Fat Vampire

29 Jul

Look inside Fat Vampire on the HarperTeen website.
Visit Adam Rex’s blog to read more about Fat Vampire and see book trailers.

I love this cover! I also like the marketing approach the author, Adam Rex, has taken with this book (LOTS of blogging, including an elaborate plot where he turned himself into a vampire … clever) but that is a discussion for another time and place.

I’ve actually included this cover as a tribute to the whole vampire craze in books. Because, while it’s not mimicking the black cover/red paper edges of the Twilight books (now there’s another collection I could talk about!), this cover is definitely capitalising upon and making a comment about that theme. The blood milkshake is a really striking image that says a lot about the book and about the vampire trend as a whole: you’ve got consumption, pop culture, and the whole red, white and blue thing going on. I love stuff like this that’s kind of poking its tongue out at the world and at itself.

I haven’t actually had a chance to look inside this book for real (only in the browse inside option on the HarperTeen website) because I only heard about it through blogs, but it is definitely one that I’d like to have the chance to see in real life. Heck, I’m probably going to buy it because I like the cover so much (and I have true respect for anyone who can turn himself into a vampire through the powers of blogs).



26 Jul

So far, with the exception of the Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, I’ve only looked at print books in this scrapbook, but I think that it’s really important to give some consideration to ebooks and how they are designed. While I think that, for nostalgic reasons, ebooks will retain a lot of characteristics of print books I also think that there are a number of things that will and should change.

I’ve got a couple of examples from ebooks I’ve downloaded myself here and there are a few aspects I think I can discuss now.

The first, and most obvious, is what the role of covers will be. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and the more that I think about it the more I think that a strong and uncomplicated image with clear text will be the key to a good cover. If you think about it, when you’re shopping for books (be they e- or otherwise) online, you’re choosing them from thumbnails which are literally the size of the tip of your thumb. What is the point going to the in having a whole lot of tiny text espousing the good critical reputation of the book when nobody is going to see (or probably even read it) anyway? Something that’s eye-catching on a small scale will be what works, I think. In a way I think this is opening up cover design to a whole lot of new possibilites. Think about the Paperclip cover I talked about: something like this could be hugely effective online because it’s simple, clear and intriguing.

Anyway, that’s enough about covers. The internal design of ebooks needs to be negotiated differently to how it is in print. At the moment, it seems like a lot of ebooks are retaining the extra pages at the front (imprint, half-title, title, dedication, etc) that are traditionally in print books but there is no reason that ebooks need to follow this format (all these extra pages are included in the examples I’ve downloaded at least). As a number of speakers and other members of our class have mentioned, it’s actually just annoying to have unnecessary front matter in an ebook because it means you have to scroll or flick through it. Why can this information not be included in one section that’s at the end of or even separate to the ebook document? There’s no reason that just because books have always been set out according to a certain set of rules that ebooks also have to be set out according to the same rules: an ebook on an ereader is a completely different format to a print book. What is nice or pleasing in a print book is not necessarily going to be so in an ebook.

Then there’s the whole aspect of contents pages. One of the examples I downloaded has a contents page with the first sentence of each chapter hyperlinked. This is great: it makes it a lot easier to flick to the chapter you need and is making the most of one of the advantages of ebooks. It’s not very attractive though. The question for me here is, do you need to still make the contents page ‘pretty’ or is it simply enough to provide a list of links? I’m no authority, but I definitely lean towards the pretty side (although that’s probably just my inner nostaligic speaking).

I also ask myself what the deal is going to be with page numbers, headers, footers and the like. Surely they’re not necessary in an electronic document? But it seems like a lot of current ebooks, like the example I’ve included here, are retaining these features.

Something else I’ve also been thinking about is how we’re trained to read things on a computer screen or other electronic device. We’re used to scrolling down, but is this necessarily the best way to present a whole lot of text on a screen? The reason I’ve been thinking about this is because of one of the links that Matthew posted on one of our digital publishing discussion forums about websites and online documents designed to be read horizontally. I know that ereader devices (like kobo) scroll across, in the same way as a print book, but so far all the books I’ve downloaded for my computer scroll down. Still not sure what my preference is here, but I think it’s something to keep in mind.

Anyway, I think that my general feeling is that there are some crucial aspects of book design that are being renegotiated. So, knowing about and being aware of design in print books isn’t necessarily going to equal being aware of design in ebooks. I guess what it comes down to is being aware of how a book is intended to be used and making sure that its design facilitates that use at the same time as making it attractive.

Reflections of a Solitary Hamster

25 Jul

This is another one of the books Vida Kelly worked on and brought in to show us when she spoke to our class. It’s also one of the Gecko Press books that Julia Marshall spoke about.

