Feb 12, 2009

New Considerations on Book Design

David Meerman Scott has some interesting thoughts about the changes in the way people experience books, based on new technologies and the many different ways we obtain and process information. Meerman notes how he added the URLs of Web sites, blogs, podcasts, videos and other links at the bottom of the each page in case readers wanted to go to the sites he was writing about. Subsequently, one of his readers asked why books couldn't be more like websites, using various ways to display information and be more interactive.

Does this new "style" of literacy really call for a new book model? It might - at least for some types of books. We are looking at this situation right now. After the initial publication of Summit Academy Institute Press' The BLT Hypothesis, the authors have asked us to take another look at the book design and see how it could be enriched from a visual and communicative perspective.

This might actually involve full color illustrations, comic book-style explanations, sidebars and graphs that would break the information into more accessible bits, and present it in a way that's more interesting and a little more fun. The content of the book involves the basics of brain processing and how physical factors manifest themselves in conditions such as ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome. While presented clearly and without an overabundance of technical jargon, the authors want the book to be easily accessible to parents of children with these conditions...and some of them might actually have ADHD themselves. So, I might pose the question: if you were making a book for people with ADHD, where would you start? If you have some thoughts, please leave your comments.

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Jan 30, 2009

Bust in Media & Publishing - Boom in Books?

Today, the Publishing Industry is clearly operating under a different economic model than is was in the past, and most people are inclined to believe that the downturn we are seeing is primarily the result of new technologies that are leveling and shifting the playing field. Quality content is available almost instantly in digital formats, at low or no cost, via computer or phone-based ebooks and audio podcasts. Printed books as we know them, professionally printed in black & white or full color, are within reach of almost every author. Most importantly perhaps, the means to distribute and promote new works is globally manifest in the incredible reach and speed of the Internet. Through websites, blogs, forums--and most of all--social media tools--the Internet now providers authors and readers with a wide range of intimate venues to promote, comment, critique, debate, exchange ideas and raise awareness of an almost limitless selection of creative works. Many are good. More are bad. But the Internet provides almost equal access to all in terms of distribution and the theoretical possibility of having a book reach its maximum potential.

The traditional book publishing industry continues to be hit hard by these trends. Print media in general are feeling the pinch, as high operating costs (which could be tolerated under the old publishing model) are no longer sustainable. Advances are lowered, marketing budgets slashed, new writers are overlooked...and many people are put out of work. Things are in a state of contraction, that is certain. But I think this contraction is leading to the birth of something else.

There are so many people finding themselves on the street these days, it's incredible. There are Twitter accounts, like TheMediaisDying which do nothing but record, like an ancient tickertape, the bad news of a falling media market. A few dozen jobs here...a few hundred there...another magazine shuts its doors...the sorry tweets drip down the page like dirty antifreeze out of a leaky old radiator. And it's not just media types. Real estate agents, advertising pros, software programmers, statistical analysts--it's almost like everybody is out on the playing field now--many with knowledge, expertise, talent or ability that had a high value when things were better.

You think to yourself - what does it all mean? What are all these people going to do?

Well, what they are probably going to do is accelerate all of the trends I discussed above. Given access to the Internet, any type of smarts, a rudimentary knowledge of social media and a talent for self-promotion, a large number of these people will be starting blogs (if they haven't already) connecting on Facebook or Twitter, and generally re-purposing all of their accumulated knowledge. What they know or love will be converted into a new form that will put food on the table, get them a new job, or open up a new career.

Already, it's easy to see that one of these new forms will be BOOKS. One look at how many of these newly-minted experts are promoting a new ebook on "How to Build Your Business Through Social Media" or something like that, and the future is pretty evident. Now multiply that scenario by many times, and throw a large number of former media people--writers, artists, photographers, editors--into the mix, and the result could be like one of those lab beakers that boils over when the right mix of chemicals is poured inside. Fairly soon we'll have even more ebooks, POD books and online magazines than ever before, in more forms than ever before, and with the motivated talent newly "available" -- probably of a higher quality than we have had before. There's an old saying that "everybody has at least one book in them." Well, we're about to find out.

