July 12, 2007

Four Questions for Book Designers

Posted in books, Design, Typesetting, typography at 7:05 pm by India

Question Mark

If you’re a book designer or merely wish to play one on TV, Stephen Tiano’s got a few things to ask you. Interesting questions, interesting answers.

Photo: Questioning by Ann Douglas; some rights reserved.


  1. Cliff Burns said,

    I’m of the “less is more” school of book design. Remember the simplicity of the jackets for those Salinger books? I don’t need bright glossy covers and overblown images to catch my eye. Subtlety, grace, dignity. Terms you would not use to describe the state of design for most literary offerings…

  2. India Amos said,

    Well, I tried twice to post my own reply on Steve’s blog, but I got an error message. So here’s what I was trying to say:

    1. Depends on who I’m doing it for. At my last job, the most important thing was to make castoff; beyond that, nobody but me seemed to care what the text looked like. So I worked on making castoff.

    When size is not such a big issue, I give priority to making the text pages readable, inviting.

    2. Totally. I learned on PageMaker and have always loathed Quark. I think my first InDesign project for press was in version 1.5, and since then I have managed to convert two employers to its use, at least partially. There is nothing I prefer about Quark, except the ability to (1) create H&J styles and append them from one document to another, and (2) customize kerning pairs. I’m really surprised there’s been not even a third-party InDesign plugin for either of these functions, but I can live without them, for now.

    I must say, I’m surprised to hear that you [Steve] like the out-of-the-box Quark H&Js. I find them hideous—the word spacing is enormous, and the letter spacing is on the loose side, too. It depends on the typeface, of course, but I can’t think of any face that I’d consider optimally spaced using the defaults.

    3. I rarely have a specific typeface in mind, and I like to try new ones, but in general, when working in InDesign I prefer to use an OpenType “pro” family over anything else. It just saves me so much time to use a typeface I can control using style sheets instead of search-and-replace. That said, Minion is an old standby: full-featured, handsome, and relatively compact. I avoid using Garamond, though I can’t explain why, and I don’t think I’ve designed more than one book in Palatino in my life.

    4. I love the Bringhurst, and I value the Felici. Never got into Stop Stealing Sheep (which is most certainly not out of print, Leslie—look for the second edition). But y’all know about these. For variety’s sake, I will recommend Richard Hendel’s On Book Design, in which he asks a bunch of text designers—mostly in-house university press people, if I recall correctly—to describe how they go about their work. It’s not the most realistic book, as the economics of and market for U. press books are different from trade, but it’s definitely interesting. Also, I really enjoyed Oliver Simon’s On Typography (genuinely o/p, but available used), which sets forth a beautifully old-school philosophy of designing text.

    Oh, but there are so many design books on my shelves that I haven’t read yet; there could be wonderful treasures in there, but I can’t know until I make myself read them!

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