How to design a book? #DIY

The Gutenberg’s printing press allows us to think differently about books and has caused a revolution in many design-related jobs. The aesthetics of the content have become equally important as the text itself, allowing bookmakers to explore various semiotics to engage with their targeted audience. As the printed products started developing, so did the language and the illustrations were soon replaced by letters. This is an evidence of the constant change design brings to our everyday lives. Through a careful breakdown of some pages, I discovered how various layouts can guide the readers’ eye (Samara, 2005: 21) to keep him/her engaged and drew some inspiration towards producing my own catalogue (out May). 

Somehow spontaneously, I am always driven towards a similar colour scheme, and catch myself repeatedly fascinated by the shades of yellow, gold and black. Originally, I chose 4 publications, nevertheless, I soon realised, that digging into two will be more than enough. I picked up the October 2015 ELLE and the Sustainist Design Guide (Schwarz and Krabbendam, 2013). I also used the Graphic Design The New Basics (Lupton and Phillips, 2015) to help me understand grids in more depth.

First, I highlighted the grids on three pages from ELLE. There has been a repetitive pattern of the columns, with some representation of the modular grid (Samara, 2015: 27-28). I focused in depth on page 160 where I identified three trends.

  1. Modular grid: 2 horizontal lines with one vertical at the bottom of the page
  2. 3 typefaces which I highlighted in various colours & noticing variations between the capitals, bold/ italics/ normal styles fonts.
  3. Modest use of colour in text (Twitter associations and the subtitles) as oppose to the contrast in images (profile picture black/white, whereas the book titles were in colour)

The Sustainist Design Guide (Schwarz et. al, 2015), where I examined pages 76-77, was equally interesting. The underlying grid was made out of 8 columns with the pictures often distributed in the top half of each page.  Titles were bold, inserted notes were in a different typeface (also used for image description). Colour in the text was used sparingly, balancing the richness of the images, only highlighting some categories repeated throughout the book. The hexagon symbol, as seen on the front cover, provided identity, while the page numbers were placed neatly in the bottom left corner, allowing for a simple orientation. This clear layout led the reader from the middle left part towards the right bottom corner, appealing to a wider audience. The paper felt thick and hard, reflecting the focus on sustainability and corresponding with the book’s title.

Overall, I was amazed by the complexity of the two publications. I have explored the way in which the designers portray different issues and learnt what to pay attention to when producing my own portfolio.



Reference list:

Alinsky, S.D. (1971) Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals. New York, Vintage Books. More readings To Be Determined

ELLE (Magazine), UK edition, October 2015, p. 48, 102-103 and 160.

Lupton, E. and Phillips, J.C. (2015) Graphic Design The New Basics 2nd ed. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Palermo, E. (2014) Who Invented The Printing Press? [Online]. Poole: Live Science. Available at: [Accessed 3/1/2017]

Samara, T. (2005) Making and Breaking the Grid: A Graphic Design Layout Workshop. Gloucester, MA, Rockport Publishers. Pages 7-32

Schwarz, M. and Krabbendam, D. (2013) Sustainist design guide. 1st ed. Amsterdam: BIS.

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