February 5, 2008

Books on the why/how of book interior design?

Posted in advice, books, Design, Lazyweb, Typesetting, typography at 8:27 pm by India

Woman consulting a book

Commenter “elle” is trying to find a book that’s “kind of like a manual on how to design interiors.”

Like why you use a space break, why you indent certain amounts, why chapters start new right and things that break down the skeleton of a book. It’s something that is never really taught and you kind of do these things without a reason why, its simply because “you just do.” Do you know why a part opener always starts new right backed blank? I don’t. I just know it does.

Why do we have double breaks? Why does the text start flush left afterwards?

Anyone? Anyone? The usual books I recommend are The Elements of Typographic Style and The Complete Manual of Typography, but neither of these goes into the reasons behind design conventions, as far as I can recall.


Photo: Girl inspector confers with a worker as she makes a a careful check of center wings for C-47 transport planes, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif. Photographed by Alfred T. Palmer. From the Library of Congress’s Flickr project. No known copyright restrictions.


  1. tianodesign said,

    I certainly agree with you about Bringhurst. And I like Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type. But here’s my book design-specific recommendations: Hochuli & Kinross’ Designing books: practice and theory, Hugh Williamson’s Methods of Book Design, Adrian Wilson’s The Design of Books, Rich Hendel’s On Book Design, and Andrew Haslam’s Bookdesign, a Comprehensive Guide.

    Haven’t finished them all. But I chose them from looking thru some and reading about others.

  2. xensen said,

    Text starts flush left after a break because it would be redundant otherwise. The paragraph indent is a break in the flow of the text. So is a line space. The principle is always to use only the distinctions that are necessary and not pile on superfluous ones.

    As for part openers I think you’re free to style them any way you like. But right backed blank probably makes them easiest for the reader to find.

  3. xensen said,

    Oh, sorry, you’re asking about books. Bringhurst is my bible. Jan Tschichold is also good. Some of the ones you list I don’t know and will try to check out.

  4. tianodesign said,

    Tschichold? That name produces a reaction in me much like the old Abbott and Costello “Niagara Falls” bit (“Slowly I turn, step by step … ”). Never mind. Suffice to say, I’ve had my differences with Jan Tschichold’s writings. Blogged about it on and off for months, in fact, early on when I put up my blog, I addressed Tschichold a number of times, beginning here.

  5. India Amos said,

    Thanks, Tom. I was hoping you’d weigh in.

    I know well—and usually follow—the antiredundancy principle you refer to, but where did we learn it? I, for one, have no recollection. And I’ve certainly met experienced designers who don’t follow it much.

    Are there different principles for different types of books? For example, it seems to me that I’ve seen more redundant styling in books that are likely to be dipped into rather than read straight through—e.g., reference, how-to, self-help. I can imagine many reasons for this, but again, it’s not anything I remember learning; it’s just a hunch.

    I am particularly curious about how one might best teach/learn book design since a friend reported to me last week—and I hope this will brighten your day as it did mine—that one of his clients, an independent publisher of decades’ experience, has proposed sending one of his interns to my friend so that the youngster can be taught to design and typeset book interiors . . . in an hour. After an hour’s training, this person would be granted a desk (and perhaps a computer and some software) so that he could cast off, design, and typeset books, more or less full time.

    Setting aside the question of why my friend, who makes his living from designing books, would teach his client’s intern to compete with him, how would he teach this greenhorn to yank his livelihood from beneath him in an hour?

    Did my friend perhaps rebut that people spend not hours but years learning these skills? Did he explain, I asked, that it is possible to earn a master’s degree in book design? No, he did not, because he was sure that there must be a typo in the publisher’s e-mail. So he asked for clarification by phone, and when the details of this curious scheme were repeated, he was so gobsmacked that he didn’t protest.

    I hadn’t laughed so hard in months.

    I think the course curriculum is clear:

    Step 1. Contact a sweatshop . . .

  6. tianodesign said,

    This really is pretty funny in a sad kind of way. My self-training may, of course, be the very long way home—after 15 years I really do continue to read all I can find time for on the subject—but an hour? Well, they might as well have asked your friend for the pill one washes down with a glass of water to instantly become a book designer.

  7. xensen said,

    Speaking for myself, I “learned” design as an editor. I was working at North Point Press and watching our designer, Dave Bullen, work. I picked up some basic principles from him and then more later from other designers I worked with. I think if you are really interested you pick up things kind of like a magnet attracts iron shavings. And of course we learn by observing the finished work of others. Some people do study in formal programs, but I’m not sure though that the slow osmosis isn’t better in the long run.

    One course I’ve been following via its website is crap detector.

    I love this idea of learning a trade in an one hour! Just think of all the things we could be expert in at that rate.

  8. India Amos said,

    Hey! I know David Bullen! Well, sort of. He makes all the books pretty for Archipelago, whose catalogue I wrangle twice a year. We talked on the phone once about H&Js in InDesign. He disagreed with me about whether 3 percent character scaling was visible to the untrained eye; in deference to him, since then I’ve allowed InDesign to scale type by only 2 percent.

    Crap Detector looks awesome. But they really need to form a punk band, with an excellent name like that.

  9. xensen said,

    Say hi to Dave for me.

  10. xensen said,

    Oh, and I received an Archipelago catalogue the other day. Nice!

  11. I reduced this to an aphorism years ago: There are as many young typographers as there are old computer programmers.

    I really think book design requires a mature mind and years of study. Bruce Rogers tells the parable (wish I could find the book where I read it) of a young man coming into his office with a revolutionary book design that will set the world on its ear. Let’s have people read back to front instead of front to back. They’ll appreciate the text better if they read it upside-down and backwards. Etc. Long story short, Rogers takes the dummy from the young man, turns it around, and finds that it is laid out entirely conventionally after all.

    That’s not to say that a young designer should not be thinking about books and learning about book design. And truly there are some talented youngsters in the field. But I think they’re the exceptions and mature beyond their years.

  12. elle said,

    OH WOW!!! Thanks for the links above…
    Sorry I have been quite sick and away from having any free time at work…
    FINALLY! I was able to check back to you wonderful site…

    I would absolutely love to teach a class on book design..It would be great to have a course at new School or SVA dedicated to this. I’d be rather excited to do it. Well, maybe once I return to NYC whenever that is…

    Took a type class with Mr Ed Benguiat which proved to be 20% to my advantage and 80% to waxing poetic about all his typefaces…and how so many are named after former ex girlfriends and ex-wives….

    ah well.

    Thanks my dear for helpin out with the search!

  13. sc said,

    …He disagreed with me about whether 3 percent character scaling was visible to the untrained eye…since then I’ve allowed InDesign to scale type by only 2 percent…

    That is very good advice. Hey, another trade secret learned in just a minute or two and in the midst of blog flotsam. It’s easy.

    Oddly, perhaps, since I make half a living at it, I think some people have enough publishing/printing/art/design/life experience to learn simple monograph typography in an hour or so, maybe a few weeks. However, people just starting to think carefully about design/editing/art tend to need a couple years of experience before they learn what they don’t know and so on.

    …I love this idea of learning a trade in an one hour!…

    So many trades, so few hours!

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