Book Design Process

When I submit design samples to my clients, I always strive to create something special, unique, and/or aesthetically pleasing. It’s not easy to define what that special quality consists of, but there is something satisfying about looking at a design that works as a whole.

I usually submit three of four design samples for my clients to choose from. I try to show examples of how the book would look in several different styles, often using some type of icon or dingbat as the basis for a design. Something as simple as a black line or arrow can become the basis for a very effective design.

In the past, book design was for the most part a very conservative art with a lot of real and traditional constraints. Designs have become much more complicated and sophisticated since the advent of desktop computers and powerful graphic design software. I expect book designs to become even more sophisticated as readers switch to eBooks with their enhanced graphics—and sound—capabilities.

Although I have access to thousands of fonts, I generally choose from a group of about ten fonts for the main text typeface of a book. I want to use a font that will be easy to read for a diverse audience. I think people prefer to read typefaces that they have seen before and gotten used to, such as the fonts Garamond, Caslon, Times, or Minion. Unusual fonts are great for some purposes, but I think they should be used sparingly in most books.

My number one goal in designing a book interior is that it must be easy to read. All of my design choices are aimed at making the book’s information accessible and approachable to the reader. I usually start by designing the elements for the chapter openers, trying to come up with several different treatments that suit the subject matter. I usually integrate fonts and design elements from the book’s front cover if it’s available in time.

I often work on books that have four or five levels of subheads and many other elements, including sidebars, pull quotes, numbered and bulleted lists, references, footnotes, tables, and figures. I particularly enjoy working on full-color books with lots of photographs.

The best designs often come a result of a working with a good art director and an experienced editors. As much as I like it when a client accepts one of my designs at the “first pass,” without asking for revisions, I’m also very happy to revise or completely scrap any of my designs to come up with a design that results in a better book.