Archives for category: Creativity

This is part one of a three-part series called “change the view.” As I write the other parts, I’ll link to them there.

Twin, by Robert Ryman, 1966, MOMA, NYC [audio description]

“The artist imposed two limitations on his paintings: all are white and all are square. Working within these constraints, Ryman demonstrates the broad range of effects made possible by varying the type of paint, how it is applied, and the support.”

After a full day of ebook workshops early in 2013, I found that taking a break and sitting in front of this painting at MOMA to be a very relaxing moment.


I then started to notice that people walking by had one of two reactions: to laugh at it or to experience it.


Admittedly, it begs the question “What is art?” in a museum full of beautiful and fantastical pieces.


To me, it spoke of limitless possibilities that can still exist within boundaries.


Sometimes we crave something stimulating in order to recharge. A brand new view.

Other times, we simply want rest.


Rest in this view.



eBook production doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There’s always the context that surrounds it:

  • Personal professional history | learning at school or on the job resulting in your skill set developed on or off billable time
  • Toolbox budget | budgeting for production tools and ereaders for QA
  • Deadlines | balancing your team’s ultimate goals and promised deliverables against personal and workflow pressures
  • Content | leveraging your skills most applicable to the content you’re working on (flowable, fixed, one-epub-for-all, targeted-epub-for-one-platform … and especially looking at you, ePUB3)

Add in walking the dog, petting the cat, spending time with your partner and/or kids, and keeping the house clean and it’s a wonder we keep up at all some days.

This is where a personal project can fit in. Is your to-do list filled with flowable epubs but you’re curious about fixed layout? Do you develop highly-designed ebooks for iBooks but wonder what graceful degradation looks like across platforms? Do you work on straight-text but wonder about art-heavy ebooks? Or do you work on art-heavy ebooks but wonder about pushing the typography limits of digital text?

Is your soul satisfied at the end of the workday or do you have an idea that won’t leave you alone?

A personal project can remind you of why you started down the ebook path to begin with. All it takes is some time, the glimmer of an idea, and wanting to s-t-r-e-t-c-h that little extra more and see what’s on the other side of deadlines and daily work tasks.

Of course, a personal project needs parameters just as a live work project does because we don’t have all the time in the world. If you have an idea for content that you’d like to use to expand your ebook development skills, ask yourself:

  • Where is the content being generated from? my camera, my writing, public domain material, a friend’s manuscript
  • What format(s) would best display the content? flowable, fixed, enhanced, ePUB2, ePUB3
  • What development tools and ereading devices or apps will you use for your toolkit? so many possibilities
  • Is there a deadline? even if the project doesn’t go live it’s good to set one to keep yourself motivated
  • Will you distribute the ebook? among friends, sell through your website or through a vendor
  • How does this project make me feel? happy, frustrated, curious, free, motivated

This has been on my mind lately and I finally came up with an idea to put my own photographs and writings into an ebook format in time for the new year. It will be fun to experiment without a hard-and-fast deadline and learn as I’m having fun. As long as the cat gets petted and the house stays clean, all will be well.

If you’ve worked on personal ebook projects, what are the lessons you’ve learned along the way?

This one goes out to all of my #ePrdctn friends, my fellow book designers in the challenging economy, and all of us in publishing who are riding the wave of change. “Never get too comfortable” … yeah, we have that covered!

Travis Cain Re-invention 10

This was Travis Cain’s presentation at the 2010 AIGA Gain Conference in New York City, 2010.
Via pica + pixel.

I am in love with an 80-year-old man. Or … let’s say, I’m in love with an 80-year-old man’s creative, gentle soul.

Have you guys seen the documentary Bill Cunningham New York? We caught it at the Kendall Square Cinema on Saturday in a packed theater of all ages. Bill Cunningham is a fashion photographer known for his “On the Street” column for the New York Times. He takes candid shots of both everyday and famous people on the streets of NYC and assembles them in groups or collages. The uniting themes of each of his collages arise organically from what he notices from behind his camera. He scoots around the city on his bike and lives in an apartment in which he asked the landlord to take out the kitchen cabinets and appliances in order to fit in his scores of metal filing cabinets filled with his archived shots reaching back to the 1970s.

“It isn’t what I think, it’s what I see,” Mr. Cunningham says. “I let the street speak to me. You’ve got to stay on the street and let the street tell you what it is.”

There’s a lot about fashion in the film, of course, and that’s always fun, but what really draws me to Bill is his approach to his craft. His openness to new experiences fuels his creative drive. He is described as wanting “nothing more than to be able to stand on the street and wait to be thrilled by what someone is wearing. Period.” I think this is also what makes a good graphic designer. The ability to be open … in other words, to not care about ego or your own message, but to cultivate the skill of bringing the pieces of different ideas together (the message of the copy, popular culture, unifying themes, quirky juxtapositions) into a new idea, whole unto itself.

And he’s ok with the fact that “most of [his] pictures are never published.” He’s not editing himself when he’s out there collecting his shots. The time for editing is later when the column is being put together. Sometimes I feel like I skip this step and go right into “editing” mode when I’m designing (and when I’m working on my own artwork at home). This film is very much about waiting patiently to be thrilled by a new idea (after putting in the prep work to get to a place where you are ready) and is a delightful reminder that it’s possible for this to happen every day.

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.