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Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (November 10, 1998)
When Henry David Thoreau made a complete list of each and every possession he had at Walden Pond, he curiously omitted one thing: He forgot the pencil that enabled him to make the list. Successful book design, says Richard Hendel, often goes as unnoticed and unappreciated as Thoreau's pencil. It is, as Beatrice Warde once said, a transparent goblet, so that (writes Hendel) "the very invisibility of its design is to its credit." Hendel should know, having worked for many years as a highly regarded book designer, most recently with the University of North Carolina Press. Thankfully, this is not a prosaic instructional manual--"it is a book about how books are designed," he cautions, "not a book about how to design books"--but a medley of honest reflections about how book designers see, think, and feel. Written by the author and eight other American and British designers, it is illustrated by 110 black and white examples, among them several pieces by Iowa-born designer Merle Armitage and the University of Nebraska's Richard Eckersley, two of the century's most inventive (yet unheralded) book designers. With surprising candor, the text asks: How do book designers get their ideas? What do they worry about? How did they approach a particular book? And what difference does it all make? After all, confides Hendel, prize-winning book designs are largely unappreciated, cost more to produce, and are rarely available in bookstores. "There isn't any correlation between what books look like and how they sell," he laments. "Design seems to make no difference." Of particular interest is a section about the design of this book, which led us to wonder how well it will sell, whether bookstores will carry it, and (hopefully, because it has much to offer) the extent to which it might inspire other, younger book designers. (Copyright by Roy R. Behrens from Ballast Quarterly Review, Vol. 14, No. 4, Summer 1999.)
This is a new breed of book design; but it is bred out of classicism. Being involved in an antiquarian artform during the dawn of computer technology poses many problems. One of them is the disappearance of really well designed books. So, in an attempt to preserve The Book's integrity, I searched for new guidance on this ancient art. This book ended my search. Rather than quibble with new design trends, resist new technology, or morosely revisit bygone eras, Hendel see these as "points of departure" and sticks to the real issue -- the design of books. The result is not a strict set of rules for book design, rather, it is a fluid and applicable philosophy of design for the many types of books we find today. "The challenge," says Hendel, "isn't to create something different or pretty or clever but to discover how best to serve the author's words." This book is informative, enlightening and filled with lovely samples from distinguished designers. A very beautiful book. Writers will enjoy learning how designers make well-thought creative decisions about the spaces that words flow into.
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As author Richard Hendel notes, designing a book is a complicated process, "especially because there isn't a single way to proceed." Hendel is associate director and design and production manager at University of North Carolina Press, ideally qualified to give a true picture of the life of a book designer.
On Book Design is divided into three sections. In "Looking Like Books" Hendel discusses what makes a book, a book. More than just the author's words, a book is defined by its typography, the size of the fonts, the width of the margins, where the subheads fall on a page. While this may seem obvious, what is harder to determine is the right combination of all these subjective elements. If a reader is paying more attention to the arrangement of the words rather than to the content itself, the design may be overdone.
The book's second section, "The Design Begins Here" describes exactly what it is that designers do-from the big picture stuff (e.g., matching the author's content and tone) to the smallest details (e.g., determining whether to choose old-style or line numbers).
Scattered throughout the book are samples of projects designed by Hendel and others. This is extremely helpful and often fascinating, though on occasion the level of detail Hendel provides borders on the tedious.
In the third section, "How Designers Work," Hendel hands the page over to several respected designers. Some work entirely on the computer; others, like Hendel, use pencil and paper to create their first design drafts. As Hendel notes, "What is important is not the mechanics of making the layouts but finding exactly the right design and typeface for the author's words."
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I've read a number of great books about the mechanics and about the details one must consider when designing books. But Richard Hendel's On Designing Books is the first I've read that explores the process of designing books. It goes so far as to present eight book designers who discuss what they eventually go through in designing books.
Involved in the craft some fifteen years myself, I found Mr. Hendel's presentation, and the angles of his eight, interesting, informative, and helpful.
There are times when, as a designer, I'm stuck for some push in a direction so as to get started. And as a page comp and layout artist on others' book designs, I'm sometimes left questioning how and why someone else's book design was conceived the way it was. On Book Design goes a long way toward providing some possible paths to answering those questions.
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