Sunday, October 23, 2011

The social designer

When partnerships between the digital arena and publishing are mentioned most people immediately think of eBooks. But the digital world is also affecting the publishing of 'real books', most interestingly through social media. New relationships are being built in all departments, leading to better understanding and a bigger sense of belonging to a project.

Now, for me social media is a big ol' marketing power term, just like 'Web 2.0' but for the purpose of this blog I am going to use it (liberally) to describe user generated digital media, like twitter, blogs, image aggregator sites and Facebook.

I am print based book designer, who's upbringing by a computer programmer father lead me to become something of a digital nerd at heart. I've had my own website since I was a moody teenager in the early 90s and now revel in my many social media accounts: twitter (@astred), Facebook,, linked in, Flickr and of course my own blog ( And it is through these many sites that I have been able to take part in something very exciting.

Social media is breaking down the barriers between publisher, author, designer and audience. Allowing each party to catch a glimpse of information that may not have been forthcoming without it.

As a freelance designer I have found myself down the rabbit hole and following threads I normally wouldn't see. Excitingly, I am able to follow authors (whom I have designed books for) as they post updates on their writing progress, along with their reactions to milestones in their publishing process (like seeing cover concepts). While fans and book bloggers in turn post their responses.

For me (and a small group of mainly young adult authors I design for) the dialogue between author and designer has expanded. This in no way cancels out the need for publisher, nor do I take design direction in this way, but the outlet has allowed for a deeper, mutual respect.

Friendly discourse can often lead to the author having a sense of ownership over the design of their book. Which can close the gap that has often existed between author and designer. Understanding the value of good design and trust in your publisher's chosen designer can enrich the experience for the author as well.

Upon accepting the 2011 Man Booker Prize for his novel 'The Sense of an Ending' Julian Barnes thanked the designer of his book: 'Those of you who've seen my book - whatever you may think of its contents - will probably agree that it's a beautiful object. And if the physical book, as we've come to call it, is to resist the challenge of the e-book, it has to look like something worth buying and worth keeping.' - source

Having a 140 character conversation on Twitter with an author and sharing the excitement when a design comes together is a fun experience. Even more so is stumbling upon a fan site on Tumblr that analyses the 'sneak-peak' cover design for an up-coming book. Dissecting every element on the cover, then revelling as they uncover the designer.

Following your authors twitter or Facebook can also lead to other discourse. A few months ago I was interviewed by author Tristan Bancks for his guest blogger stint on the Random House website. It was funny to be interviewed and discuss my process in that realm.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for social media activity I have been involved in over the last six months. With the instances steadily rising.

The whole process enriches the experience of writing and publishing a book for all concerned. Following these behind the scenes processes also expands the readers enjoyment of the book.

Book publishing is not dying it's evolving.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Irresistible Book Design

For the last couple of months, Chong, Virginia Murdoch, Jenny Grigg and I have been preparing for our panel discussion, Irresistible Book Design that was on at the MWF yesterday. Chong raised the challenge weeks ago that we do something more than discuss the work of various designers over their career in the traditional print context. We decided thus, that what was irresistible about book design right now was the need to find some answers about the digital context. We hoped the audience would walk away with some new information and be inspired about the future present.

We started the discussion off with Jenny talking about the extremely high standard of book production in Australia, and whether there will still be a demand for this in the very near future. Short answer, YES.

Virginia followed on from there talking about how the printed page currently occurs in the ePub format and that publishers mostly treat this as just an add-on to the traditional process. She recommended robust collaboration between web and print designers.

Chong finished in eloquent style, somehow able to cover the huge amount going on the digital context; future proofing, book apps, identity packages, book trailers. He concluded that book designers may need a few more tools in their kit box to ensure that a books design can retain it's integrity across multiple formats, but ultimately we'll continue to design books so that readers will want to read them.

Thank you to all of those that have shared their knowledge and expertise with us over the last couple of months. We've only uncovered the tip of the iceberg but this sharing of information is critical in the industry and I hope it comes back to you in spades. Thank you to Virginia, Chong and Jenny for your time and effort within already overloaded schedules.

I said I would post some useful links here so people could access them easily. The APA will do something similar on their website and are very keen to hear from designers about what it is you want from the APA with regard to training, discussion and support.

Any comments, feedback and information is as always greatly appreciated.

Some useful links

About the panelists

General publishing/design

Art of the book

Digital/Future proofing

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Read to cover to read

I've been reading Lloyd Jones’ Hand Me Down World and been imagining how excited Chong may have been when he was reading it with the purpose of covering it.
A book often has many covers over its life. An Australian book sold to other countries will often be covered differently to 'suit the market' there. Or the C format first edition may be considered too literary to work as a B format edition, which is generally issued at a lower RRP for wider, more mainstream appeal.
As I read Hand Me Down World, (the paperback C format Australian paperback edition, which is the same as the original Australian C format hardback), I believe Chong may have come up with the quintessential cover for it. I find it intriguing that the publishers in England and New Zealand each opted for different approaches. 

As I read my Australian copy, I keep turning back to the front and the back covers to take in the quiet determination on Ines' face, to remind myself how apt it is that she's in profile, eyes closed; to notice the style of the blue coat, to check the boys clothes as he kicks the ball. I contemplate it all and reflect on it’s ‘rightness’ for the words within.
This ‘turning back’ to the cover whilst reading is integral to the reading experience, and is something we do unconsciously, so very naturally. We turn the book in our hands back to front, front to back. It allows the reader time to reflect and consider. It can be a designers dream to have this happen.
I’ll be honest here that I’ve only read part of three published books on my ipad. Apart from the obvious considerations of lessening bulk and paper wastage, and now, after the honeymoon flutters with technology have passed, I find the reading experience quite lacking.
Call me a Philistine but I think Steve Jobs and Robert Brunner, (the designer of the Kindle), could enhance the digital experience such that the reader can experience the cover anytime they wish whilst reading. How hard can it be?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

epub 3 allows real design

I have been listening to several sessions at BEA on ePub 3, which is due for release at the "end of summer" aka something like Septemberish. It is exciting. EPub at its core permits books (ebooks) to reflow for the size of the screen (iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Nook etc). It has been pretty clunking and ugly in the past and the challenge for the publisher has been to make it look acceptable on all screens rather than to worry about it looking good on any screen.

