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Graphic Design Fundamentals: Getting Started

Lesson 12 of 18

Designing a Book Layout: The Details

Timothy Samara

Graphic Design Fundamentals: Getting Started

Timothy Samara

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Lesson Info

12. Designing a Book Layout: The Details
Typeface, alignment, transitions, even the color of the cloth of a hardbound book: these are all factors in cover to cover book design. Timothy demonstrates the process of creating a book cover in line with his client’s artistic vision, finalizing the process, and bringing the project to execution.

Lesson Info

Designing a Book Layout: The Details

Given all of that, while that was going on, I started looking at cover sketches. And, I didn't really go through that many. The photographer made a selection of five or six, and I introduced titling onto all of them. The choice of type face was really intuitive and I didn't really have to ask questions about it. I knew it wanted to be, I knew, how did you know? I knew it wanted to be a sans serif for its cleanliness, for its geometric and linear quality. I knew that I wanted a contemporary sans serif and not something that carried a kind of a timestamp, like Futura, which can appear very dated, very kind of 1930s, 1940s, very quickly. I knew that I wanted a very, sort of geometrically pronounced proportion to the letters. That I wanted to feel the square, and the circle, and the half square, which are derivative of old Roman structure. Very classical in, sort of, type design sort of structure, in order to lend weight and to also emphasize the relationship between the text and the image...

