One of the first courses I had to take for my graphic design certification (complete in just a couple weeks!) through the Parsons School of Design, of New York's The New School. I knew nothing about the subject, and certainly did not have the faintest idea that I was about to discover a completely new, great love that would blossom into embracing the art of book design. Not just the cover, but what lies between as well.
Computers are great and necessary tools, and digital skills a must in my line of work. But I do fret about the devolution of hands-on, nuts-and-bolts, pen-and-paper ways of functioning. Imagine my surprise upon learning that the first assignment for this on-line course was to watch an hour long documentary on the Gutenberg printing press! Better yet, as the course went on and we began to create, the wonderfully old-school instructor required that we sketch our designs, letter forms, posters, logos, etc. by hand before moving to the computer, and required us to scan our sketches to submit along with the digital renditions. Combine this with delving into the social and historical contexts in which various typefaces arose or were suppressed, and I was hooked.
In case you're dying of curiosity...
My first book design was done as a final project for the InDesign course. I saw an opportunity: I needed to design a book, and my cousin had been sitting on a collection of poetry that she had been wanting to self publish for some time. Poetry, especially, weds form and function. The cover art has to be right, of course. But inside is where the details become paramount. You want the right typeface to reflect the mood of the collection overall. Perhaps a straightforward, in-your-face sans serif boosting the power of the words, versus a gentler, easy-on the eye serif type for denser novels. Line breaks and punctuation and white space work together to construct a visual experience that will enhance how the reader hears the words and rhythms, pauses, pacing and cadences in the mind's ear.
Honoring the Writer while Providing for the Reader
Since then, I have had the pleasure of designing three books professionally, with more on the way. One of these was a second edition redo of the inner pages; the other two were cover-to-cover jobs.
What I especially love is getting a sense not just of the contents of the book, but of the writer: his/her personality, where the particular piece of work "came from" (e.g., was the inspiration life experience, a person they met or piece of history, or is it purely a creative endeavor (as if anything ever is)?), what resonates for the author in the book. That reveals what kind of feeling or experience the writer wants to give the reader. Often, after some brainstorming and going back and forth, the cover art that causes the author to shout, "That's it!" will answer these questions without me having to ask them out loud. The power of visuals is not just about selling, as some book designers will tell you, primarily aiming to design a cover that will "make buyers snatch it off the shelf." A book cover is not just an ad. Does the writer want the potential reader to feel wonder, or to be intrigued to solve a mystery or puzzle, or to feel drawn to the peace evoked by the cover? It is nonverbal communication that begins the experience for the reader before they've even opened the book.
Have a manuscript sitting on a shelf? A stash of brilliant poetry or short stories sitting shyly in a folder waiting for attention? Don't be afraid to give me a shout. There's almost nothing as delicious as the old "curl up with a good book." Except, maybe, designing one.
Yours in the struggle - Carla
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Carla is a dancer, writer, observer, spouse, sister, daughter, aunt, friend, expatriated New Yorker turned Maine-iac, and warrior for a saner world. For less interesting details, check her out on LinkedIn.