concept to publication

Category: graphic design Page 2 of 4

Thailand – Burma Map

This is a little map I did for Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma, 1775-1950, a catalogue of a forthcoming exhibition at the Asian Art Museum. The museum’s website says:

Design geekiness

Admit it designers, you’re a bunch of playbabies. Witness:

Charles Montgomery Burns Blogging Award

charles montgomery burns award

Almost a year ago, the excellent India Ink was tagged for excellence in blogging, an award she rebranded as the Charles Montgomery Burns Award. Mr. Burns is the owner of the Springfield nuclear power plant on the Simpsons. Well, India’s blog is hot.

How to design like Massimo Vignelli

vignelli canon

Crave that prominent-grid, basic-fonts, industrial design aesthetic? Massamo Vignelli  would tell you that you can’t just imitate the surface, which must emerge as an epiphenomenon from an essential spirit embuing the design at its most fundamental level. He has put a document called The Vignelli Canon on the web as a pdf. It’s worth consulting.

What are the components of a well-made book?

india, ink

Over at India, Ink., the redoubtable India is thinking about “what materials and processes and vendors to use to make books that will last a hundred years.”

I think traditional books will survive the digital revolution but that their role will change. They will become luxury items, keepsakes, so whoever still knows how to make the nicest books will win. But I’ll bet that a lot of well-meaning production people don’t even know how to spec well-made books, because all they’ve ever been asked to do at their jobs is make everything cheaper and faster. And as the vendors that excel at quality work die off—Stinehour comes to mind—it will become even more difficult to acquire that kind of experience.

Better Flickr search

Compfight (don’t ask me to explain the name) is my new favorite Flickr search site. It’s extremely fast, returns a lot of results, and can be set to retrieve only Creative Commons images. If you hover your mouse over one of the thumbnails it will show you the size of the original image.

Five centuries of board games

game of the goose

Every so often Mr. Peacay of BibliOdyssey exceeds even his high standards, and then one just has to call attention once again to his excellent site. BibliOdyssey is devoted mainly to prints and book illustrations, but for this post on board games he has selected 34 favorites from the British Museum’s Prints Database.It’s a wonderful selection ranging from the 16th through the 20th century.

I’m always partial to late Medieval – Early Renaissance illustrations similar to the one shown above. Well, according to the British Museum, which dates it to the 18th century, this one is actually a fair bit later than that, but to my eye it’s in the style of earlier woodblock illustrations. Peacay describes the board as a “simplistic spiral arrangement of game squares in an anonymous board produced in the 1700s.”

Ubu Roi, book binding by Marcel Duchamp and Mary Reynolds

ubu roi binding

Mary Reynolds (1891-1950) was an innovative book binder who for three decades enjoyed a relationship with Marcel Duchamp described by friends as “happier than most marriages.” Susan Glover Godlewski has written about her life and career, and examples of her work can be seen at the Mary Reynolds Collection (affiliated with the Art Institute of Chicago).

A post at Ordinary finds called this extraordinary binding for Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (Ubu the King) to my attention. It quotes the Reynolds Collection:

This binding is perhaps the best known and most successful of the collaborations between Reynolds and Duchamp. On November 26, 1934, Duchamp visited his close friend Henri-Pierre Roché in Arago and excitedly reported on a binding that he had just designed for Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi that Mary Reynolds was going to execute. Reynolds and Duchamp created out of the binding itself an extraordinarily clever pun. Both the front and back covers are cut-out “U’s” covered in rich earth tones; the spine is a soft caramel B. The endpapers are made of black moiré silk. A gold crown, signifying the puppet king, is imprinted on the front flyleaf and visible through the front cut-out “U”. The author’s name is imprinted in gold on the back flyleaf and is similarly visible through the back U. The binding spread open spells “UBU.” Reynolds must have spent considerable time executing this binding. We know from a letter from Duchamp, responding to a question from Katharine Kuh, that the binding was not completed until 1935. It is expertly and lovingly crafted. Both Duchamp and Reynolds were so pleased with the final work, that another copy was bound identically for the American collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg (Philadelphia Museum of Art).

ubu roi


Paris: Librairie Charpentier et Fasquele, 1921. Binding: morocco, levant, and niger (goatskins) with silk and glassine endpapers. Mary Reynolds Collection, MR 253.


