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Thinking Like A Book Designer

Lesson 5 of 15

How Magazine Design Engages And Entertains

Jessica Helfand, Michael Bierut

Thinking Like A Book Designer

Jessica Helfand, Michael Bierut

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Lesson Info

5. How Magazine Design Engages And Entertains

Lesson Info

How Magazine Design Engages And Entertains

Thank you all for having us and for coming back. And we're gonna go right into our next section, which is judging a book by it's cover, which is a real thing. I mean, we do. And it's an important thing to know about if you're a book designer. I think understanding what that responsibility is all about. Yeah. Books are interesting because they are, you know, they're consumer packages in a way. What you buy when you buy a book and this is true whether you're buying a digital book or whether you're buying a physical book in a bookstore or you're buying it online and having it delivered to your house. You're actually buying the stories inside, the information between those covers, the images and the words that some authors have kind of assembled for you to achieve a certain effect. So, the cover of the book, the outside of the book has to function the same way at some level that pictures on a box of cereal or the label on a bottle of spaghetti sauce works. It has to sort of promise somet...

hing about what's inside. It telegraphs what's inside and this is particularly I think a concern when you're dealing with clients. Right? So, your editor may feel one way, your client may feel another way and you feel a third way. And I wanna talk first about the idea of magazines because I think that there's a rich history in how designers have navigated this territory. Suggest quickly to take you through some of the greats and I'm really delighted to be starting with a woman. Cipe Pineless, who was a designer of many publications in the middle of the century. So, you can see by these two covers for Seventeen magazine the playfulness of the image on the cover. The way the lines of the umbrella kind of correspond to the slant of the letter forms of Seventeen, the reflection, the woman leaning over to the side, the one on the top with the bicycle. So, this is sort of the beginning of after a lot of stay publications in the early part of the 20th Century. The idea that the magazine could be playful and that playfulness was itself an invitation to buy the magazine and look inside. Henry Wolf worked at many magazines, including Esquire. Started a magazine called Show. And I think made a name for himself at Harper's Bazaar. And I think like Cipe Pineles he understood that these magazine covers were in a battle for your eyeballs. Books have always been more expensive. Magazines are much more of an impulse buy. Even 'til this day, if you're at the airport or if you're going by a newsstand, if you think you're gonna have 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour to kill you think, oh I want something to read and a lot of times you will buy a magazine. Then you just scan all these covers and one of them will jump out to you. I'd like to think that we live in an age of universal progress but I think sometimes there's evidence of the contrary. And I think if you were to go back in time and see a newsstand from the 50's or 60's, even in the 70's, you'd see a lot of crummy horrible covers but you'd see probably just enough of them like these from Henry Wolf and Cibe Pineless that just jumped out at you as being just remarkable pieces of graphic design. And I wanna mention something else that for any magazine designer who's dealing with newsstands, which is for example an alumni magazine from a school doesn't necessarily get sold on a newsstand but if you're Bazaar you have to catch the eye of the consumer. And so, we're gonna talk very briefly about this idea of cover lines. So Cosmopolitan, GQ, they tell you everything that's inside. They tend to be just these laundry lists of content. So imagine in the 1950's and 60's doing something like this where the playfulness of the typography evokes the nature of the sound coming out of the phone but also corresponds to this beautiful composition that probably made people wanna buy the issue. And how great that Cibe Pineles work did a time where Seventeen magazine had no cover lines at all. Can you imagine? No cover lines at all. And then-- Nevermind like 45 ways to like do this or 102 ideas about that, you know. Right. Everything you need to know about buying squat. Yeah, heres a lady with an umbrella. Sign me up. And again we talked briefly about Bradbury Thompson before he designed the Washburn Bible, but he was also known as many, many things as a stamp designer for the U.S. Postal Service. Wonderful early modernist designer who also had an incredible classical strain to the work that he did. So, this combination of these women in Mademoiselle on top of the typography where he repeats the love of seven times. And he has the woman leaning over, so that her face is part of the letter forms. This was renegade work back in those days. And it's also, it's interesting I never thought of this before you mentioned it but he really was known as a stamp designer. He designed stamps for the United States Postal Service. And if you're able to do that. If you're able to do something that's striking and vivid when it's that big. I think all of his work whether it's a bible, whether it's a magazine cover has that sort of simplicity and focus on images that you could reduce down to the size of a stamp and it would still work. It's certainly true with those covers. He was an incredible colorist but I think he was also the most elegant person. The sweetest person, not for nothing. He was a professor of mine in graduate school and he always took us all out to eat at the end of the semester and paid, which for any future aspiring professors in this room I highly recommend that as a wonderful thing you can do for your students. It doesn't have to be a fancy restaurant. There