s. So I took some time, but maybe a couple of days, at a maximum, kind of looking at these configurations. The further I went along, the more it became clear that, again, just like the interior, it was really going to be the photograph on the cover that created the experience and the type just needed to be quiet. Strong, but quiet, almost silent. So rather than, as happens in these, where the text element, because of its asymmetrical position and the tension that it creates with certain kinds of planar edges, or forms, or areas of high contrast, or near edge relationships, or overlaps, becomes very very active relative to the image. It becomes kind of a part of the movement of the sculpture, which is one way of thinking about it. What seemed to make the most sense was to kind of play off the centralized quality of the square image placement, and also the typography on the inside, which you'll see shortly, and let it live as a single line. To define the horizontal axis, for the most part, whether high or low, and we went back and forth between these two particular images, and a third one which eventually became the cover. And it also started to direct us in terms of color. Initially the sculptor had really envisioned a black and white cover. Such that the coloration of the steel, and any surrounding atmospheric material would be totally minimized, and the geometry would become very very pure, almost austere, kind of spiritually quiet and reserved. But there was something about that, that the longer we looked at it, it seemed very off putting. It became almost too cold, a little bit too academic, and lost some of the humanity, or the physicality of the objects. They just become sort of, line and shape compositions. Whereas when the image is in color and you can get a sense of the sky against which that structure is juxtaposed in your view, is that you sense, not only the scale of it, but you can also see the color of the steel as it weathers, you can see the surface activity of rust, and changes to the surface that were made in the production, the fabrication process, and you get a kind of a warmth from it. Against the fact that you know, in contrast to the fact that it is this bold, very rigorous, sort of analytical kind of visual statement. So, because the cover was beginning to move towards this kind of warmer situation, I started to look at cloth for the exterior boards because it was going to be hardbound. So these are a selection of colors, mostly playing off, mostly playing off of the idea of these kinds of, sort of, sometimes grayed out sand colors, some of the deeper rusts and russets, the black. So I looked at a number of relatively subtle kinds of colors. First in these, so this sort of grouping of four, really looking at a kind of a cool to warm relationship, that the cover is going to, the steel on the cover was going to carry a lot of warmth with it being somewhat in the yellow orange range, even if a little bit de saturated or duller in some cases. So I played the cover against a more neutral, cooler gray and then also wanted to see what would happen against a warmer, kind of taupier gray. I then, and then whether darker or lighter, here beginning to approach kind of black, a deeper charcoal, now that would sort of correspond to the shadows, and then what would happen if that became very very cool. I looked at much more intense colors where the gray actually began to take on a kind of a color identity, where it was no longer really just gray, it really started to become a kind of a violet. As a contrast to the kind of yellow, and sand tones. And then also a kind of a very derivative colored cloth, looking at the kind of the orange and rust sort of color of the sculpture. As a last sort of a set I looked at very very pale colors. In the top, something so close to white that it might as well have been. Where it began to feel more like it was part of the inside of the book and not really the covering, where the jacket that wrapped it would be, really the thing that you focused on, and that the color play wouldn't really start until you began to see the images inside. And then last, a kind of a muted, de saturated blue, to kind of play off the sky, again, as a kind of, in a kind of a temperature contrast to the warmth of the metal. And how would you know how the images would look on the different colored cloth, are there tools for that? So the hard cover, it's wrapped by the jacket so generally it remains hidden, unless you take the jacket off and open the book, you know if you put the jacket, if you're one of those... But you wouldn't print a photo on the cloth that would be under? No no no no no, it's just the outer wrapping. Oh oh okay. But, the coloration, you know as you traverse the kind of the experience of the book as an object from the outside, which is the wrapper, the jacket, to its cover, to its frontispiece, the endpapers, to the front matter, to whatever color is separating one section from another, is that that color play becomes something that is also, you see it, in direct juxtaposition, even when the book is closed you can see how the photograph of the cover is interacting with the edges of the book cloth that you're seeing. So, and then, most of the photographs inside, you know were sort of split, first off between full color and pure black and white. So there was already a tremendous contrast where, really almost anything could have worked. But second, the groups of photos, depending on the sculpture itself varied tremendously. Some were very colorful because the sculptures are actually painted, so the steel is turned blue or red or violet or orange, like really orange. And in other cases the steel is left natural, in which case, if it's been anodized it remains kind of black and gray, and if it's allowed to weather, if it's a certain kind of steel, like corten, it rusts over time and you get all kinds of strange, iridescence and variation. So, after that extensive process, we produced it. So these are, this is the actual color. We went with a, kind of a light, neutral sand, because the cover, as you'll see shortly, is very colorful. So, and as a simple treatment, the artist name was de bossed into the surface so it creates a slight sheen as the fibers were crushed in the de bossing process. This is the cover itself. (coughs) Excuse me. Again, a very very dramatic, sort of, composition. Which is really the sole work of the photographer. I had nothing to do with cropping, and cropping was not allowed, and really, my only interference was having to have the title on the cover. We actually talked about not having any text on the cover at all, which is, it happens. If the photography, or if the image is so powerful, that even the slightest, sort of conventional application is going to distract from it, you know, it's something to consider. But ultimately we decided that, you really want to have a title. You'll see even here, but you'll see even more clearly, I chose as a contrast to this particular sans serif, a very old style serif which you see as a kind of a supporting element. And we decided to actually run the text in that face. This is the frontispiece, this is the jacket wrapping the interior. It's a, kind of a, sort of a riff on the sort of deep, sort of rusted, sort of steel, colors. And it has a slight texture to it, which gives it this kind of geometric quality, because the pattern is very repetitive, it's not randomized as a texture, it creates kind of a tactility like as though it's not just paper anymore. When you turn that page to the half title page, the backside of the endpaper is a reflective metallic surface. So you get the sense of the steel in kind of it's native, sort of quality, the steel as though it has yet to be altered, or adulterated, mediated by the artist. To the half title, in which we ended up using one of the other photographs that we had considered for the cover. And then, to the table of contents. Again very very spare, you can see here, all of the material is governed, is organized, into one of those leftward groupings of columns, where you can feel the left most column on this particular page still exists and the margin beyond that. You can feel the square of those