Archives for category: pBooks

The publishing industry is in a constant state of change these days, what with these new technologies and ebooks and ereaders and apps and whatnot. The changes can be overwhelming and so it’s good to put it into context. Sure, the printed book has been around, it feels like, forever but even the printed book has gone through its fair share of change.

I was browsing last month in a used bookstore in Greenwich Village, NYC, when I came upon The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski. When I handed the book over to purchase it, I mentioned to the owner of the bookstore that I was a print book designer turned ebook designer but I still loved print. He responded, in a bitter tone, “I like the first part of that but not the second. You guys are gonna put me out of business.” So remind me not to mention ebooks in a used bookstore. What I had intended was to start a conversation regarding digital versus print and I did mention that I personally don’t feel that print books are going away … but he wasn’t in the mood, or buying it, or something that prevented me from connecting to him.

Anyways, I’m enjoying the book and it’s full of reminders that reading matter has always been evolving:

“In the early centuries of [a.d.], bookshelves had to accommodate, in addition to scrolls, a growing number of bound manuscripts, or codices, which in time would displace scrolls as the preferred format for books. The codex, named for the face that it was covered with wood (codex means “tree trunk” in Latin), and which led to the term “code” in a legal context, was made by folding over flat sheets of papyrus or parchment and sewing them together into a binding. This had several distinct advantages over the scroll. Where an entire scroll might have to be unrolled to find a passage near the end, the relevant page could be turned to immediately in the codex. Also, writing in a scroll was normally on one side only, whereas the codex lent itself to the use of both sides of the leaf.”

(above, click on pic to enlarge) “In the sixteenth century, books began to have authors and titles, and the date of the edition imprinted on their spines. As long as the practice was far from universal, however, not all books were shelved spine outward. Here, a book not so imprinted is identified by a slip of paper tipped into an inside cover and folder over the book’s fore-edge.”

“Although cloth binding as we know it was first adapted to book-binding in 1823, ‘a style of binding uniform for all copies of the same book’ did not appear until around 1830, when machinery was introduced to letter the cloth-bound cases that could be fitted over the printed guts of a book. This development ushered in a new chapter in the way books were made and sold. Whereas the bookseller would bind or have bound, by hand of course, only as many copies as were likely to be sold in the immediate future—a form of just-in-time manufacturing [my note: doesn’t this sound like modern print-on-demand?]—with the advent of machinery the publisher itself began to bind an entire edition of a book in the common style of the time.”

Sure, we’re in the midst of a change in publishing … and it’s not the first time. Sure, it can be scary and uncertain and can make us fight over what we see the future as coming to. But the bottom line is that as long as people keep writing books and reading them and relating to each other through them, it’sallgood. And we can be proud to be a part of that chain that connects us all.


My husband surprised me with a book the other day. The blurb on the jacket says it’s for “transit and type nerds alike.”

That’s him + me!

We’ve kept the book, Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story by Paul Shaw, on our coffee table and have been browsing through it all week. Tonight I came upon the chapter in which Unimark International was hired by the NYCTA to help simplify the chaotic subway system maps and signage of the 1960s. This section particularly interested me as it reminds me of today’s struggle between print and digital:

The TA was glad to have Unimark’s advice, but nothing more. They did not have enough money to pay Unimark to create a complete manual of design recommendations. … Instead they sought to carry out the proposals themselves using their in-house design shop. … “It had never occurred to us that they would carry out the proposals in their own shop,” Massimo Vignelli said a year later. … The whole clash between the “signpainters”—as Vignelli called them—of the Bergen Street Sign Shop and designers at Unimark reflected fundamentally different expectations between craftsmen and designers. The former were intent on making signs while the latter were interested in sign systems.

I want to avoid making too many parallels between that situation and today’s publishing situation, but it struck me how the similarities hit close to home. Am I a “signpainter” who resists change? Am I concentrating on the little picture (“signs” or “I want to keep designing print books!“) instead of considering the bigger picture (“sign systems” or “OK, I need to keep up with how readers want their books.“)?