Up till now, things have moved quickly, to be sure. But I think based on what is happening in the job market right now and the inevitable improvements in technology, the forecast for the next couple of years is that we are going to see quantum leaps in overall output and availability, promotional innovation and hopefully--quality. That's exciting...for those who are ready.

Jan 28, 2009

Wishing I Had a Local Resource Like This.

I had come across a link to their upcoming conference - "The Form of The Book" about a week ago, and downloaded the program brochure, even though I am not able to attend. But a closer look at the website of The St Bride Library reveals an incredible resource for anyone interested in printing and the graphic arts. The London-based organization rightly promotes itself as the world's foremost printing and graphic arts library, offering over 50,000 books on printing technique visual style, typography, graphic design, calligraphy and more.

The Library also has on hand 3,500 periodicals, catalogues and directories, from typographic journals such as The Fleuron and Emigre to graphics reviews like Motif and Eye, and a number of specimen books and catalogues. Artifacts on hand include specimens of type, with punches, matrices and founders’ type from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. There are wood blocks, copper plate and lithographic stones to exemplify the various reproduction techniques, as well as copies of some of the software that has been used in the graphics industry.

Opened in 1895 as a technical library and printing school, the Library's collections cover all aspects of printing—paper and binding; graphic design, typography, typefaces and calligraphy; illustration and printmaking; publishing and bookselling; and the social and economic side of printing and its allied trades. For anyone involved in the book design or printing trades, it's a "must see," and I shall surely put it on my list. Now, if there was a way to get most of this material online...(sigh). In London, go here: St Bride Library - Bride Lane, Fleet Street -London EC4Y 8EE

Jan 23, 2009

Re-formatting Content. But Not Like You Think...

Back in 2002, I was looking at a project to take some public-domain material and create something that was useful, trying to update some ancient texts in a new and interesting way. I managed to gather together some historical works, essentially covering the period from the end of the Roman Occupation to the Saxon invasions. These included Nennius, Gildas and Caradoc of Llancarfan. I also threw in an outline of Clovis' ancient Salic Law, as kind of a bonus. Whoooweee!

Titled The Annals of Ancient Britain, I put them together in a landscape format, with a height/width ratio that would open a full-page PDF onto the user's computer screen. There was a cover, front material, a user's guide and a very simple navigation system, alowing users to go back to the table of contents, move ahead/back one page, or ahead/back to the next section. (I know you can use the keyboard arrows to navigate, but that only allowed page-at-a-time navigation, and I wanted to avoid the Acrobat Reader interface altogether for a clean graphic look.)

The result was a richly-illustrated, easy to look at, easy to use, and was a very inexpensive download. Designed from the start to be read on-screen, I had envisioned it perhaps as a helpful resource for history students who might be using a laptop. My goal was to bring some color and interest into what most people might find to be a dreary subject--especially considering the authors' writing style, and the image of dusty old books that ancient texts often invoke. I think the basic idea still functions well today, though it could use some updating.

I was considering this question when a friend recommended trimming the right-hand navigation off the page layout (which would render the format just about square) and setting it up to print in Blurb's 7" x 7" book format, in color. At about 114 pages, it would be about $20, which is far from an optimum price point for something like this. But I might do it anyway, just to see how it works. I have to laugh, though--heading from e-book back to print...am I going totally against the grain? Seems funny.

Jan 22, 2009

Time Magazine Ruminates on the Future of Publishing

A couple of days ago I pointed out Gareth Powell's insightful post on Blorge regarding the impact that reading books on iPhones and iPods is already having on the publishing industry. Now, Time Magazine is weighing in on the subject, with a timely article on how new technologies and even social changes are affecting the traditional practices of the book trade.