rows. So the margin's out here, there's one row, two rows, three rows, four rows, five rows, and six, we actually sort of dropped a little bit lower because some of the content expanded. All of the material, all the text, the listings are aligned flush left, and the page numbers, or folios, are aligned flush right, directly in front of them. Which is a little bit different than one conventionally finds page numbers, which are often grouped out here with some kind of dot leader or a line element that connects them. In doing it that way, we would have supported the sense of the center axis on the page, but it would not have created the internal square that you can almost see here. It would have distracted from the sense that this is the upper left hand corner of that central square focus area. And it would also have brought the page numbers very far away from their listing, so, as you're scrolling down and trying to connect the chapter or section, project to it's page number, it becomes a little bit tricky. So I find that, often that, placing the page numbers to the left of the listing, actually makes it much easier to relate the page number and where you're going to find that content. So I do that a lot. This is just a detail of the contents, showing the typography. So, everything was set in the same weight of the sans serif. The lightweight, there was no bold, to medium, to light contrast. Again, trying to quiet the typography down, and really only using kind of color change to create contrast between, to differentiate, number from text, or heading from text. And it's really just size change that creates the contrast. Which is also the same logic that is used to create contrast among the images. This is the preface. So here, this is structured on the two, across the center axis to two of the other columns. Here is a closeup of the subsequent spread, one of the essays, and you see here the older style serif that seemed to make a lot more sense to introduce that as a contrast just for the text writing. Not for headings, not for the folio and running head at the top, which are kind of global, sort of structural kinds of typography, they're navigational devices. But initially had looked at, of course, setting all the text in the same face. But it became at that point clear it was just too similar. So here's the basic text layout. So you see the square, it's present. It is set up really as a symmetrical, two column manuscript structure, which is reflective of medieval or renaissance book structure. Which brings a certain level of authority, or the perception of credibility, or of academic rigor to the reading experience. The width of the column, the size of the text within that column and how many characters you are likely to encounter are all carefully studied variables in order to deliver the most even spacing in the lines of text, which are set justified, that is aligning on both the left and the right side, rather than ragging. Again, to reinforce the geometry. That creates some spacing issues, as different numbers of words of different length kind of show up in the same measurement. So the spacing changes. So if you have ever looked at a newspaper, or a magazine, you've seen these big holes or rivers in between some of the words and then sometimes the words are so tight together that you can't tell where one starts and one ends. That's a problem, that's very much a part of setting text in a justified setting. So those kinds of variables became really really important in terms of determining, you know, what really is the point size and is it legible for this particular type face, for this older serif. Yeah. I have a question, is the left and right, I guess it's margin, so from the right side of the text to the right side of the... Here to here? Yes. They are mathematically the same, what you're seeing is a little bit lift of the fold of the book into the valley. Yeah so here you even see a little bit of the page dropping away towards the edge. Mhmm. So, the square. I mean here I was able to get a little bit of what I wanted which was to be able to insert an image on occasion. Simply to break up this wall of endless gray, to provide a moment, a punctuation in that space, without really disturbing the overall kind of simplicity. And that kind of ping ponging that I like so much, I was able to introduce for the caption for the image. Since there's only one image on the page, and there's no question as to what that caption refers to, is that the caption could really be placed anywhere, and it would stand out as being something of note, simply because all the text is constrained inside this box. So anything that's outside of that, that's different, takes on a kind of, a certain kind of importance, a certain kind of presence. Varying that kind of set up, again, from spread to spread, so that there's a little bounce, you know from high and small to low and big, back to the text all by itself again. So you return to seeing the basic structure. And then the ending of that particular essay culminates with the text running out where it runs, you know text ends. And then finishing off with a photograph full bleed. So these are just additional pages, this is the beginning of a project, always an orange full bleed page on the left, the title set in the orange on the right, and then the opening description. And you'll just see a variation on these as we go through. So, there's a closeup looking at the caption relative to the title of the work, and being able to see the textural difference between the serif and its warmer, rounder, more organic, sort of brush like quality and the sort of clean, etched, sort of linearity of the sans serif. This is one of the four page setups, or the four image setups. In a lot of cases we ended up just bleeding the images to the gutter, and in some cases, we cheated the size either down or outward a little bit so we would get some space, depending on what was really happening in here. So this was a particular case where the client, a photographer, was really interested in how this curve kind of flowed into the diagonal of the other image, from left to right. Juxtaposition of a full bleed and an inset. In this case the photograph was actually not a square, and it happened, but in that case we brought it to the original, sort of grid, the internal grid line. As had been intended. There's another one. And sometimes we cheated them a little bit, there's always a cheat somewhere. If you look at anything designed on a grid, there's always something a little bit off and after a while you no longer care. So these are just, here is one of the full, sort of horizontals. There were very few of these, so positioning them so that they weren't so close together, you know which projects were close together that had them, so you didn't run into this situation two or three times in a row in the space of 10 pages, and then suddenly you never saw this again. So, you know, where those kinds of sudden moments of, unexpected moments occurred from beginning to end became, you know, part of the process of determining what they were. There's just the text for the caption. Here's the biography, so at the end, at another point there are these listing kinds of information. So this is the sculptor's biography and a list of his major exhibitions. Now, using, rather than focusing on the two central columns, using the same width but shifting it over so that it begins at the left, some of these listing elements began to take up more than one page or one spread, depending on how, what the specific information was. So, in order to conserve page count and paper, we would move the information as far to the left as possible in case we needed to break it into four columns and then continue on the next page. So it gave us, still that grid gave us enough options as the information changed. And there's a detail of the bibliography. Again these little headings, just a little bit of a contrast. You know, sort of similar size as the serif, but similar texture as the heading so it creates this kind of, sort of glue, between the two extremes. So there's a kind of a transition, from one kind of state, so one visual state in the typography to another visual state.