Ordinary Finds – Book binding for Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry


The Island at the End of the World

Penguin Books and Creativity magazine recently ran a Hearts and Minds Talent Competition for which entrants designed the cover of a book by Sam Taylor, described as “a chilling novel about the near future, where most of the world has been destroyed by catastrophic floods.” There were many strong entries. Shown below are four of the twenty-five finalists. At lower right is the winning entry by Matt Taylor. At upper left is the first runner up by Pillow Fort. The one at lower left was designed by Alan Vladusic and the one at upper right by John Rice.

island at the end of the world penguing book cover design competition


Two covers, one image

It’s not unusual to see two or more books that use the same image. After all, professional designers tend to sample from the same stock image pools. What I find interesting about these two is the way the different crops and tones seem to adjust the dynamic between the figures.

two book covers that use the same image

Would you be more likely to pick one up than the other?


via Book Design Review


American and European dust jackets, 1926-1947

queer books

The New York Public Library’s amazing and ever-expanding digital collections includes more than two thousand book jackets from 1926 through 1947. The library routinely removed jackets from books in its collection– no doubt because they quickly would become damaged or lost — but during those years some of its librarians kept interesting examples in a collection of scrapbooks. As the library website notes, “Ranged side-by-side within years, the dust jackets provide an overview of the graphic design taste and trends of the time, while helping to reconstruct the atmosphere of the annual panoply of an era’s published works, with classic titles alongside their less enduring contemporaries”


Illustrating Lennon

Jerry Levitan, working with direction Josh Raskin, illustrator James Braithwaite, and digital artist Alex Kurina, has produced an animated version of an interview he made thirty-eight years ago with John Lennon. Levitan was fourteen at the time, and Lennon was generous in answering his questions.


via crap detector


Graphic design fads and Olympics posters

Are there fads in graphic design? Well, duh! Check out these eras of Olympics poster design.

1. 1912-1924: the homoerotic era

homoerotic olympics posters, 1912-1924

How have new technologies affected book design and typography?

Caduceus asks that question at MetaFilter, and IndiaInk has started a thread in reply.

There have, of course, been many effects. some good, others not so good. Caduceus is probably asking for practical advice on using new technologies and media, but the question could also be answered in a broader sense. Following are a few consequences of new technologies that come immediately to mind.

  1. Maybe the most significant result of new design and printing technologies is just that publishing has become more affordable. I think it was Ben Franklin who said “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.” Through the centuries printing and publishing required a significant investment that kept the industry in the control of an exclusive group of specialists. That has changed and now anyone can easily and cheaply publish a book (although promoting, marketing, and selling it remain difficult).
    Print on demand and short run printing have also made it possible to keep books in print that formerly could not have been reprinted because of the expense of a conventional reprint, which penalizes short runs with very high unit costs. These technologies make self-publishing (or at least self-printing) economically viable.
  2. Word processing has changed the way texts are written and edited. Authors used to resort to elaborate strategies to make revisions. Evan Connell, for example, used to retype passages and then attach the new sheets with windows cut out of the pages where he wanted the original text to remain. Today revising and moving words, passages, and even chapters is so simple that the text is rarely a continuous stream, like that championed by Kerouac, for example, and instead is more like a snowflake, with elaborations being worked on all sides around the core idea.
  3. Regarding typography, rather than working with a limited set of font sizes (in the hot type era, one often had to make do with a very restrictive font set), designers now have a nearly seamless continuum of sizes and widths to work with. It also used to be difficult to set type in anything but a rectangularly block — now limitless effects can be achieved quickly and easily. This gives designers and layout people extraordinary freedom to create spectacular results — or to screw up spectacularly.
  4. New type formats have enormously multiplied the number of typefaces available, at a low cost compared to previous technologies. There was a time when typesetters might spend years working with only one or two typefaces — whose qualities they would come to know intimately — but today people flit from one face to another, in the same work, or page, or even sentence. While the principles of good typography remain largely unchanged, type families and traditions have have become kaleidoscopically confounded.
    Typography was formerly a craft that was highly constrained by tradition — probably master-apprentice lineages of typesetters could be worked out, much as Melissa Rinne has traced lineages of bamboo artists — whereas today relatively few people working with type are educated in the craft’s traditions.
  5. The integrity of the image has been sacrificed for ease of production and the graphic artist’s command of effects. Digital photography and low-cost digital scanning have reduced the cost of photographing and printing in color, and images and texts are more integrated than they used to be and can be moved and modified together. Image manipulation is easy and can produce effects that were previously almost unimaginable. Photographs are no longer authoritative. Images are tweaked and modified at nearly every stage of production and in nearly every instance of use, making image authorship itself problemmatic.

