Saturday, 30 June 2012

Some conventions are there for a reason...

I stumbled across this architecture book Forty-Six Square Metres of Land Doesn't Normally Become a House.
The cover is textured, and the narrow lettering of the title gets somewhat lost because of this. Despite this, I can see what this typeface was trying to achieve - it looks squashed, playing with the book's focus on restricted spaces.

The most shocking thing about this book is that when you open it, here's what the end-paper/first page looks like:
That's right - gasp - the book starts on the endpaper. There's no title page, no imprint page, and no table of contents - it's not at the back of the book either - and the book continues right up onto the last bit of end-paper. Maybe it's to reinforce the impression of 'squashed-ness'? Each page-spread certainly feels very squashed, with extremely narrow margins. The designer also seems to be very keen on showing off their grid, which does allow a great deal of flexibility in layout, but the narrow margins mean every single page feels uncomfortably constrained.
Eventually, I closed the book and spotted this:
Turning to the orange centre of the book, I found the missing imprint page, half-title page, title page, and table of contents. I guess the designer made them orange so they'd be easier to find. But you know what would have made them even easier to find? Yup, putting them at the beginning where everyone expects them to be. I see no reason for breaking this convention in this instance.
Updated 7 July:
The table of contents, although pretty, gives too much weight to the page numbers and not enough to the section headings (the actual information the reader is looking for).
Also, why on earth have a half-title page if it's going to be in the middle of the book and after the title page?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Pretty cover and ragged edges

Presenting Terry Pratchett's Nation:

The author's name and title are clearly displayed in the order of importance, and are very easy to read despite the busy background. The title is eye-catching because it is foil-stamped, with a drop shadow for added emphasis.

The dust-cover shows one continuous scene - which I think is always a nice design touch. The transparent text box used for the blurb is a good way to put text on top of a busy background, whilst still allowing the sense of the image to be conveyed. 

As this is the US hardback, it also has a ragged 'rough cut' edge (something more common in the US). I find it makes it harder to flick through pages, and it makes the book feel less 'perfect', but it also adds an element of interest.

Monday, 25 June 2012

A book that looks low-budget and homemade, but isn't

I wanted to include this very strange book about jewellery, published by a German publisher. Firstly, here's what you assume is the cover:

However, here's the book's actual cover:
click to see dots that make up the image.
The image is made out of lots of little dots and seems to be a knife handle wrapped with wire. The grainy image quality is continued throughout the book. Here's a shot of that shows the general low-resolution quality of the images (this is quite hard to capture in an image displayed on a computer screen):
This low-res image quality is clearly a deliberate design choice, possibly to give the feel of a 'home-made' documentary. The low quality images also tie in with the 'raw' coverboards and 'naked' spine. It's a wee bit pretentious, as I imagine it was much more expensive to have all these 'naked' details than it would have been to produce a more conventional-format book.

Another interesting design choice is the layout of the text panels:
There is a huge top margin, and equally-sized bottom and side margins. The measure is also very wide - 102 characters by my count. The normal 'comfortable' range for reading running text is 45-75 characters per line. This is well outside that - possible the huge top margin is to help balance this out, but it is still hard to read all the way to the end of each line.

Update 27 July
I forgot to add that, although pretentious, I think the unconventional format works for this book. It's targeted at a very niche market - contemporary jewellery designers - and the deliberate pushing of boundaries is likely to appeal to this audience.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Cool cover - Gold by Chris Cleave

This caught my attention the other day:
With all those colours and the stripe of gold foil, it's very eye-catching. This is a novel about Olympic cyclists, and I see the multiple colours receding into the distance as representing the blur of cyclists wearing different colours and moving at speed.
The stripe theme is carried over the whole cover. Here's the spine, with the title located on the stripe of gold foil.
Then there's the back, with the blurb text aligned so each paragraph sits aligned on a stripe. Overall the text is roughly right-aligned, following the curve of the stripes receding into the distance. This makes the blurb more exciting, but it's still pretty easy to read.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Table of Contents Madness

Today I have two illustrated non-fiction books, both with the imprint page on the verso and the table of contents on the recto of a double-page spread. 

The successful example above is from Trees of New Zealand: Stories of Beauty and Character. A beautiful photograph of leaves has been used for the background of the page-spread, but the overlying text is still perfectly readable. This is a simple left-aligned short contents which uses a serif typeface. The hierarchy of information is clear, with the less important sections at the beginning and end of the book shown in italics. I'm not sure why the heading is in a different typeface - it's already larger than the other text and centre-aligned, so changing the typeface as well seems somewhat redundant.