Class Description


  • Identify and apply fundamental graphic design elements
  • Add essential design skills to your toolkit
  • Approach and manage the creative process through varied projects


You don’t need to have a background in fine arts or be an Adobe InDesign whiz to create compelling designs. In this class, Timothy Samara takes you back to the fundamentals of graphic design - the same principles he has consistently returned to in his 25-year career.

Through real-world projects, you’ll learn the basics of:

  • Form and image
  • Color theory
  • Typography
  • Layout and composition

Most unique about Timothy’s class is his demonstration of how design theory manifests in actual projects; he cracks open his professional portfolio and takes you into the world of how real designers work. With an extensive career behind him, Timothy’s design services have spanned from web design to print media, to interface design, and to building brand identity. By walking through Timothy’s creative process, you not only see how design elements interact and impact an overall product, but you get a rare view of the problem-solving graphic designers do and the decisions they make. What rules exist and when are they broken? How do you juggle meticulous research vs. spontaneity?

Whether you want to design a poster, flyer, or logo - this class will give you the insights you need to design with confidence. Welcome to the art and science of graphic design.


This class is designed for beginner and intermediate graphic designers as well as more experienced designers looking for a brush-up on design principles, career-changers, marketing team members, and anyone interested in graphic design fundamentals.


Timothy Samara is a New York-based graphic designer and educator whose twenty-five career has so far focused on visual identity and branding, communication design, and typography. Since 2000, he has split his time between professional practice and academia, defining a highly respected reputation as an instructor at the School of Visual Arts, Parsons/The New School for Design, Purchase College SUNY, New York University, The University of the Arts, and Fashion Institute of Technology. Mr. Samara is a frequent university lecturer and contributor to design publications both in the U.S. and abroad. He has written eight books on design to date (all from Rockport Publishers), which have been translated into ten languages and are used by students and practitioners around the world.

Connect with Timothy online: LinkedIn

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a Creativelive Student

Wonderful class! I loved getting the info as to the creative process. Great!

sixtina maculan

Thank you for sharing your experiences in this class. It's been a pleasure to listen, learn and understand, as well as a wonderful motivation.

Øyvind Hermans

I love this class, clear and precise information with very interesting examples. I have worked as a graphic designer for 6 years but have no design eduction, so at times I feel like there is these gaps of design-knowlegde in my decisions, this was the perfect filler of these gaps.