From self-published authors bypassing the agent/publisher game, changing economics, new print-on-demand technologies and yes--reading on cell phones, writer Lev Grossman makes a clear case that things are changing. Most probably forever. He contrasts the orchard-like setting of the traditional publishing model with the new jungle-like environment of the current book bazaar, where work of all kinds is offered in multiple forms, and often, at little or no cost. While many are trying to figure out how to monetize the ever increasing demand (the global literacy rate is estimated at about 82% now) Grossman sums up the essence of the article brilliantly:
"...the picture begins to resolve itself: more books, written and read by more people, often for little or no money, circulating in a wild diversity of forms, both physical and electronic, far outside the charmed circle of New York City's entrenched publishing culture."
Taken as a whole, the future of publishing may look dismal for some, but incredibly exciting for others. I would lean toward the latter group. The article ends on a succinct but clearly objective note as well: "None of this is good or bad; it just is."

Jan 21, 2009

Web Design for The CSS-Challenged

Though I do know how to create a passable web page, I do not consider myself by any means a Web Designer. For those who have the training and experience to utilize all of the latest tools and technologies in the advancement of this art, I can only offer my deepest admiration and profess my sincere envy.

Any investigation of my limited skills, such as they are, would reveal that beyond the use of CSS as it is utilized in this blog, further drilling into my linked and associated site, www.biblioverken.com, would reveal that it utilizes (ahem) tables. While I understand the limitations and warnings inherent in the use of these antideluvian devices, I nevertheless cannot force myself to apologize for using them. The truth is thus: I am not a full-time Web Designer. I have recently turned 50 years old. It probably took me 6-8 years to become"competent" in the design of web pages using tables, and simply put, I do not intend at this point in my life to devote additional and significant time to learning another method. Right now, I can generally achieve what I need to do, using my available capabilities and outdated technologies; or to state it another way, using my plumb-bob and 22oz. framing hammer when everyone has laser levels and nail guns. In less time than it would take me to learn something new and mysterious (to me), I could have created what I need with the old tools. Does it generate a little more code? Yes, of course--but I find not enough to make a significant difference--especially since the advent of high speed internet access. Most non-designers would not know the difference.

Being truthful, I will probably dabble in the tweaking and use of CSS at some point, only as it relates to enhancing existing blogging and CMS platforms like Blogger, Wordpress and similar tools. With the wonderful web content platforms we have available today, it hardly seems necessary to bother investing in software like Dreamweaver, or yesterday's GoLive or Frontpage (all of which I will admit to using). Many widgets are free and easy to integrate, as are connected services like Google Maps, Flickr and AdSense. Luckily, it's not so hard to muddle through.

My point is, I guess I am asserting a basic pragmatism into the equation, which is based on my overall needs, experience, age, available time and other issues--such as focusing on the creation of content and not so much on its delivery. Besides, I suppose I just like print better anyway. Understand that I am in no way saying my way is better, since I know that it is not; it is just better for me. If you are a designer for whom these issues matter, I humbly ask that you be patient with me, at least when it comes to the web.

Jan 20, 2009

iPod, iPhones the "Smiler with the Knyf?"


Personally, I think the increasing worry that reading on the iPod and the iPhone will soon lead to the "death of the book" is somewhat overstated. But this does not keep me from investigating the devices' potential, and how they might best be used to distribute various types of written and visual communication.

I must admit, however, that Gareth Powell's insights in this Blorge article - iPods and IPhones: Death for the Book Trade provides some interesting thoughts on this subject, particularly the example he uses regarding iPhone: The Missing Manual - available in print for about $20 or so, but (for a brief time) available in the iTunes store for $3.50 - on special. That deal may have been too good, since the iTunes edition seems to have been pulled.

Like other recent writers, Powell agrees that there will always "be a market for superbly produced books which are a pleasure to read," but for content more appropriately and conveniently suited to portable formats like the iPhone, the future of the printed page may be slightly more in doubt. Do you think this new type of delivery represents more than just a niche market?

