Archive for the ‘design’ category

Book design – creating the vessel to carry the content

07/16/2010

We should never underestimate the importance of good design. Often discarded as simply “marketing” or “advertising,” design is generally considered a lesser form of art. Yet it holds a power that much traditional art doesn’t have. It has the power to make you buy things. It has the power to make you feel like you need something, to offer a product that could possibly change your life. Perhaps this is less admirable, but perhaps it is more powerful. Especially when you’re selling a product that is truly important.

Unlike a new kitchen appliance that promises to chop your vegetables for you (twice as fast!), books are products of creativity, intelligence, emotion, and, most importantly, art. But they still need to be sold—not just for money, but to convince people to read them—and for that, we need design. Book design should not be thrown aside on the belief that it is only the meaning of the words that are important. That is simply not true. A good book is a beautiful and harmonious interaction between the visual and textural aspects of the book and the story, the words. It is not just cover design that is important, but also weight, texture, layout, format. Think of the words as water and the book as the vessel—without it the words would fall over themselves in chaos.

Designing a book cover is tough because there is little freedom: we have a set expectation and template for what a book looks like. It is rectangular. There is a title, perhaps a subtitle. The author’s name. And there is some manipulation of space (whether through illustration, text, or photography) that conveys, visually, the novel itself. Though there are millions of ways to manipulate that blank rectangular space, publishers often take the easy way out and forgo creativity for predictability.

For instance, most people can imagine what 99% of all “romance novels” look like: the airbrushed, painted image of the muscular hero looming over the flushed heroine. Sci-fi and fantasy novels are usually better, but only slightly: their major problem is not the viewer’s need to either gag or laugh (as in the romance novel’s case) but instead the cover designer’s compulsion to include “the ‘dramatic’ pose, the ‘epic’ vista and the ‘adventuring party’ combining warrior and mages” in the words of James Long, blogger. For imaginative readers—as readers of fantasy and science fiction often are—this is almost an insult, as if the reader couldn’t just read the book and come up with his own visual description of the characters and the setting. (Go here for some true cover-art drivel.) A cover should be evocative of what is inside, not indicative.

There are a great many fiction novels out there that deal almost exclusively with romance, or horror, or fantasy. They just have better covers and are marketed differently. It’s almost as if you get a good cover design and the right publisher and your book is immediately marketed as “fiction” instead of  “crime” or “romance”. With that label comes a sense that the book is somehow written better, whether that’s actually true or not. A cover is extremely important in convincing potential readers that the words inside are not as cheesy, conventional, and craptastic as the art on the outside. A creative cover points to a creative novel, just like a cheesy cover points to a cheesy novel.

Visually, there are many ways to create a fantastic cover. It needs balance, which in artspeak means a feeling of visual equality (color, shape, line, value), symmetrical or asymmetrical. The center of interest, the area that first grabs your attention, should be intriguing and will pique your curiosity. Because there is text on the page, proper font selection is vital. This is something that many people simply don’t understand, not just in book covers but on websites, in presentations, etc. Design geeks will be able to name off several of their favorite fonts. (See the awesome Periodic Table of Typefaces.) The final cover should be unified, or harmonious. This simply means that all of the visual and design elements come together to create one whole image. A book cover doesn’t need to be emotionally pleasing but it sure does need to be visually pleasing. Recognizing good design is instinctive for most people—but creating it is a whole different story. (Check out the WSJ article on the evolution of the cover art for Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.)

In short, a really great book design has three things: marketability, artistic/design value, and a deep connection with the words inside. Book design should capture the essence of the story (or message, for non-fiction), not the plot, in a way that is both memorable and marketable. And, like I said before, it should evoke the book, and carry the words to the reader in a vessel that is unique to the water-words it carries.

–          Elena Makansi

Update: we decided to add a few examples of what we consider good design: (check out many more here)



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How the Paperback Changed Popular Culture

04/07/2010

I just came across an article on Smithsonianmag.com about the inception and cultural impact of the paperback novel. It’s a short piece and a nice read. You can find it here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/How-the-Paperback-Novel-Changed-Popular-Literature.html.

Publishing Idea #5: The Unknown Ending

03/25/2010

Have you ever been completely immersed in a great book, there’s all this conflict and awesome characters and multiple plotlines leading to what appears to be an amazing ending, and you truly didn’t want to know how many more pages until the end of the book?

The tricky thing is that you always have a pretty good idea of the number of remaining pages. You know that you’ve reached the final twist because there are only a few pages left, or you know that something big is going to happen immediately because of the limited time remaining.

Me, I like this aspect of books to remain a mystery. I don’t want to see the ending coming. I want it to hit me out of nowhere, and I want to be pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t. I offer a few solutions, and I’m sure you can think of others.

  1. Add extra pages at the end. I don’t mean blank pages (unless they’re covered in invisible ink). I mean pages with author interviews, sample chapters from the next book, a short story, things like that. I think Penguin does this with their PS books. I love those PS sections.
  2. Publish the final chapter(s) online. Think about this. You’re reading a book. You think you’ve reached the end, but on the last page, it says to go to a protected private link online for the final chapter(s). Sure, this could be annoying if you’re on a plane and just want to finish the book, but how cool would it be to be blindsided by that? You could have a forum in following the final chapter online for people to discuss the book–it’s an automatic community.
  3. Use ebooks. This seems like the easy way out, but the fact of the matter is that you can turn off the page number function on ebooks (well, Kindles, at least, but I’d be bewildered if you couldn’t do this on the iPad too).

What do you think? Do you want to see the ending coming, or is ignorance bliss?

Publishing Idea #4: Maps

03/24/2010
Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
David Anthony Durham’s Acacia

Isn’t it awesome when you open a book and find a detailed map on the inside? I love that.
The problem, though, is that you don’t want to look at the map too closely or you ruin the story. I’m wondering if there’s a better way.
I have a solution for both paper books and e-books. For paper books, you actually include a map at the beginning of each chapter that reveals all known information up until that point. It doesn’t even have to be a fantasy book–if you have several characters doing different things in separate locations, track their footsteps (if that information adds to the experience of the book). As you progress through the book, the map gets bigger and bigger until you get to the back cover, and you see the full map of the newly revealed world you just discovered.
With ebooks, you essentially incorporate the same function into the book as often as you’d like. The map can be a drop-down option that you can access at any time. The key is that it wouldn’t show the entire map. Remember the original Warcraft computer game? When you’d start a new map, you could only see the area that was directly around your little orc until he explored. Same with the ebook map widget. The more your characters explore, the more of their world you can see.

Publishing Idea #3: The Wedding Invitation

03/23/2010

What you’re going to see below is that you can tell a great story the old fashioned way–with words, not pictures or videos–while doing so much more than just putting words in rows on paper. This is also a fantastic example of a way to design a story, a concept I’m fascinated by. Check out the coolest wedding invitation ever:

What are some ways you can design your story?


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