Book Design: Answers to Questions Only a Book Designer Would Ask

20 Jul

Last night the question of quality came up again to my frazzled mind as I idly watched TV (cable, how have I lived without you for so many years?). On BBC America I found to my delight Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares.” I’m not a foodie by any means, though I know a good meal when I eat it.

I find myself fascinated by Ramsay, who comes off as something of a restaurant-industry drill sergeant, not only because of his creative use of the f-word and other — sadly — variously maligned words in the King’s English, but also his understanding of what quality is, from kitchen prep to customer service, and the way he values mental discipline in work and simplicity in the kitchen, even when creating gourmet dishes. The business values he expounds translate well to any kind of business, book publishing included.

And once again, using the associative property of the wandering mind, after seeing the Ramsay show, I thought about comments from freelance book designer Stephen Tiano about last week’s post, which distilled and paraphrased say, Good business comes from consistent quality matched with reasonable prices, and I couldn’t agree more.

Thinking about that comment reminded me that Tiano had produced an “unscientific survey” on his blog, and that reminded me to answer said survey via this week’s post. And now that I’ve rambled about my favorite f-bomb dropping celebrity chef and once again about my evolving theory of the associative property of the wandering mind I present …

Answers to Questions Only a Book Designer Would Ask (from Stephen Tiano)

1. Name the first aspect of designing a book that you give priority to once you accept a project and sit down to start.

Two considerations I’ve been making simultaneously with our books when I first start are how I’m going to apply our styles to the manuscripts we receive — some of the manuscripts have been sort of formatted with random fonts and designs before we get them so we sometimes have to decide even what constitutes a chapter head, a main head, a subhead, etc. — and whether it’s best to copy edit in Word or wait to flow the text to InDesign and then edit. The copy edit is, to me, the first priority, but I really prefer to copy edit once the text is in InDesign, simply because it’s easier to spot errors, most of the time, because I get a better visual sense of the book’s final layout.

2. Has InDesign proven to be the Quark killer for you; and, if so, what was the feature that did it; or do your clients determine which software you use?

I used Quark for seven of the nine years I was at the newspaper. I wasn’t J-school trained and had never used any design program before going to work at the paper, so Quark was my first experience with design and layout software, and from what I can tell quite a few papers still use Quark. I wasn’t fond of Quark, but the problems I had may have been based on our system (pages crashed just before deadline, or became corrupted frequently and were unrecoverable).

When I came here, I got my first taste of InDesign and have really liked it. The simplicity of the tools is a reward, though I find myself sometimes reaching for the Alt key when I want the hand tool (old habits, eh?). I’m big on simplicity. I think if I ever used Quark again, I’d be frustrated with it. I’d be curious to see what an InDesign template for a broadsheet set up in six columns would look like.

I can’t say, however, InDesign is a Quark killer, but InDesign certainly seems simpler.

Of course, with both programs, you use what’s available at your office.

3. What’s the first font comes to mind for body text each time you begin a book design project; and do you usually stick with that choice or say something like, “Yes, I really like that font, but it’s time to work with something else”?

At work most of the time we use Times New Roman for body text. Visually it seems to have a practical, no nonsense quality, perfect for technical books.

Not that you asked, but my sentimental favorite font is Courier, though a hardcopy manuscript page done on a word processor never quite has the bold output of Courier on a manual typewriter. A recent post at freelance editor Deanna Hoak’s site mentions that editors like manuscripts in Courier, because the spacing between letters makes it easier to catch mistakes.

But that’s manuscripts. I’m reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, and it’s set in Bodoni, which seems to really stand out; and, to me, seems reasonably readable.

4. Name one design-related book you highly recommend to book designers—please don’t suggest Tschichold’s The New Typography (Die neue Typographie) as I am just up to here with that book, as much of an earth-shaker as it was.

Ummm… Er… Ummmm …

Th-th-that’s all folks! (to stay with the Looney Toons theme from last week.)



3 Responses to “Book Design: Answers to Questions Only a Book Designer Would Ask”

  1. Stephen Tiano July 20, 2007 at 8:39 pm #

    Thanks, Todd, I appreciate your participating. It’s been an excellent exercise for me, very interesting and helpful to see what other professionals are thinking.

    Your answer to question 1 was one of the more practical answers I received. And it causes me to revisit something I’ve accepted for years. Way back in the dark ages, circa 1990, Ihad a client who told me to do all edits and correx they’d marked on the manuscript to the Word file, before importing into Quark 3. In 1998, when I was laying out science journal articles, that client said the same … before importing the textfile into the PageMaker template. They told me I’d work faster that way, tho’ when I worked from withing Quark and PageMaker, respectively, I can’t say I noticed a time hit.

    On the other hand, your preference for InDesign is in keeping with most everyone besides me. Not that I prefer Quark. But I like Quark and InDesign equally; and InDesign’s been requested only one time so far.

    All the variations of Times remind me too much of newspapers for me to design with. But I have had and do have clients who use it; and I do, too, in those instances. Funny, I’d never think of using Courier for precisely the reason that it’s your sentimental favorite: it reminds me of another time that’s passed by.

  2. tglasscock July 23, 2007 at 7:14 am #

    Making the copy edit in InDesign — or Quark for that matter — seems practical to me, not only as something of a time saving process, but also serves as a good visual aid, and makes it easier to read when I print the pages to do the actual first read. I edit on hard copy, then make the corrections on screen. I try to make three reads, as time permits before letting the pages go.

    As far as Courier goes — only in manuscript for editing sake. When I submit my own writing, if I don’t submit electronically, I submit manuscripts in Courier or Arial (those fonts tend to be preferred, at least when I’ve read most submission guidelines.)

  3. Mark Long July 24, 2007 at 6:45 am #

    One thing I would add about Question #1–after giving it more thought over the last week or so–of the Tiano Design Unscientific Survey is that, ultimately, once we accept a project, additional design concerns are directly related to the audience and/or distribution model for the book. That is, many of the technical manuals and lab books we do utilize wire coil binding so they will lay flat in a lab setting to be easily written upon. Plus, we have to do page set up on these to allow for perforated pages that can be torn out without losing any of the text printed on them. Then again, for books we’re wanting to get carried in regular bookstores, we’ve got to use a spine so that the title will be visible on a bookshelf.

    And, as well, some binding issues have to do with perceived value vs. real cost. That is, our print shop bought a desk-top perfect binding machine this summer. The cost per copy to bind this way is not that much more than wire coil binding but the perceived value by the author/readers of a book that looks more “book-like” (that is, with a spine instead of semi-glorified spiral binding) is more than worth the slight cost increase to us.

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