Book design is a specialty that seems to attract detail-oriented people who don’t mind working on books that most people can’t really tell apart. But book designers know some things their clients don’t know.
I’m not authorized to reveal too many of their secrets, but here are three that might surprise you. Just don’t let on that it was me who told you, okay?
Secrets of the Typographers
- Book Designers know that you should never look at a single book page when evaluating a book design. The basic design unit in book design is the two-page spread. In use, books almost always are perceived flat, as two pages. That’s why you won’t see book designers looking at single page views, (except for single-page chapter openings or the title page, of course) but only at spreads when they want to get a good idea of what their design will look in its finished form.
- Book Designers know that their designs are inherently architectural. Although historically, type design has been viewed as the closest approximation of architecture, the design of the printed page is truly the most similar to the design and construction of buildings. All the page elements and their relationships express structure, stress, solidity, groundedness. There are cantilevers, pillars of type that appear like the columns of classical temples, and and the reading of the page itself is a trip down the pathway the design presents for the prose.
- Book Designers know that if their design are truly to work well, one excellent way to evaluate their spreads is by flipping a printout upside down. Book page layout is one of the few design disciplines in which the product of your work will look as good—and sometimes better—upside down. Go ahead, try it. You know you want to.
A Peek Behind the Curtain
Perhaps revealing these secrets will help you understand your book designer and treat them better because of it. Book design, some would say, is a dying art, and soon all books will be ebooks or print jobs dumped from Microsoft Word into print-on-demand templates.
I’m not so sure. But even your run-of-the-mill book designer has got some tricks up her sleeve. Get one to work on your project and share their tremendous resources. Your book will be the better for it.