way, is actually, kind of a compilation of, it's got an image, it's got a colophon, it's got a quote, it's got some copyright information. So you don't have to do these things at separate, but I think typically colophons are at the end of the book. Yeah, usually, yeah. Chronology which is not unlike a glossary can often be a way to kind of wake-up what is pretty boring set of information. You want to show something, maybe it's a biography that you've done and you want to show somebody's true biographical data. You can do it as a timeline, which, I think this is a Lorraine Wild copy of something that she did. Also, where you can see again, what she's done with the grid. She's kind of punctuated the page, there's type at the top, there's images, your eye can actually, kind of, ricochet's from thing to thing and it actually kind of wakes up the thing that is something boring. Finally, Cyan, really interesting design from the UK did this book in which, these are actually footnotes. This thing is so exquisite and, you know, not for the faint of heart. Those are the footnotes. So, probably in the same cannon as Louis Filles Eiffel Tower copyright, it's just an incredibly beautiful use of typography, where you take something as boring as footnotes and you create this kind of, typographic, rhythmic, exciting illustration. Yeah, so, for every one of these examples that Jessica has been showing, there's a very straight-forward classic way to do it. You could say nine times out of ten that's the right thing to do. You need a special book like this one, to do something this unexpected with the footnotes. And there's a lot of other places, as you said, don't try it at home because it could be a little bit dangerous. Probably, good advice to anyone who is designing books is, make sure you're very familiar with the classic way of doing it and then when the time is right, figure out what the appropriate modifications and subversions and revolutionary kind of new ways of thinking you can bring to bear around things that are normally dull or expected, like footnotes. So Jessica, before, and Michael, before we move on to our next section-- Dp we have a question? We do, we have a question from me, and I would encourage the audience, do you guys have any questions? We are moving on to a new section, so anything in here, please let us know. My question is, as designers, as book designers, when these less sexy parts of the book, what techniques do you use to help, sort of, spice them up personally? Well I... Answer, oh spicy one. Spicy. I've kind of made it clear that I sort of, I kind of have this horror of inventing sort of, interesting things out of nothing. I look for opportunities to sort of, hijack those functional aspects of books and make them serve the content a little bit better. So, for instance, we don't have a picture of it but I designed a book of interviews, that happened over a number of years, with a well-known architect named Philip Johnson. They're very casual interviews and he dropped names through the whole thing. Would constantly be talking about, you know, his education. He would talk about his classmates. When he'd talk about his early work he'd talk about this person and that person, often referring to them only by their first name or their last name. Kind of just talking in this shorthand, and he knew the interviewee, Robert A.M. Stern, one of his proteges, another architect, the interviewee and the subject knew each other very well. So, it's like reading, almost like eavesdropping on two people gossiping about things, right? And you don't quite, in theory, if you saw the raw transcript, you wouldn't understand what they were talking about. So, this book which was just the manuscript we got was nothing more than a transcript of this interview. We said, "Well," the team sort of agreed, "we're gonna have to put footnotes and explain who all these people are." Every time he sort of says something, you sort of have to say, you know, who he's talking about, or if he talks about a building, what building is he talking about? If he's talking about a historical event, what's he talking about? And so we decided that what we would do is not only have footnotes describing each of those things, but illustrate the footnotes. So that the book itself, the manuscript itself has no illustrations, but the footnotes are lavishly illustrated. If he says, "Well when I was at, when I was in graduate school with Joe." Then it would say, Joseph Blake McGillicuddy, you know, 1901- was an American architect, blah, blah, blah with a picture of McGillicuddy and a picture of one of his buildings. And so like, you know, it completely turned the subject, the way of doing this thing upside down so that, it's not a picture book, but instead it has like, you know, hundreds of illustrations all of which are illustrating not the main text, but the footnotes. That's my favorite way of doing it. To just figure out some way to take what the requirement is and do it in a slightly more interesting, unexpected way. And I don't think, you know, I never, there was no street I walked on in the last year since I designed that book where I encountered anyone who slapped me high-fives and said, "Ace job on those footnotes in that Philip Johnson interview book, Bierut." Cause like-- A boy can dream, can't they? Yeah a boy can dream, yeah. (audience laughs) But I think, instead, what you're just looking for is someone to have a more satisfying experience with the text. And I think And not let the design get in the way. And not let the design get in the way. So I sort of, if someone just I kind of... I'm one of those people who, if someone says, "This is boring, spice it up." My fear, my first question is, what's the boring part, the text? Cause if the text is boring, we've got a problem. Because if we're publishing a book, and it's not worth reading, it doesn't matter what I do with the footnotes, no one's gonna slog through this thing. They'll be amused by with what I do with the typography for a moment, but otherwise it's just gonna be a lot of flashy, empty calories, and meanwhile, underlying it all, is this boring thing that no one wants to read. So, graphic designers, when we talk about graphic designer as editor, graphic designer as curator, I think it's about taking a really critical look at the material you're working with and saying, "Why would someone be interested in this? And how can I help pique that interest and sustain that interest?" And I think if the question is, why would someone be interested in this? Is like, "Heck if I know. I'm not." You know, that's like a really bad sign. I've designed a couple of books where I didn't care about the subject matter, and they're among the worst things I've ever designed. None of you have ever seen these things, because I've sort of like, suppressed them in my history. But you could them as bonus for people who sign up. (chuckles) Yeah, exactly. Chilling idea, by the way. Or people -- Available on April Fool's Day. Or people who's payment bounced somehow. Punish them by burying them with these books. But when I look back and I think sort of, "What was wrong with me, how did I fail that thing?" It's really because it was about a subject that I didn't care about. Because what your... The book cover designers never quite said this explicitly, but what's always interesting about designing a book, or designing a book cover is that you're sort of the intermediary between two people. One person is the author of the book who knows the book by heart. Obviously cares deeply and desperately about the subject matter. Or why did they spend all of the time writing a book about it? And on the other hand, is someone who's never read the book. Who, up to a moment ago, may not have known the book existed. And in between those two parties, is you, the designer. You're the one who's gonna, like, create the physical manifestation of the first party's ideas in a way that kind of communicates to the second party the potential reader, "Hey! This is something you might be interested in." Right? So if you can't be both a surrogate and an advocate for both of those parties, you are not gonna serve the project that well. You sort of, I mean, if you think, I hate this book and it's stupid, and no one should read this, you know, are you gonna do a good job designing the book? Kind of a spite, hate design process? You know? I don't know, I can't imagine that happening. The few times where I sort of thought, okay, I was slow, I needed some work, I'll design a book on that subject. Then, you can tell, the whole book looks as exhausted and bored as I was, you know? (Jessica chuckles) And what's interesting was that the one I'm picturing to the horror in my mind right now, it was really spiced up. I really, I kept trying to wake myself up, by sticking stuff on it. And it just seemed so desperate and sad. It's like looking at some school pictures of yourself where you have like a terrible haircut and acne. You just don't wanna, you wanna just forget about it. Special bonus comment. Nice question, Jim. Don't ask anymore questions like that. (chuckles)

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.