Archive for September, 2010

My First Book Cover in Just a Few Steps

Add comment September 29th, 2010

Back in 2001, The Extraordinary Higher Education Leader was published. It was one of my first books for an association. A design and layout project, it was also my first book cover.

Because it was my first cover, I really hadn’t formulated my now oft-repeated chant about how a cover must make a kind of promise to readers about what they will find inside, a promise that the book’s content and interior design must keep. In reality, I created this first cover in the shadow of the nagging concern that I might be crippled by the fact that I do not draw.

Um, yes, I said that I design but I do not draw.

The type treatment then was key. I went simple, utilizing the sans serif typeface family that I used for chapter numbers, chapter titles, first-level display heads, and running heads. I made “EXTRA” in EXTRAORDINARY an extra bold. I also singled it out by making “EXTRA” a deep blue. I positioned the title flush left, running the lines in a size that sets them short of the full type area’s measure.

What I decided to go with was a deliberately primitive and impressionistic angle. The start was a background that was, to use the word again, an impressionistic suggestion of ivy. The ivy connection, of course, goes to the words “higher education” in the book’s title, as in Ivy League.

A human pyramid depicted the leader in higher education with the topmost non-gendered block figure. (Looking at the pyramid now, I think perhaps I might have distinguished that topmost figure somehow if I did the cover today.) I further tapped into the notion of a leader who is extraordinary by coloring the pyramid the same deep blue as “EXTRA” in the title word EXTRAORDINARY.

Next I balanced the left leaning title with the flush right placement of the association’s logo in white on black. And I finished up by spelling out the name of the association at the cover’s bottom.

I do not pretend this was all such an intellectual exercise. The green background and the ivy connection was mostly an intuitive leap, for instance. But I think the creative process is kind of a mind meld between the right and left halves of the brain—at least when a visual path does not immediately present itself the moment one considers a book’s title in relation to its cover.

I’ve About Had It with Book Design

Add comment September 2nd, 2010

Okay, I’ve about had it with book design. Or a particular kind of book design. I don’t even know whether to call it bad design or what, but this book I’ve been trying to get into has finally driven me away with a headache and a very tired feeling in my eyes.

At the same time, it is a terrific-looking book with plenty of interesting elements. But taken all together, it gets in the way of reading the book. And I love to read.

Isn’t a book’s design really not supposed to get in the way of the reading? (I mean, I know I write and say all the time that a book’s design should not separate a reader from a book. I’ve always known this—just instinctively at first, and then I knew it—as I learned about making pages and setting type. But really.

I stare right now at the last page I was able to make my way through before it became impossible. My eyes actually began to feel sore as I struggled to focus on the page. And, strangely, it’s not as if the page or the whole book is a total eyesore, exactly. There’s an attractive precision to it. In the upper left corner of this page, a verso, positioned to run vertically is a subhead in, maybe, 36- or 42-point type, some sans serif. (I am not very good at coming up with the names of type on sight, no matter how much I set.)

Under the vertically-oriented subhead is a narrow display column of, perhaps, 7- or 8-point sans serif. Widely-leaded for legibility, it is still a bit small for reading more than just a couple of lines; and there are 31 such narrow lines there.

The main text area is more than 30 picas wide. The text there is set double line-spaced, in about 10- or 11-point boldface sans serif. There’s just way too much sans serif type to be read.

Then there’s a tiny 5- or 6-point sans serif in light blue, lightface sans serif. Tough to read. And if that’s not enough there’s a footnote in tinier sans serif still. I can’t really make it out without my reading glasses, which I don’t ordinarily need unless my eyes are exhausted.

Now, the only defense I can make for this designer—who is big-time famous and doesn’t need defending by little, ol’ me—is that he is also the book’s author. But still.


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