I also like the placement of the imprint information - it's there if you want to read it, but it's in a smaller font and located lower down the page than the contents, so it doesn't distract from the either the photography or the table of contents.

This is an unsuccessful example taken from the book Black Milk. Whilst the black-on-black title is a cool design feature, your eye is drawn to the verso page first, which features the less important imprint information, rather than the recto page featuring the contents. Additionally, the layout of the table of contents is unnecessarily hard to read with page numbers centre-aligned above the chapter titles.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Cool children's book typeface

I found this rather charming children's book Stuck.
I think this is a really successful cover.

  • The title is easy to read because of its size and contrast, even though it is in an uneven typeface with a hand-lettered feel to it. 
  • The title's typeface also suits the illustration style, and the positioning of the letters between the tree branches anchors the title to the cover image. 
  • The typeface for the author's name matches the typeface used for the inside lettering (more on this below).
Here is a page spread from the book:

The typeface used for the text is a child's scribbly pencil handwriting (is it still a typeface if it's hand-written?). This suits the scribbly nature of the illustrations, and makes the narrator seem more authentic. I particularly like how in the photo below, the narrator has had two tries at spelling a difficult word (rhinoceros) and crossed out the first attempt.

This book also has cover flaps, and designs on the inside of the cover, a nice additional touch.

Unconventional cover and binding

I found this book the other day with an unconventional cover.
 It takes you a moment, but eventually you notice that you can lift the paper up directly under the title. And then you keep unfolding, and eventually you unwrap the book entirely and discover this: a poster dust jacket made of luxuriously thick paper.

This is a lovely book, but one thing I noticed about the binding was the distance between stitches. I've circled them in the photo below and you can see that the bottom stitch is significantly farther from the edge of the paper than the top stitch.
What this means is that when you turn the pages, if you're at the beginning of a new signature of pages the bottom right corner catches as you turn. Like so:

An interesting design feature of this book is the location of the barcode. This would usually be located on the outside of the back cover, but in this book it is located inside the back cover, presumably to avoid taking up space on the dust jacket poster.

And yet another interesting design choice is the mixture of paper stocks used in the book. You can see the marked colour variation between the two different paper stocks in the photo below.

Different Harry Potter covers

In a fit of nostalgia, I thought I'd do a comparison of different covers for the UK editions of one of the bestselling novels of all time: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

First, the edition I own, published in 1997 (though sadly not a first edition). This edition is notable for the strange man on the back cover, who in later editions is replaced with Albus Dumbledore (see the cover on the right).

I have mixed feelings about this cover. Looking at it now, it has a sort of quirky, nostalgic charm to it. However, I remember being given this book when I was 11 or 12 and thinking that it was one of the lamest and most childish covers I'd seen. I've read that this book was initially targeted at ages 9-11, so speaking from my memory of being the target market, I can't say I found it appealing.


  • It's interesting that the character's name is presented as the most important piece of information on the cover. Since the character's name is the same for the entire series it provides a simple way for readers to quickly identify all of books in the series.
  • The typeface used for "Harry Potter" is a slightly old-fashioned serif, in keeping with the tone of the book. The script-like typeface for "and the Philosopher's Stone" is clearly an attempt to convey the fantastical nature of the book's contents.
  • The bright block colours have clearly been chosen to appeal to children.

Bloomsbury clearly cottoned on to the fact that not just kids liked the books by bringing out the first UK adult edition, published in 1998:

This cover is horribly unappealing on several levels:

  • It looks incredibly dated.
  • Nothing on this cover suggests its a fantasy novel.
  • The dark black and white cover photo implies that this is a serious book with dark themes.
  • The author's name seems to be floating randomly in space, un-anchored to anything around it.

The later adult edition in 2004 is a huge improvement:
  • Interestingly, the "Philosopher's Stone" part of the title has been deemed more important than the main character's name for this edition.
  • Again, this isn't a cover that says "fantasy", although it's better than the earlier adult edition.

Finally, the most recent children's edition the "signature edition" in 2010.

  • This is a very clean look compared to the earlier children's edition.
  • The simple centre alignment of all the text, and the focus of the image, makes a clear path from top to bottom for your eyes to follow.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

An odd book

Here is a book which at first glance seems like a standard photography book, but at second glance has a number of odd things going on.

First is the cover colour palette, particularly the colour chosen for the blurb text. Red-on-black is very hard to read, and the colour seems odd given that the rest of the text is either in gold or white.

The text is ragged-right, but some of the alignments are strange, with line-breaks in odd places and variations in measure between pull-quotes and the main text.