In sum, more flexible and affordable printing and publishing options are available than in the past, with a lower bar to entry. On balance this is good, but it means that a large percentage of work is amateur in nature. Writers rush to print before their work has matured or their texts have been sufficiently edited. Books are produced that are so painful to look at they are effectively unreadable, never mind the text.

Amateurs can, of course, produce first-rate work, but the very ease with which a book can be produced makes it unlikely that many people will educate themselves on the qualities that distinguish well-made books. Probably more excellent works are being created than ever before, but as readers we are drowning in a sea of pabulum, and finding those instances of excellence becomes challenging.


Market testing book covers

super crunchers book titles

Book publishing has always been a little backward in some aspects of marketing. For example, while a graphic designer might produce several covers for a book, these are usually reviewed only by a select group of decision makers involved with its production and marketing. I’m not aware of many focus group tests, even for titles that will be receiving massive resources.

Now Bantam Dell is running an online poll to help choose among three different covers for the paperback edition of Ian Ayres’ Super Crunchers (which “explores how detail-rich data and our increasing ability to ‘crunch’ information is changing the way we live”). I suppose it’s a positive step, although I’m not sure that online votes correspond directly to potential sales.

In an extravagant gesture, Bantam Dell will give a free trade paperback copy of the book to twenty lucky winners (a value to the publisher of perhaps a dollar per book in direct production costs, so they are committing some $20 to prizes an an inducement for people to vote) — this is announced by a huge red checkmark together with the words (all caps) ENTER TO WIN, followed by a screamer. I can’t imagine this kind of overselling is effective.

Is one of these covers better than the others?


via Buzz, Balls, and Hype


Op ads

No, not op eds — op ads. I had forgotten how pervasive op art was in advertising of the 1960s and 1970s. It was also a period of increasingly globalism, as design fads trends quickly spread from one culture to another.

Italy produced some of the boldest op art ads, such as these ads for a film festival, left, and a design company, Alfieri & Lacroix, right.

Examples from the U.S. include ads for Fresh Start (whatever that is), left, and Ford Fairlane, right.

Some of the quirkiest examples come from Japan, such as this (completely inappropriate) Yukio Mishima ad, left, and a book or movie called A La Maison de Civecawa, right.

These examples are drawn from Pink Ponk’s 1950s-1970s advertising set on Flickr.


What is design?

Paul Rand offers some answers in this four-minute video. According to the youtube info, it was “created for his posthumous induction to the One Club Hall of Fame in 2007.”

Adjusting map color

iranian bowl with foliate decoration, approx. early 13th c.

In yesterday’s discussion of the map for my Persian ceramics book, I mentioned that I hadn’t settled on a map color scheme. Subsequently I decided to pick up the scheme from one of the objects in the book. Shown is a detail of that object, which I’m using as a section opener.

This is a beautiful fritware bowl with underglaze and overglaze foliate decoration. It dates from 1180-1250 and is thought to come from Rayy or Kashan in Iran. The abstract patterning is unusual on this kind of bowl.

spread from persian ceramics book showing map with colors adjusted in photoshop

In order to replicate the object’s color scheme, I simply adjusted the main hue/saturation slider in Photoshop until I approximated the reddish brown colors of the dark areas of the bowl. Because the type is not part of the underlying image, it was unaffected. Then I picked up the teal blue color from the bowl with the eyedropper tool. I had made the water areas of the map flat, so they were solid colors. I selected a portion of one and then chose select similar color from the selection menu and filled the selection with the new color.


