Book Design Problem Solving

Posted on by Jordan Hurder

Let’s just say I thought I was closer to being done with the Larding project before we put it on hiatus in February.  At the very least, I thought all the design work was done.  Well, not quite, it turns out.  But this is what is fun about running a small press and getting to design books from start to finish – and solving problems along the way has been exhilarating, even if the self-imposed stress I’m under has left me feeling a little ragged.  The goal is to get these out before Justine and I leave for our honeymoon on May 1st, but that’s looking less and less realistic (there we are again with the dreaded More Work Than We Expected).

Flying back to Oakland from Chicago last week, I was trying to sketch out the cover print for the book, despite the turbulence forcing my hand around the page against my will.  I have felt – especially after the covers of the CPR books we just finished – that my ability to arrange letters in attractive ways is limited to parallel lines and 90 degree angles.  I feel like I’m decent at designing books, but I’ve NEVER considered myself any type of visual artist, so the task of designing covers in the first place is one I do out of necessity, not because I think I’m so awesome at it that someone else couldn’t do a better job.  Still, like amateur photography or bowling, it’s something I like doing, and so I spend a lot of time thinking about letter forms and how different ones complement each other on the page.  But, when I look at the greats of the medium – especially my hero Massin – I realize that my designs are all boxy, like I laid down a grid and made every element on the page rigidly adhere to it.  I tasked myself with at least placing text diagonally or something at least to disrupt the rigid symmetry of what I would normally do.

I’m pretty happy with what I came up with (happy enough to use it, at least) – it’s fairly asymmetrical, and I took the bold (for me) step of embellishing the end of the “e” to illustrate the idea of “pulling at the line.”  (Also, I added the horizontal bars at the top and bottom of the “I” – I love this font (Turnpike), although I wanted each letter in “tirez” to be an equal width, and the “I” is just a vertical column.)  The major problem with the design is that it’s wide and not very tall, and I had originally designed the books around a 2.5″ x 2.5″ cover print.  I didn’t want to go back to my original sketches for a square design, so I decided to work the new size into the design of the book.  For the trade edition (the problem of which I’ll get to in a minute), this made sense – I will just print the design directly on the wrap-around band, instead of on the book itself.  Easy enough.  But for the deluxe edition, it is a priority for the cover to have a pastedown to break up the monotony of the bookcloth.  My original plan was to put the square cover print in the upper left-hand corner and the wrap-around band along the bottom, which would have looked pretty neat.  However, there was really no orientation for the new, wider pastedown that looked good (center, top, bottom… I came close to going with just-above-center, but it just didn’t work).  What did work was to turn the print 90 degrees and align it toward the left side of the book.  Not only can I size up the artwork a little bit (since the book is taller than it is wide, leaving the artwork more room to spread out), but the print will look good turned on its side, and the pastedown looks great on the left side of the cover this way.  The problem now, of course, is that the band will cover part of the print, and there’s no way for that not to look bad.  My first instinct was just to ditch the band, but because of the accordion binding, the book really needs something to hold it together.

Here is the solution I came up with: A thick mylar window strategically placed in the band, right over the pastedown.  Now, the band can go around the center of the book, which looks better anyway, and the window is pretty badass.  I was just going to use .005 acetate, the same stuff Black Sparrow Press used to use as dustjackets for their hardcover releases, but I found this really thick stuff at an art supply store (it’s almost like plastic sheeting), and it fit the bill absolutely perfectly.  Problem solved.

A while back, Justine and I had to decide if we were even going to do a trade edition for this book.  Due mostly to laziness, we cut the deluxe edition from 30 copies to 18, which isn’t quite enough, so we made the choice to produce a trade edition as well.  At first, I planned just to do a normal pamphlet binding, but after typesetting the book, I’m totally sold on the idea of 5 individual page spreads, and I don’t like how they look printed double-sided and bound as a pamphlet (in the deluxe edition, each one is folded in half and sewn individually into the accordion spine).  Problem was, neither of us could think of a good way to deliver unbound page spreads without making the product too complicated to be an inexpensive trade edition.  Luckily, Justine came up with the idea of folding each spread and tucking them into a triangular pocket at the bottom right corner of the inside, and then tying the package together with a wrap-around band.  It took me a few tries to come up with a good size and configuration for the triangle (giving it a gusset so that it can hold the pages). Problem solved.

Now you have way more information than you ever even thought you needed about how we go about designing our books.  Pretty gripping stuff, eh?  At this point, I’m just looking forward to releasing this book so we can move onto Paul Hornschemeier’s book and a whole new set of design problems to solve.