Jan 19, 2009

Graphical Blast from the Past


Things have certainly changed a lot since the first edition of this book by Jan V. White came out in 1980, but the 1991 edition of Graphic Idea Notebook was updated to reflect the fact that people were beginning to use computers exclusively to perform graphic design and layout, and that the days of hand paste-up had clearly passed. Along with White's well-known Editing by Design, the books provide some essential principles of good design, and are still highly relevant today.

With everything going on in Washington tomorrow, perhaps it was the image of Lincoln on the cover of this book that grabbed my attention as I was cleaning up the basement and getting books back on the shelves. While the graphics and layout of the book do have some retro charm, I have to admit that the principles contained within its pages are quite sound. Pages on image manipulation point toward the future use of Photoshop filters, and though directed toward print design, many of the ideas and suggestions would apply equally well to the web. If you can find a copy on Ebay, or at a local used bookstore (like I did) grab it.

Jan 16, 2009

In Praise of the Big, Big Book

Here is Volume One in the pride of my own book collection, a two-volume set from Thomas Garner and Aurthur Stratton, entitled The Domestic Architecture of England During the Tudor Period. I think I picked these up about twelve years ago from Zubal in Cleveland; if you love this style of architecture, then having one of these books in your lap is an indescribable experience. And they are definitely lap books...at 12" x 16" inches, these big folios books weigh in at about 6-7 lbs each, I would estimate.

This was a Second Edition, plublished in 1929. The two volumes are a superb reference, featuring excellent written descriptions as well as a number of beautiful measured drawings of some of England's best known Tudor houses. There are a lot of gorgeous photographs as well; though they are, of course, in black and white and not in color, they are wonderful to look at. In many cases, I actually prefer gazing at these old B&W photos, since they seem to convey the appropriate feeling of "Olde England." The printing is wonderful as well, and the graphic richness these books display--even with two-color printing--is quite remarkable.

Books like these are one of the reasons you see so many "stockbroker" tudors on the streets of our older neighborhoods. Nostalgia was a big draw early in the last century, and a host of revival style homes were being built all over America, with builders and architects inspired by books such as these. So was I, when I built my own home. Sadly, most builders today clumsily try to ape these historical styles with very unfortunate results.

It's also interesting to note that these books were published in 1929. While they were being prepared for print, I doubt that anyone would have seen the Great Depression coming, and that the period of building these great, expensive and majestic piles was pretty much over. During the coming years, the moderne age would gradually take over. Not only was there less money to build, but let's face it--the smooth, spare styles of the 30's and 40's, with their comparable lack of detail--was cheaper to build. In today's economy, the effect we will see on design overall will be interesting to contemplate.

By the way, I believe Zubal has another set of these. Even if you are not into architecture, they are superb examples of the bookmaker's art. I'd love to be able to do something like them at some point.

Jan 15, 2009

For the Love of Tiki

With it being about ZERO degrees outside right now, I suppose it's not too early to start dreaming of warmer times to come...relaxing around the pool, or sitting around the backyard tiki bar, sipping Coronas. A great way to start is with Sven Kirsten's Tiki Modern, a great follow-up to his 2003 book, The Book of Tiki. The latter was a real inspiration to me, providing the impetus to build a tiki bar and generally turn my backyard into a summertime Bali Hai playground. Or at least as much as our Ohio climate would allow--my wife drew the line at fake palm trees, but we'll see.

Any fan of mid-century modern would appreciate this work, which, in combination with Sven's other books, provides about as comprehensive a look as you could ever want at this remarkable cultural phenomenon. It may seem strange to us now, but for hundreds of thousands of American servicemen who served in the South Pacific during WWII, the tiki style provided an idyllic reminder of the region's natural beauty--even as it was experienced in the midst of a brutal war. Tiki Modern, like it's predecessors, is more than just a dip into nostalgia, it's an in-depth study of pop culture, and it's a great escape from our current sub-zero reality.

Inspired? You can also head over to the Eastsde Tiki store and get yourself a shirt, or a cool clock. It's just the thing to get your friends talking about their summer plans.