were pitchers of beers there. (laughing) But he was a wonderful, wonderful man. Other kinds of magazines are more straight forward. Would you like to talk about Massimo's Oppositions? You can see on the left that was a magazine that my mentor Massimo Vignelli did and it was a specialist magazine. It was about architecture and visual culture and it went to a highly educated academic audience. It did not like Mademoiselle or Seventeen or Harper's Bazaar have to fight for eyeballs on a newsstand. In fact, I think it was meant to signal that even though it was soft cover, even though it was inexpensively printed, this was serious stuff in there. And very much that signature color he used in a lot of things, that very sort of orange, red. And what better than working like a stop sign. You know, it's just white letters smack dab in the middle of a simple red form. It works when you're driving a car and it works when you're looking for something to read. And you can see it's a three column grid. And if you opened it up it was mostly text. As I recall pictures that were not great, reproduction that was not fantastic but it was meant to really seem like it was about the seriousness of the content. Really controlled in terms of the typographic grid. And I have to say back in the 70's we didn't really talk about branding as a thing. That's like not a word in common parlance. But if you think back to the work we showed a few minutes ago of Ellie Coons and Brockman, this is somebody who really understood the grid as just the beginning of something that could create an evocative, beautiful, elegant balance cover. And if you look on the right, these are examples of a self initiated project that I did a number of years ago at my studio Winterhouse where we were interested in picking a topic and doing a newspaper. And we called it Below the Fold, which is a term in newspapers about the fact that things that are lesser important occur below the fold of the newspaper. And we thought what if we picked out these things that were important and made the whole thing about below the fold and so each issue begins with a fully justified column of type that talks about the topics that we're going to address. The first one is about the visualization of danger. The second one next to it is the work of a wonderful designer named Emery Ryner, who did Provocative letter Forms in the 1920's and 30's. The third one which we later made issue one was my husband's collection of Volume one, Number One magazines, which he thought were really interesting because they had the kind of unbridled enthusiasm of the person who wanted to take over the world. And nine times out of ten there was never an issue too. (mumbles) So, this was a sort of funny thing at this utopian magazine designer. And then the fourth one was the last show of the ACD 100 Show, which originally was the society of typographic designers in Chicago. A very important group of typographers and their exhibit. And so the idea was to really use the grid and create something that looked the same each time and then inside we would use a very simple grid to explore any (mumbles). What I admire about that publication Beyond the Fold was that sometimes and I think Barbara talked about this a little bit too you take your cues from material and sometimes doing the obvious thing is like the right thing. And if you think about it magazines are supposed to have their titles at the very top. The important things are high. Their support about what goes below. A few cover lines that you can read that will jump right out at you. And this turns all that upside down. It's got the name is like down the lower half. There's not a cover line but a whole introduction of what the subject matter is above much more than you can read if you were quickly walking by a newsstand. And it's all justified really by what the publication's about. It's supposed to be exploring things deeply that actually would otherwise escape notice. So, which (mumbles) builded was he sort of took all those cues and made a whole series of visual decisions, not just at random, not just 'cause they were handsome but because they were all supporting the idea. Hanson wasn't that far from what we were going for but no hyphenation. Yeah. How did she do it? It's the theme today. How did she do it? (laughing) Sometimes magazines overtime reinvent themselves with every issue. This is sometimes that Dave Eggers has done with McSweeney's. But I thought it was interesting to point out that there is a kind of common visual about vocabulary. The idea if it's black and white. The idea that language is illustration. The idea that these things are playful and circular and complicated and layered. And he's a writer who's always been interested in the magazine as a vehicle for not only expressing new ideas and sometimes very sort of irreverent comedic ideas but looking at the ways that those magazines themselves can actually reinvent themselves. So, what is it that brands it, to use that word again, as a series? What is the inclusive nature by which we understand that even though it may say McSweeney's this big, McSweeney's this big? We always know what it is. He changes the (mumbles). He changes the grid. And when we talk about the struggle that writers and editors can have with designers and art directors. In this case, there is no struggle unless it's an internal one 'cause Dave Eggers is both the editor and the designer. And it makes for some interesting things because he's then able to write as he's designing. And I almost think it would not be possible to do covers like this unless you did them that way. You sort of have different vision of this intricate kind of tapestry you're gonna weave out of words and graphic devices. And then you just have to be willing to bowel that through and kind of weave that whole thing together by providing the words by inventing the words actually. Right. And to get into this issue particularly in publication design what is same and what is different? How much does there have to be that connect the