Some projects make for great fun. At the moment, I find myself in one of my best runs ever for that kind of work.
First came a book interior design and layout with a new client, a small college press. As I usually do with a new client, one of my chief aims was to see how much autonomy they were comfortable giving me. It was a pleasure to be trusted and hear, “You’re the designer,” in answer to most of my questions about trying something new, whether the mix of typefaces or unifying all display materials in text—the rule under display heads, the color of alternating rows of tables, and boxed displays—in the same shade of gray.
On such a first project I look for nothing fancy, but seek to make a book that pleases the client and makes the book maximally accessible to readers. Secondarily, I try to feel out what a client is open to and how much—again with that word—autonomy I will be granted.
I hit the proverbial jackpot with the next book this client sent my way, an uncensored look back at some of the history of a Texas town. Over the last year or so, I have told anyone who listens of my desire to do a coffee table book of photoessays. This loose history provides just the opportunity I looked for.
So here is how I formulated my design …
Another idea I have had for quite some time is the idea of near-square pages—especially for photograph-intensive pages. After thinking about all this, I wondered whether an oversized coffee table book was a suitable expense for a small press. Thus began a series of compromises and adjustments—all my own; the client never limited what I tried to do. In fact, when they finally said something of a correcting nature, it was to point out one sample page had both a regular folio and a drop folio on it.
I began to explore the near-square as a page proportion. Leafing through Bringhurst’s trusty The Elements of Typographic Style, I came upon one with a height-to-width ratio of 1.1. Bringhurst, however, showed four really narrow columns. What was interesting about this grid was that, if you collapsed the gutters between these four columns and the rotated the group as one 90°, the resulting rectangle made of the stacked columns would be the same exact proportion as the page proportion.
Now, because I am something of a numbers fanboy (even at an advanced age), I thought this pretty cool. But I didn’t like the look so much. I wanted, for a change, the width to be longer than the height. And when I played with actual numbers, thinking first to have the width-to-height in that 1.1 ratio, it looked just a little more than I wanted. I finally settled on a page that measured 9.25 inches wide by 8.75 inches high.
Next I switched to a three-column page, a large area of white space from running head and folio to first line of text. Again, I did all the computations as Bringhurst’s formulas defined the margins, gutters, and column widths. And then I pinched here and there, let out now and again, and arrived at the size and position of my textblock. This allowed for just the variety in size and placement for all the photos this book will contain.
Next time: A Client’s Script for a Book Cover