Most days my answer is “No!“, but I still get sensitive when it’s suggested that we print designers are in trouble, that our print mindset can’t change enough learn code, that web designers are better positioned to become digital book designers… These things may all be true for some, but it’s also true there are print designers who are passionate about books and their readers, who are ready for the challenge, who enjoy learning new things, and whose knowledge of book structure and editorial design contribute to and enhance eBook design discussions today.

But enough of philosophizing. This book is lovely and filled with pictures of old and new signage, typography specs, and user experience. Time to get back to flipping through the pages and being a type nerd. And can I say that the paper the book is printed on is sublime, it smells amazing! … P.S. It appears this book is not available as on eBook, but its pictures would look amazing on an iPad.

click on the pictures to enlarge

apologies for the blurry photos | on a related note, that is good wine

We’re back from Kansas City. Our vacation was spent hanging out with family and playing pool, bowling, eating (KC is surprisingly vegetarian-friendly), and seeing the sites. And I unplugged and went five days without a computer. A good time all around!

We toured the Hallmark Visitor Center where we got to talk to a craftsman. He was shaping the metal outline of a card that will cut out the card on press. The design he was working on had a small scalloped edge and he had to make each curve the same by hand. He was very casual about the whole thing, but his skill was amazing to watch.

There was also a video that featured the Hallmark design team. Many of them talked about what inspired them and how they recharged to keep up a high level of creativity. The answers to both issues seemed to be the same: getting out of their cubicles and seeing what their coworkers were working on. A good reminder for all of us cube dwellers that we need to get up once in a while … probably more often than most of us do.

We also visited Prospero’s Books. Visiting independent bookstores is one of my favorite things to do when visiting another city because each one has its own personality, the bookseller can be a good source of information for things to do in town, and having an hour or two to browse and find new titles and see new designs is a mini-vacation within a vacation! This store had used books in excellent condition, beautiful wooden shelving, nooks to read in, and cool artwork.

click on the picture to enlarge it

I love taking tons of pictures (luckily my poor family tolerates this) and playing with the pictures afterwards in Photoshop is fun too. I like this tutorial (the lab color method) for converting color to black and white. Here’s a picture using that method that captures the mood of that laid-back afternoon.

click on the picture to enlarge it

And now it’s Monday and time to get back to work. By the time this posts I’ll be drinking my second cup of coffee and making my to-do list. It’s good to get away and recharge and it’s good to be back.

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.

One difference between art and design is that art concerns itself with questions and design concerns itself with answers.

Successful design is an answer to a problem. If you like design, they are “fun” problems! In book design, the answers that need to be uncovered include:

  • What fonts best reflect the author’s tone?
  • How will the manuscript fit into this page count?
  • What page grid will best support the content?
  • How will the different elements of the manuscript (sidebars, lists, boxed text) be designed and placed to complement the running text?

There are lots of ways to uncover answers when I design a book interior. When an author’s book is signed onto our list, things like the design direction for the cover, the length of the manuscript and page count, the marketing plan, intended audience, and the competitive titles are discussed, and this information travels with the manuscript to me. My job as an interior book designer is gather all of this information and brainstorm on my own to come up with efficient and creative answers to the design problems and to satisfy the expectations of the Editorial, Cover Design, and Marketing departments. Here’s the tools that I have found the most useful over the years.

Book Designer’s Toolkit

Not all of these tools are used for each title. Tool selection depends on level of title (A-list books get the most attention as they have the biggest marketing push behind them), deadline, budget, and scope of project (straight text or complex layout, 1-color black or 4-color process, etc). But the items with a “✓” mark are my must-haves and apply to every title. (You can click on the images to make them larger.)

What travels with title to Production Department:

The manuscript ✓

A good place to begin, right? I don’t have to read the whole book, but reading the front matter, the first chapter, and scanning the rest of the manuscript and back matter (plus reading the marketing copy from our catalog) lets me know the author’s tone and the general structure of the text (how many chapters and headers there are, ratio of running text vs. sidebars, etc).

Creative brief ✓

This two-page brief communicates to the layout designer the stats (trim size, page count), reader demographic, art budget, structure of the book, elements that make up the manuscript, design direction. It’s not a substitute for talking one-on-one with the editor or art director, but they give us a great start and a jumping-off point for brainstorming.