There has not been much of a role for the book designer. EPub 3 changes all that and designers will be challenged to change and enrich the way they think. The page will be dynamic not static. There will be dynamic text flow across columns, around shapes, around images, border controls, finer typesetting controls and a whole host of other things a designer needs in the task of making things look good - and meaning accessible.



Hope you've recovered from the antics last week in Sydneytown. Congratulations once again to all the winners and those nominated, and those nearly nominated.
The giving of awards and the award night and format itself is bound not to please everyone. But I'd like to reiterate how much of a highlight it was to have the chance to put faces to names and compare notes. To literally have a chinwag about book design and stuff.
I have since read Chongs thoughts on his 2 awards for Hand Me Down World, ‘The Best Designed Literary Fiction Book’ and ‘The Best Designed Cover of the Year'. It makes good reading so am posting the link here. I did indeed go out and buy a copy yesterday.

And just in case I hadn't had enough of books and talking about books in the last week or so, I watched this episode of Jennifer Byrne Presents: The Future of Book, on iview last night because I missed it last week. Good viewing also.
Love your thoughts on the format, the choices, the winners, the nominations, those books that were clearly missing in action, how things could be done better, what the judges got right. There's been the suggestion, and not to detract from those books that do, that we have an award for the 'best book cover NOT using any foils, spot UVs, embosses, debosses or other fancy finishes' or perhaps an award for the 'best book cover designed using dodgy art supplied by the author'. I'm all for that. And what about an awards for ebooks?
Add your faves here and get this chinwag happening.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hi all,
I can offer some news about the agIdeas conference. I was there for several talks, as a first time audience member, although didn't see as many talks as I would have liked. It is a luxury to sit in an auditorium and have a series of speakers describe the way they channel their creative energy into life.

It's comfortable, well organised, and as a creative person you are unusually passive ... so you soak it all in and store it in a place that it can reappear when you are doing your own thing.

I missed Ken Miki from Japan, but he was great on all reports. Beautiful designer, that all book designer's, I think, can easily relate to. Toko's rep. speaker was great, Wout de Vringer from the Netherlands gave a generous history lesson on dutch design forgetting to leave time to show his own companies beautiful work. Each speaker only gets 20 mins.

My personal highlight was hearing Matthew Harding speak, an Australian sculptor. Well worth googling if you don't already know his work. A person completely immersed in observing and creating since a child, inspired by his builder (?) father, who has seemed to keep an unbroken focus since. He called it his work ethic 'absurd' or 'ridiculous', something like that. Very inspiring work, really beautiful.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stops and Starts

Where has the time gone? Months since the last post. Anyone would think that with the demise of Red Group and the rise of the e-book, that the traditional publishing world had ground to a halt. Alas, the opposite is the case. A veritable chess board of movers and shakers. Mary starts Plum. Deb starts at Murdoch. Vivien starts her engines around Oz. Miri starts back home. Bob stops being full time. Juliette stops but starts I can't remember where. Lots of new business plans start up and production mega-budgets pause to catch breath. In all of this stopping and starting, I haven't managed to post a thing. Some blog! I'm just trying to work I guess. I marvel at bloggers who are at it at all hours. I guess the trick is to be quick and spontaneous. Light and easy. Not to take a post too seriously. Is that it?

Well, I'm kicking myself that I didn't find the funds and the time to get to AGideas last week. Bad timing with the BAS deadline for me this year, despite declaring for years that I could never afford NOT to go. I have always come away from it bursting with inspiration, excited and with a renewed purposeful direction, if not a few judiciously-pilfered ideas. Any reviews, highlights, lowlights are greatly appreciated here please.

Well I'll stop there. Light and easy, remember?

Oh, and for you Victorians, it's Booktown at Clunes this weekend.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Outstanding standing out

I have been thinking over the Summer break about the upcoming book design awards.

Over the years I have noticed the absence of many designers, and therefore many designs. Designs that immediately struck me as ‘outstanding’, as ‘award-winners’. Designs I wish I’d created myself. Missing at the awards are their designers, masters in their field, who continue to line our books shops with brilliant design after brilliant design, enriching our visual and cultural lives.

As a panel member, I have also noted that there are many less-than-‘outstanding’ designs entered; designs that come with an apology. Rows and rows of them piled high.

In recent years the APA has adjusted their processes and protocols. As of last year in particular, the design weight on the panel was increased substantially. Categories were adjusted to match the changing industry environment and the need for ‘outstanding’ reiterated profusely on the entry form. And there is still much more to do.

Whilst it’s not perfect and the merit of giving awards is highly debatable, the book design awards night is the only event in the calendar year that celebrates Australian book design. But maybe it’s not all about awards. It is a chance to meet, sometimes for the first time, the editors, publishers and production people you’ve been working with all year, a chance to collectively have a natter, to take stock, congratulate and appreciate.

On that note, for the last few years several of us have been kicking on after the awards. Last year, we stumbled around the streets of Surry Hills till we found a suitable establishment (if you can call The Clock suitable). Any recommendations from Sydney locals for a venue afterward and/or breakfast the next morning will be warmly received.

There is much to discuss.