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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.

Contemporary New Zealand Photographers

23 Jul

This is one of the books Neil Pardington brought in to show us as an example of his book design when he spoke to our class. It’s a great example of his style: very clean and clear and uncluttered. It also incorporates some of the aspects of book design that some of the other designers spoke about.

For example, the dust-jacket is a perfect example of what Hamish Thompson said about covers needing attention from all sides and the fold-outs of dust jackets being an ideal place to put text that you don’t want cluttering up a cover. The front cover of Contemporary New Zealand Photographers is simply an image from inside the book with the title along the top and the back cover is another image. So, whichever way you happened to put this book down, it would look good. All the information (blurb, etc) is then included on the inside flaps. I think this is just perfect for a coffee table book like this because it is after all the images that are the most important thing.

In terms of internal layout, the same clean and classic feel is apparent. The outside margin is smaller than the inside margin, which kind of goes against classic design but everything’s so well and carefully set out that it works. I think what is really nice about the layout of this book is that it gives each item room to breathe – there’s enough space around every page element that you can notice and appreciate everything in its own right.

Cover Up

22 Jul

This book is designed and written by Hamish Thompson and I think it’s a great example of all the aspects of book design he discussed with us when he came to speak to our class.

The first thing that he talked to us about was the cover and spine. He gave us this quote from Charles Dickens: ‘There are books of which the backs and covers are the best part’. Which is funny, but is also quite often true! Hamish talked about the fact that the front cover is not the only cover of a book: there’s the spine (which I’ve already touched on) and the back cover to consider too. We don’t always put books down the ‘right’ way so you’re just as likely to see the back cover face-up as you are the front cover. Cover Up is a lovely example of the cover as a whole package: the image is really effective, and is continued on the flaps which you can pull out (this is a really nice touch). Hamish talked about flaps as a really good tool for placing text that you don’t want to clutter up the front or back cover (another nifty variation like that used in Stopover with the blurb on a sticker).

Inside, the book is really simply but nicely laid-out. I love the use of the coloured pages next to the title and chapter opening pages. I also think it’s really nice to have the title echo the cover by using the same font and design as is done here.

In the introduction spread, I think it’s really interesting to note that the outside margin of the text is much smaller than the inside margin. This is different to the rest of the text in the book, where the outside margin is the largest and often used for captions. It’s also in only one column. I don’t really find this a good or a bad thing: I guess that this has been done to differentiate the foreword from the actual text. It doesn’t impinge upon reading as the lines are still a reasonable length, but it could be a bit of a pain if your hand was in the way when you got to the bottom right-hand corner (as Margaret Cochrane pointed out, there’s no point in including text in a place where your hand might cover it!).

I think the main pages are really beautifully laid-out. I like the look of the text in two columns and I think this makes it approachable to read. I also like the use of the outside margins for captions. I think it’s nice to have the page numbers justified to the same place as the main body of text as this makes them very unobtrusive.

I also think it’s good to include the name of the artist entry (for example, ‘Evelyn Clouston’) as a header on the recto pages as a reference to where in the book you are and whose image you’re looking at. Like the page numbers, I think these are well-placed on the page so that you hardly notice they are there until you need them, in which case they’re where you’d expect them to be.


15 Jul

Read an interview with Emily Gravett about Wolves on the Pan MacMillan website. Read another interview with Emily on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
Visit Emily Gravett’s website to look inside Wolves and her other books.

Vida Kelly brought this book in to show us when she spoke to our class about children’s book design. She used it as an example of a book where she, as designer, hadn’t actually had to do too much work because the author and illustrator, Emily Gravett, already had such a good awareness of designing a picture book.

It’s a really awesome book. Firstly, it has this whole book-within-a-book thing going on that is illustrated by the pictures: as the little rabbit reads, you read over his shoulder. Sometimes the text of the story is that of the Rabbit’s library book (shown by including it on the book in the illustrations) and sometimes it’s the text of the story in your hands, in which case it’s off to the side. There’s never too much text on the page and I think that this is an excellent example of illustration and text fitting in and working together really effectively (which is obviously so important in a picture book).

I couldn’t get an image of the endpapers of this book but they were great too: very scrapbooky with the library card and other things.