Competitor titles from the Title Information Sheet

The Title Information Sheet is written by the editor when the book is signed. I find the section about competitor titles most interesting. A lot of times the interiors of these titles can be researched by Amazon’s “look inside” feature. This gives me an idea of what books might be sitting on the same shelf and of how I can make my title fit-in yet stand-out.

Cover ✓

The book interior must match the cover to make a complete package. Fonts, art, and a general design feel are all usually copied from the cover. The cover designer is also a great resource during the brainstorming process because he or she has already sat through multiple rounds of revisions with the sales team.

Word count worksheet ✓

Most straight-text books need this worksheet so that the layout designer knows how many words per page to shoot for in order to make the page count. Going up in page count will affect manufacturing costs (it will take more paper to produce the book) and a lower page count may make the book seem slim in comparison to similar titles on the shelf.

Book map

If a book has a certain number of items per page (like a cookbook with recipes or a craft book with projects) then we usually forgo the word count worksheet in favor of a book map. The editor paces out the pages so that he or she knows that they are on track with getting the right amount of material from the author.

What I generate during design process:

Font “contact sheet” ✓

After scouring my favorite typography sources I like to put together a sheet of possible fonts. That way, I can see how they get along and narrow down my choices to only fonts that support the tone of the book harmoniously.

Layout sketches ✓

Working on a computer in page layout software like InDesign sure makes the process go faster, but the trap is that anything I do in a program can look final and polished. Taking pencil to paper is the only way for me to quickly blast through ideas and, just as importantly, discard the bad ideas. Here’s a couple of examples:

Sketched cookbook recipe layouts and final design. Need for a flexible grid won out.

Sketched story title page layouts and final design. Didn’t use sketches but they helped me get rid of lots of bad ideas. Or, should I say ideas that just wouldn’t work for this title.

Art research

Many times the cover designer will have already made a folder of possible art pulled from the web. Most of them will have been discarded during the cover-approval process, but even that discarded art is useful because it will tell you the design direction not to go in. For interior designs that need spot art, I make my own folder and pull art into it for review with the art director later.

Color story

This is the same idea as font contact sheets when choosing color for 2- or 4-color books. Putting all of the colors together helps to make sure that all is in harmony. We use DS swatches for 4-color process titles to ensure accurate printing of color at the press. Messing around with color sliders can be fun, but that won’t provide you with the best mix of ink values to achieve the effect you’re looking for. Trust Pantone to figure out those mixes of color for you. This particular color story above has the final colors along with the final fonts to get a picture of the design direction before it’s applied to the manuscript.

And then the sample approval begins:

Samples ✓

This is where all of this information and all of these ideas come together. No amount of brainstorming will ever take the place of actually applying the ideas to live text. Live manuscript text can “break” the most well-thought out design … which means it wasn’t the best design because it only lived in theory. The design must be put in service for the live text. Our samples include the title page, front matter (including the full table of contents), a chapter opener or two, and a few spreads of text with all of the different elements in the manuscript represented. This is printed out because the computer screen is not the final output of this process. If the design doesn’t work on paper then it’s back to the drawing board for tweaks.

Informal meetings with editor and art director

At any time during the interior design process, we can call the editor and/or art director down to make sure we’re on the right track. Straight-text titles might not need this much attention, but complex titles can sometimes take several visits from our art director (and late in the process my tired creative brain can always be jump-started by our AD’s rapid-fire brainstorming skills).

Circulated samples to the art director and publisher ✓

The final step is emailing a PDF of the samples to the art director and publisher for final approval. If corrections are requested then they are made and another round is circulated with an updated version number. To have a sample approved during v1 is always the designer’s dream! However, this is frequently not the case and as a designer I have had to learn to suppress my ego in the name of serving the reader. After (sometimes) struggling for hours on a creative solution, I can feel possessive or defensive on my worst days. But on my good days I love the idea of teamwork and that I am but one link in this chain. It’s important that all of our departments work together to create a useful, visually appealing, and profitable product.

Graphic design is often called the “invisible art” because if it’s done right, all of the steps that were made to get to the final design are not visible … the design fades away and the content shines like it was meant to look like that all along!

In future posts, I’ll describe how bookstore field trips sustain this creative cycle and how eBook design, or even an eBook QC program, can possibly benefit from a similar process, built upon the craft and care put into print books.