dots, so the viewer can navigate? Now in a classic magazine, a classic trade magazine there's something called the front of the book. There's something called the end of the book. There's the feature well, so the big stories are in the middle. Designers always want the feature well to be not interrupted by advertising, which occasionally you're lucky and occasionally you're not. Sometimes the thing that actually makes the series different is in the case of Poetry magazine we hired a different illustrator for every issue. They had to be silhouetted on a white background. Occasionally there was some weird things like when we hired (mumbles) to do the comedy issue and she decided that she was going to change the name of Poetry to Peotry. (laughing) And we literally had to apply to the U.S. Postal Service because this was mailed to subscribers for one month to change the name from Poetry to Peotry and then we changed it back. It was worth it. So, sometimes these deviations are extremely subtle but they can be very, very powerful. David Carson as a designer who now is very well known and as a medalist really became, did all. (mumbles) That he did all as early experimenting in magazines. First with Transworld Skateboarding and then ultimately with Raygun. I think because he perceived his opportunity as an invitation to communicate with a very small intense audience. And this was an audience of surfers, skateboarders and that kind of culture. Which is to say it's not clear how literary they were or illiterate they were. No, I think they might be very literate for all we know. Yeah, this is where we always disagree. Sorry, this is just to funny. I once said to David Carson in an interview. I said of course you can do that because no one who reads your magazine went to school passed the second grade. And he took great offense as he should have. Yeah, he should have. That's a terrible thing to say. You said it to a worldwide audience and I'd to apologize on behalf of Jessica for that insult she just lodges against. I'm normally a very nice person. Yes she is a nice person. Not when it comes to-- Not a nasty person as far as I know. (laughing) But I have stamina. And I can loom behind her as she talks if that makes (mumbles). (laughing) There was remarkable experiments on every page of Raygun that really just made it an absolute landmark of publications designed in the 90's. And I think David went on, has gone on to design some amazing books. landmark book for the photographer Albert Watson. Called Cyclops. Called Cyclops, which is a gorgeous amazing book. And I think what he's able to do is take the experimentation he was able to do and fix something disposable, which a magazine is. And he would just try something on a page one month. If it didn't work and then the next issue he'd do something else. And I think one of the daunting things about book design as oppose to magazine design is that when you're designing a book you really do feel like you're designing something that may be in someone's library 10 years from now, 20 years from now or 100 years from now. Books are designed to endure. Magazines and other kinds of (mumbles) or printed (mumbles) that graphic designers do is designed to be recycled, poked and then turned into some other recycled thing. The up side though of working in a so called disposable medium is that the pressure to deliver with every decision you make is dialed down a little bit. You're able to take chances, take risks and when they work they can really pay off. And you have to have an editor who's willing to let you do that. But I think he certainly was a pioneer in really rethinking the relationship of pictures to words, to sequences, to language, to readability has had a lasting effect on a generation of designers who not only look at publication design differently but look at graphic design differently. This is the opposite. Michael and I Design Observer started a few years ago. A project that blurbed to do a printed on demand magazine. We also pick a topic for issue like Below the Fold. This cover on the left hand side was our first issue. We had a conference on the nature of what it is to deal with acoustics and design. And created a publication based on that. Record albums and what sort of oral sensibilities look like when rendered visual. But I include these spreads here because as you can see they all basically look alike. So, we've created a publication where the first opening spread of every article looks identical. And what you maybe can't see is that, that grid ... We'll talk about this a little bit later but running hands and folios are things that you usually see at the bottom of the page and they help the reader navigate. What page am I on? Which chapter am I in in a book? We ran them up the side with pipeline, so each of the length breaks in the pipeline became a place for a lockup for the title, the subtitle, the deck and then a big image where the color was taken out of the color of the deck. And then we have more things in the publication that change from chapter to chapter. Sometimes when you're doing a publication I have found and this has no advertising, so we didn't have that impediment to deal with. Or sponsorship is great but it can be an impediment visually. To really look at something where you began each chapter and the expectation for the reader would be that this will begin with a source of calm thing. I know I can expect one paragraph and one image and one caption and then you turn the page and then it gets different. And so sometimes when you're laying out a magazine and certainly this is a case in a book too, but I think particularly in a publication to actually create some regular set of interventions that navigate the view or that anchor the reader in terms of what you're going with the material can be really useful. This is sort of the opposite. I designed a magazine a number of years ago that was really boring. It was about business. Sorry. For business people in the audience not my thing. But one of the things that happens when you're