15 Jul

Hamish Thompson brought this book in to show us when he spoke to our class about book design. It was one of those books that, like Where Your Left Hand Rests, feels totally comfortable sitting in your hands and is a total joy just to flick through.

The cover is clothbound and embossed all the way around with the word ‘stopover’, the o’s of which are highlighted or coloured in in silver. It’s really hard to discern this from the photo, but it’s really gorgeous in real life.

The high quality of the paper and the colour of the images inside the book reinforce the feeling of it as a special object.

The thing that I thought was cutest about this book was the fact that the blurb and the barcode – which would have been totally out of keeping with such a beautiful cover but are also absolutely necessary – were printed onto a circular sticker which was stuck on the back of the book. You could then remove this, fold it in half and use it as a bookmark. I thought this was a really nifty solution to what was a bit of a design conundrum: as I’ve already mentioned, with covers as well as throughout the inside of books, it always seems to be a balancing act between sleek and lovely design and including the information that is necessary in a way that it can be understood and used.

Popular Penguins

15 Jul

See more Popular Penguins on the Penguin Group (NZ) website.

There’s actually not a lot for me to say here that I haven’t already said (collections, retro revival, etc). And that which I haven’t already said is all fairly obvious with the Popular Penguins, but I’ll say it anyway.

This is such a simple design and it’s stock-standard, which is the genius of it. No having to worry about coming up with a new design for each book, you can just cover it with the good old orange and cream template. Easy peasy (and cheap-o).

And, even though the design of these books seems not to be focused upon the object of the book so much as the text it contains, I’d argue otherwise. It might seem that giving every book the same cover privileges the story inside, but I actually think it makes these books commodities in the sense of being ‘those trendy Penguin editions that trendy people have sticking out of their back pocket at bus stops or smoky cafes’. They’re all about what they are, who they’re written by, and who the publisher is. All thanks to the simple but highly recognisable design of orange and cream stripes.

Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand

10 Jul
Visit Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand online.
Visit and compare the 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand online.

With the developments in technology that have happened with computers and the internet and ebooks (and yaddayadda), there are some books that it really makes no sense to keep as ‘books’ anymore. Encyclopedias are a good example: why would anyone own five tomes that are stuck on their bookshelf when you could carry all that information around with you all the time on your computer? And, indeed, as is the case with Te Ara, you don’t even need to ‘carry’ it in your computer: all you need is the internet and you can access it.

I think Te Ara is an excellent example of how the internet and computers can make books even more accesible than what they were, but being in a different format to what they traditionally are, there are a whole lot of different design issues that arise. Luckily, we had Jock Phillips from Te Ara come and speak to our class, so I don’t have to try and be smart and come up with them on my own. According to Jock, the benefits of having a publication like Te Ara as a website are:

  • you can include multimedia resources that relate to and reinforce the text. Te Ara aims to have 1 resource for every 1000 words of text.
  • nationwide links! You don’t even have to provide all the information, you can simply link to other places you know provide it. Again, these links relate to and reinforce the text.
  • searching a website is much easier: you can find specific information instantly.
  • websites are easy to update as information changes (Jock also mentioned that this allows the audience to engage with what they’re reading, I guess by making suggestions).
  • there are many audiences: the website format can appeal to and be used by anyone from an ESL learner to an international scholar.

So, do I think it works and does the design reflect these intentions? Totally. I think it’s really easy to use, it’s made obvious where to find everything. Having the ‘What’s Inside’ menu directly below the introductory image is good, because it’s the first place you scroll to look for more information. And having the images helps to indicate that these are ‘main’ sections of the site.

Overall, I really like the ‘horizontal’ feel of the site. It’s great to land on a slideshow on each new page and I think the landscape format works really well with the format of a computer screen. There’s not too much text (which I find really overwhelming when I’m first trying to find information) and the text that’s important (like links to new pages) are made really obvious and not clouded by too much surrounding text.

It’s good to compare the layout and design of Te Ara with the 1966 Encyclopedia. The 1966 Encyclopedia is still set out in very much the same way as a traditional book encyclopedia would be which works but is not anywhere near as user-friendly or as accessible on a computer as Te Ara. Te Ara is a good example of how you can take an existing text and re-adapt it and enhance it in a different format.