I’ve included it here because I found it really interesting when Vida talked about the aspects of fitting the translated text into the speech bubbles. It was originally written in French so obviously had to be translated into English and, once this was done, the new text had to be fitted into the existing speech bubbles. As Julia pointed out, Gecko preserve the original look and feel of the books they publish, changing only endpaper colour and other small details to ensure that the books are high-quality productions. This means that the illustrations need to be kept as are … but with translated text, the translation can often be a lot longer than the original, posing a spacing issue in a book like this.

So, even though Vida had a very specific model to work on (the original book), it didn’t necessarily make the job any easier. She said that it was a really time-consuming process hand-writing out all the new sentences and fitting them into to the speech bubbles in an unobtrusive way.

I think the evidence that this was a success lies in the fact that when you read the book, you don’t notice the text as being ‘out-of-place’. In fact, you don’t notice it at all. Which I think is really something that so many people have pointed out with book design: you don’t necessarily notice good design, because it should fit seamlessly in with the book as a whole.

Penguin Great Ideas

25 Jul

Read an interview with the editor about Series One of Penguin Great Ideas on the Penguin (UK) website.

This is the last collection from Penguin that I’ll include, I promise. These books are just such good examples of using design to create a collection and to emphasise the object status of a book that I can’t not include them.

There are twenty books in each series and each series is colour coded (I’ve included the red series here). They’re not big books and each one boasts a cover that’s worthy of appreciation all on its lonesome. But the fact that there’s a whole set of beautiful books creates this impulse to want to have the complete collection (as they’re designed to all stand together).

So, as with the other collections I’ve talked about, design here is the focus: so much attention is paid to making the books pretty or desirable, that their look becomes just as important as their contents.


24 Jul

This is another cover example using a bright colour plus black and white. It’s also an example of a cover that plays with type. In this case the type is reinforcing the meaning of what it is saying, doing a kind of freefall into (or out of?) the surrounding buildings. It’s also accentuating the movement of the image around it. It’s also playing with the typical conventions of a cover: the type runs vertically rather than horizontally, and downwards rather than upwards, and the picture itself is upside down.

There’s not really anything else to add here that is new but I thought this was a good example of a lot of the aspects of cover design working really well together.

Marti Friedlander

24 Jul

This is one of the books designed by Spencer Levine, whose studio we visited and who talked to us about book design. He worked for Neil Pardington before going out on his own, and I think that the influence of Neil’s design is evident in the books designed by Spencer: clean, classic and uncluttered.

This book is a good example of a cover that uses an image and lets that image speak for itself. It’s also a good example of the bright colour plus black and white formula I’ve talked about, and it’s worth noting that the colour used on the cover is repeated on the endpapers and throughout the internal design of the book which creates really nice continuity. I noticed that a lot of the books designed by Spencer used colours like the blue here or bright yellow to really nice effect.

What not to do

23 Jul

So far I’ve really only talked about books that have design features I like, so I think it’s about time that I look at a book that does some things that are not so hot. As Margaret Cochrane pointed out when she came to talk to our class, it’s sometimes from seeing how not to do things that you learn what does work.

Which brings me to this gem, brought along to class by Frith. Pretty much everything about the way that this book is designed and set-out is off (in my opinion).

Let me start with the cover and back cover: too many images, placed willy-nilly and interspersed with text that’s weirdly spaced and formatted (I can’t figure out what the logic is behind the caps and the italics here!). The all-over effect is such that you can’t pay any attention to the text or to the pictures, so it’s really self-defeating.

Then the contents page: the image in the background is pretty but it completely drowns out the text which is in a font that’s too light to be clearly read. Also, this is an excellent example of why I’m generally not a fan of centre-alingned contents pages: the lines end up looking really ragged and I think it’s difficult to for your eye to make it to the end of one line without getting snagged on the one above or below. Finally, I don’t know what is going on with the page numbers here but that’s more of an editorial than a design issue.

The glossary is typeset in a way that makes it completely impenetrable. It just looks like a great big intimidating block of text with no indication where to start to look for the  entry you need. It’s almost impossible to differentiate terms from definitions and there’s no space around the text to give it room to breathe.

I don’t particularly like the imprints page centred either, and I’m not sure why it’s put in italics (there’s no need to differentiate imprint text because it’s obvious that it’s an imprint – usually a smaller font size is enough) or why it’s at the end of the book (imprints are usually on one of the first few verso pages, I thought).

This brings me finally to the internal layout. Again, not sure what the logic is behind italicisation and capitalisation in the headings or in the body copy. Far from emphasising the meaning of the text, I think the formatting here distracts from it because it’s jilting to read. There doesn’t seem to be any structure behind how images are placed or how the margins are used and I think the effect is to make the pages seem very cluttered and unfriendly to read.