doing a publication is that if it is stapled or really depending on how it is printed, if you wanna do something that jumps the gutter you can't always get alignment. But if you know you're going to have a center spread, you can go to town with alignment. And so they had a series of things they wanted to do as illustrations and I said give me the center spread and I'm going to design them all on game boards. And so it took this kind of boring information and did just looked at the grid in terms of what you could do in terms of making the thing look like something that was a little more playful given the rather dense and serious content. This is a different view of the grid but really only permissible or possible if you wanna actually, particularly if you're dealing with a big run with some magazines. I worked once at a Sunday magazine that printed a million and a half copies. I couldn't go on press with it. It was printed (mumbles). So, you really want to get at in front of what you know the printer is only going to be able to give you and therefore not try to reinvent the wheel with each thing. So, I wanna talk for a moment about a wonderful friend of ours, a partner of Michael's at Pentagram Luke Hayman, who is one of the great magazine designers of our generation. You wanna talk about Luke? Yeah, Luke is ... Can design a lot of things. Can design brand identities and exhibitions and books. But I think he made his reputation as a publication designer. And the thing that's interesting about Luke what I've learned from him was how closely he works with his editors to really achieve the best effect. Every time he's got involved in designing a new magazine or redesigning a magazine, his conversations with the editors, his ability to translate their ideas into a physical form are really not just what makes his work great but I think it's the only way he's able to do it. I think that a couple of times I've worked with him on projects where the editors were unclear about what they wanted to achieve. And in those cases you really, you know I think there is some designers who just would kind of jump right into that vacuum and say stand back I'll figure this out guys and come up with something. But Luke is so used to working with editors who have a strong point of view. And coming back with his own equally strong point of view about how that idea can be translated to physical form. That's actually what makes him such a strong designer. And this is a case unlike where the magazines that we initiate ourselves really does have to deal with advertising. And so in a case like this the idea that you would take a series of pages and create and understanding of movement and sequence and dynamism but something that is in fact very (mumbles) set of instructions is something that I think he really understands well. He's extremely elequant as a maker in terms of interpreting how design works it's way through the narrative of a magazine when it is way too often, all too often interrupted by ads. What's interesting about magazines too is that because they're regularly published. There are weekly's or monthly's if you're designing a newspaper it might be a daily. People get habituated to how to use them if I can put it that way. You open them up and you come to sort of understand what your favorite way to read it is. You might start with a part you like in the back. You might skip the beginning and go right to the middle. Which I should say is a really humbling experience. I just wanna say I was a magazine designer. My first stop out of grad school sitting in Philadelphia on the train. Had worked really hard on designing the (mumbles). These beautiful spreads. And I'm on the train and I see somebody with the Sunday paper. And this guy grabs the magazine and he goes to the back and he looks at the crossword. Then he rips it out. He looks at the food column and he rips it out. And throws the thing on the floor. I though really was it something I said? I never forgot it. What about the hyphenation I spent hours (mumbles)? No hyphenation. No hyphenation. It was a very interesting moment because you realize that these documents are public things that people parts them and read them in the order in which they choose. And that's what makes them exciting too, you know. Yeah, it does. It does. Luke's also I think a champion. We talked a moment ago about those cover lines that were really something that was sort of new I think in the 50's and 60's and now you have to do them. I think rather than see them as the thing that has to crowd your front page. He's just an exquisitely, talented, understanding of how image and type and hierarchy and sort of total package. And these are newsstands and you have to work on this. And what's interesting is that one of the things that he took pleasure. He was art director of New York Magazine for years and he took real pleasure of not trying to subvert the conventions of the business of magazine design but to play it right down the middle. You want cover lines, I'll give you cover lines. So, he and his editor Adam Moss would just build this little tier up there so carefully. What words should stand out? How do we want to grab people's attention. And not do them all the same way. It's called a roof line, often the thing that goes above. But what's so great about this is that its not just ordinarily you'll see a roof line in a magazine just it's like a thing. It's (mumbles). But the idea that you would do this. The idea that the colors would change. The idea that thing would drop down. And also cover lines needs to read advertisers and editors want them to read. But look at how he crops those photographs. So, there's tension against the page. So again, if you think about the relationship between balancing that which is variable and that which is constant. Those cover lines are clear. They're not weird and typographically, kind of off to one side. But the image then becomes the thing that illustratively creates some tension on the page.

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.