In my previous post, I wrote about the book design process. Bookstore field trips are a great way to keep inspired through rounds and rounds of book design cycles. I wanted to share the field trip handout I give to our layout artists. It is customized for our publishing list, but feel free to customize it to your own publishing list or client needs. It can be used by one person or a group of people. The point of this type of research is not to copy others’ work, but to be inspired by the way other book designers found answers for their own design challenges. I also placed it as a downloadable PDF in the Appendix section of this blog. I sometimes use parts of it myself after hours when I find myself in a bookstore after work with a cup of coffee and some uninterrupted time ahead of me. Bliss.

Let me know how it goes, and also leave a comment if you have other ways that you like to stay inspired. If possible, visit your local independent bookstore on your field trip. They need all the help they can get. And be prepared after your book research to walk out with an armful of books. It never fails to happen!

Bookstore Field Trip for Book Designers

Book design research helps us to be aware of current design trends to stay competitive, reminds us of design basics, and gives us a stockpile of design solutions. Find as many of the following examples as you can. Don’t feel like you have to complete the list or follow it in order—it’s just a starting point for brainstorming.

Write down the books that you find for future reference. The interiors may be accessible thru’s “look inside” feature . . . or take a picture with your camera phone . . . or sketch what you find. Take note of the paper stock and binding of the books you pick up (uncoated paper vs. coated paper, paperback vs. hardcover, type of binding). These factors can play a role in how a book is designed.

If you’re in a group, meet up and share what you find. Discuss how you can apply these solutions to your books. You’ll return to your work space with a folder of ideas.

  • Find a book you like (any category is fine) and point out an interesting design feature of it.
  • Find a book that uses icons. How detailed are the icons? Are they easy to understand without a usage key?
  • Find a book that has extensive forms / charts / tables. How are shading and rules used to help give structure to them?
  • Find two books: one with a very simple, clean chapter opener treatment and one with a chapter opener that is more involved with many elements. Compare the way they use fonts and white space.
  • Find two gift-type books: one book in black and one book in 1-, 2- or, 4-color. Compare the way they use fonts, white space, and art.
  • Find a 1-, 2- or, 4-color cookbook. Pick out an interesting design feature. How many recipes fit on a page? Is this determined by recipe length?
  • Find a 1-, 2- or, 4-color travel book. Pick out an interesting design feature. What is the advantage of owning this book in print versus accessing the information on a website?
  • Find a business book. Pick out an interesting design feature. How is the tone of the subject matter conveyed through the fonts?
  • Find a self-help book. Pick out an interesting design feature. How are worksheets treated?
  • Find a book that has many different design elements. How does your eye moves across the page?
  • Find a book that is a compilation of stories. Pick out an interesting design feature. Do the stories run into other or do they start new pages? How does that affect the page count? Does the book feel full or spaced out?
  • Find a running head and / or folio style that you would like to try.
  • Find a contents page design that you would like to try.
  • Find a back matter page design that you would like to try.
  • Find a book you wish you had designed and tell us why.
  • Find a book that uses a font that you wish owned. Uploading an image of it to can help identify it.
  • If you were to create the ePub or .mobi version of this title what design elements could you keep? How would you order the front matter?
  • If there’s an eReader section of the store talk to the staff about what they’re hearing from the customers. What question do they get asked frequently? What do (human) readers like or dislike about the eReaders?
  • [Insert your own search here].

Happy hunting and have fun out there.