There's also a strange variation in the page numbers on page 27. The other page numbers are all aligned to sit closer to the inside margin than the outside one, but on this page, the page number is shifted downwards, centre-aligned, and enlarged. It just seems to be this one page that does this, so I have to assume it's a typo rather than a design choice. If it is a design choice, I have no idea what was behind it.
Another interesting aspect of this book is that it changes from matt to glossy paper half-way through. The photo below shows the mid-point where it changes. On the left is the matt paper, and on the right is the  glossy.
The latter half of the book seems to include less text and more full-page spreads of photos, so it makes sense from a cost perspective to make this half glossy if it wasn't affordable for the whole book.

Papyrus Alert!

Spotted this children's book the house that went to sea. The title is in our friend Papyrus, with the first letter of each word in smallcaps. Even though this is a very recognisable font, I think it suits this cover as the curved lettering is reminiscent of gentle waves.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Cool cover texture

Check out the cover of Violent Earth. It's hard to capture its full awesomeness in photos, but I'll try.

Firstly, there's the crumpled plastic texture of the lava background. This is a very tactile cover that begs to be handled - a good selling point for a coffee table book.

The lettering on the cover hasn't been neglected either, with spot gloss for "Violent" and a metallic gloss for "Earth". This typeface is also well-chosen, as the bold, capitalised sans serif stands out against the busy, textured background.

Comparing a paperback and hardback

I'm going to compare the paperback and hardback editions of The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey.

Besides the obvious size difference, the covers are virtually identical. One minor difference is the formatting of the "A tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms" tagline. Also, "five" is not capitalised for the paperback version.

Other general cover comments:

  • The author is clearly the most important piece of information on the cover.
  • The decorative typeface chosen for the author's name and the book title conveys the whimsical, romantic tone of this book.
  • To make it clear that this book is targeted at woman, there's a very feminine woman in the foreground with pink flowers in her hair (this does not happen at any point in the actual book).
  • Just to make it extra clear that this book is targeted at women, there's also some random pink sparkles. These also serve the dual purpose of conveying that this is a fantasy novel.
  • Just in case you still hadn't realised that this book is targeted at women, the author's name is foil stamped in metallic gold - a convention often used for romance books.
The paperback version lacks a half-title page, but the title pages for both editions are the same.

One major difference between the two editions is the paper quality. The paperback edition uses lower quality paper, which means the ink has bled slightly, giving the pages darker 'colour'. This is particularly obvious in the photos below.

As you can see, the detail on the dropcap is not visible in the paperback edition. The main text also looks much cleaner and is easier to read in the hardback edition, even though the same typeface is used. This typeface is midway between a serif and sans serif typeface, with very small serifs.

One interesting layout choice for the chapter pages is that the image is proportionately larger in the paperback edition. Possibly this is to balance out the smaller page margins of the paperback.
Both editions have quite a lot of show-through; this is particularly evident on the page before the illustrated chapter heading:

Another interesting layout feature of the hardback edition is that the largest margin is the top margin. The hardback has very large margins in general, but normally the bottom margin would be the largest.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Teeny tiny book

I stumbled across this cute little gift book yesterday. Everything about it has been designed to make it more appealing as a gift item.

Clever use of inside cover space

This book Origami Flowers is a large paperback which uses the inside covers spaces as text pages rather than leaving them empty.

The inside of the front cover combines the imprint page with the about the author section. I particularly like combining the imprint page with another section; the imprint page is a necessary but mundane bit of information, and this is one way to 'spice it up'. Despite containing a lot of information, this layout doesn't feel squashed, and the text has been broken up into aesthetically pleasing chunks by white space and images.
On the inside of the back cover, information on standard origami sheet sizes is included. Using the back cover for this information is a practical choice, because the heavier cardstock of the cover makes it easier to use as a ruler/guide.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Comic book layout

I've added arrows to the above page spread to show the order you're meant to read each panel and speech bubble. The speech bubbles follow certain conventions to guide the reader (read top before bottom, and left before right).

Children's book layout - 'The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?'

I've included this sample from the children's book The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? to show how it effectively uses a simple two-column grid system for each page.

This grid here has been used to show the pigeon's thought-process as he gets increasingly upset about the duckling getting a cookie. The different background colours for each square make each thought into a separate mini-scene, adding emphasis. The last thought before the page-turn is given extra emphasis as it covers two squares instead of one.

The typeface for the story has clearly been chosen for its old-fashioned, simple, 'typewriter' feel, which complements the plain backgrounds and uncomplicated line-drawings of the illustrations.