On the making of maps

persian ceramics map

After a long interval in which nothing happened, suddenly I’m back working on my little book about Persian ceramics (the trim size, 9.5 x 10 in., is small by museum publishing standards; it would have seemed large back in my text-based literary publishing days). This book required a map. I originally intended to send it out to a professional map maker, but because the budget is tight, I ended up doing it myself.

The curator wanted to show a lot of information, including modern country names (but not boundaries), rivers, seas, a mountain, a regional designation (I think this is analogous to something between “the Bay Area” and “the Midwest”), and a lot of cities/kiln sites. He also wanted some “light topography.”

Shown is a screenshot reduced in size, so it’s slightly crude. This is a work in progress, and I haven’t decided on the final color scheme yet.

I don’t kid myself that I can produce a map of the same quality as a professional (although this compares favorably to the maps I was given as aids to positioning elements). But I do have certain principles that I hope keeps my maps from sucking too badly:

  • Information must be legible
    It is remarkable how many maps break this seemingly obvious rule. This meant I had to keep my background map rather light and make the overlay text as dark and large as possible.
  • Map elements should be clearly distinguished by typography
    While country names are among the largest geographic elements, in this map they function just as modern reference points, and the main information is historical. I set the country names in small caps in a nonassertive color and the city names (really the main map information) in black in the typeface’s bold caption font.
  • All type should be horizontal
    This isn’t always possible, I guess, but I will go to great lengths to achieve it. The model maps I was given had type running this way and that, following the directions of rivers and mountains for example. I think this is migraine-inducing.
  • Map typefaces should be compatible with the book text
    Maps sometimes are produced seemingly without any reference to the context in which they will be placed. This map uses the same type family that I use in the text of the book (Garamond Premier Pro).

At some point in making a map like this you will be tempted to fudge some elements to make the map look better. Cities that are too close together, for example, present problems when you are pushing the size and weight of the type for legibility. As I mentioned, this is a work in progress,. But I have done my best to be fairly accurate in positioning the cities. is a helpful database of geographic coordinate information.

I suppose you could view maps on a sort of spectrum. At one end you have satelite photography, which captures geographic relationships with absolute fidelity but offers no filtering or organizing of information. At the other end you have something like Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 New York subway map, which presents information pertinent to the map user with scant regard for actual geography. For each map, the maker must determine what information the map is attempting to present and then find the appropriate point on that spectrum to achieve the desired result.


Book design fees

Recently I had occasion to research rates charged by designers for text-based book work. I was trying to determine a reasonable price for a 320-page hardcover collected poems, interior and cover/jacket design. Since I have mainly worked with heavily illustrated books over the past decade I had lost touch with going rates for text-based projects.

According to the 2001 edition of the Graphic Artists Guild handbook of Pricing and Ethics, for an average poetry book a designer might charge $7,500 to $15,000 to design and set the interior plus $1000-$2000 for the jacket. That gives a total range of $8500-17,000. Those figures are seven years old, but several people say the prices in this publication skew high.

For my informal survey I consulted four designers.

Designer A would charge $4-5/pg, depending on complexity, on top of the design charge of $350-$500. Cover design would range from $350-$1000. If there’s a lot of text prep (coding), he charges that hourly ($50). This gives a total of $1980-3100, plus coding, by far the lowest fee in my sample.

Designer B would charge $20-25/page “all in” as a nonprofit/university press discount rate for a non-illustrated book. Plus revisions at $50/hour. This would come to about $6400-8000, plus revisions fee. She says she gets $35-50 per page for an illustrated book from a commercial press, which obviously would as much as double the total.

Designer C would charge $1500 for the jacket + $1000-2500 for interior design + $8-15/page typesetting. When she totaled this up she got $8800, suggesting she favors the high end of her range, and I expect she would much more often come in there than at her low end.

Designer D would simply charge a flat rate of $35-40/page. This would come to $11,200-12,800. He claims “some people charge $65/page.”

It’s interesting to see the different bases designers use for calculating fees and the different rates and totals yielded ($3100, $8000, $8800, $12,800; plus extras) for the same job.


More posts on graphic design:

[catlist ID=32 numberposts=10]


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