You’re a ____- based ____ focused on ____ , ____ , and filling in the blank.
I design things, many different kinds of things: things you can see and even things you can hear. And, obviously, as you can see from this website, I design books, but not just any books.
I have been doing this long enough that I can choose what I work on, and so I do: they have to be books that aim to improve lives or make the world better.
It can be non-fiction or fiction, science, philosophy, poetry, or a good story, just so long as the intention that carried the manuscript into existence is a genuine desire to make a positive difference in the world.
If you want to teach people to mint NFTs, get rich by selling other people things they don’t need, or have written a Barbara Cartland novel, then I am not going to be the one who designs your book.
If, however, you want to change lives with your book, build a new society, or would be happy if it changed just one person’s perspective, then I would love to help make your book look as beautiful as the intention behind your words (or your pictures).
In the late 1970's, the famous designer, Dieter Rams, defined design as follows:
"Good design is innovative, it makes a product useful, it makes a product understandable, it is aesthetic, unobtrusive, honest, long-lasting, it is thorough down to the last detail, it is environmentally-friendly. And, good design is as little design as possible."
Graphic and typographic design, page layout, formatting, cover design, all of these need to be visually cohesive in a book, but they also need to serve a purpose, in fact they need to serve more than one purpose.
Great book design turns a bound stack of papers covered in text and images, into an object people want to pick up and look at, into something that is a joy to behold. Great book design also brings visual structure and order to information and reduces the effort required by readers to understand the message the author is presenting.
In a novel, structure is usually built into the story itself. The story will likely be broken down into chapters and there may, sometimes, even be a single level of headings within those chapters.
However, some books, usually non-fiction, need to present a lot of information in order to make their case. And, since that information is likely not part of a single narrative story, conveying it to the reader can become very complex. When reading one particular piece of text, to understand it the reader may need to know what larger subject it relates to, and there may be many larger subjects presented within a single book.
Headings within the text are the main tool to achieve this kind of division and connection of information, but when those headings have subheadings within them, and then those subheadings have subheadings within them, a heading heirarchy develops that needs to be made visually obvious to the reader.
When you are in the middle of reading a book of complex information, or one full of new concepts and ideas, it can become difficult to see the wood for the trees, and without an overall understanding of the material, the details will become a jumble in your mind. The book can run the risk of failing to inform due to poor presentation, and I don't mean the writing. The details within the writing need visual structure, and that structure needs to be clear and easy to discern:
To take the tree analogy further: this twig belongs to this branch, which comes from this larger branch, which belongs to the trunk of this tree, which is a member of this forest, which grows on this continent. When you are deep in the forest focusing on a single twig, you need the context of that twig to be obvious, not difficult to discern.
I have worked on non-fiction books that were divided into sections, those sections divided into chapters, and then those chapters had within them seven or eight levels of headings within headings. An information hierarchy like that is a real challenge to make visually obvious to a reader, but it is essential. If this is not done well, even the best writing in the world may still fail to impact the minds of its audience. This is because readers can become visually disorientated by typography that has failed to portray connections and separations of complex information within the material of a book.
If you want your book to reach people, to connect with their minds, maybe even to help them grow and change, and the information you need to convey is complex, then your book designer needs to take extra care to create a visual structure for that information, one that embodies simplicity.
Books are a medium through which human beings can share understanding, wisdom, inspiration, evoke emotions, realizations, and awakenings of purpose. Books that seek to achieve those things are touched by the spirit of the author. They are imbued with deep meaning and purpose, they speak to readers in ways that go far beyond words. Those are the books to which a book designer must bring the greatest care and creativity. Those are the books that can make a positive difference in the world.
Books can change people. Books can make life better.
Book design for authors who want to change the world.
©2022 Oliver Nash