In this section I was asked to think critically about the form and function of books, starting with this first exercise where I needed to closely examine how a range of books have been designed to support their different purposes.
I had another search around the house for notable books from my own collection and that belong to family members, limiting myself to one book per genre to preserve as much variety as I could in my choices. The exercise suggested a minimum of around six options, but I extended this to include a solid ten as I was discovering lots of titles that I felt would be interesting examples to write about. A few of my choices overlap with examples that I have used in previous exercises, though this time I was revisiting them to look at from alternative perspectives as functional objects.
I filled out lists of my observations for each title in my sketchbook while reflecting on how each book handles and why each design choice compliments the presentation of content for the audiences each book has been targeted at. I then wrote my thoughts as summaries for each book title, along with taking accompanying photographs as I've listed them below.
The Anxiety Journal
Self-Help / Activity
13 x 2 x 19.5 cm
This lightweight paperback has a mixture of advice, quotes, writing activities and thought exercises that all aim to help the reader to manage symptoms of anxiety in day-to-day life. It's a small and lightweight book which makes it easy to travel with or to have by the bedside and this purpose is reflected on the cover design. Illustrator Marcia Mihotich has almost exclusively used a warm blue and purple colour palette to create a calming night landscape where the sky is punctuated by gold foil stars that match the books title and author. The same illustrative style continues inside, and each page spread varies in its arrangement of text and loosely drawn images depending on the type of exercise.
There is a lot of use of open space throughout and the paragraphs are never too long or taxing to read. I think this is partly to avoid overwhelming the reader with too much information at once, but also to allow them to add their own contributions if needed and in some sections, this is specifically encouraged. There are also no printed page numbers, as this book isn't necessarily meant to be read sequentially, but as something abstract to dip into when needed as a therapeutic device. Another uncommon feature is that all the pages have rounded corners, which adds a physical comfort to the book as an approachable and helpful object without any sharp edges.
British Hit Singles and Albums
19.7 x 4.8 x 23.9 cm
This is the 17th edition of a long running series by the Guinness Book of World Records that acts as a catalogue of British chart hits leading up to the year that this version was published. It's a heavy tome of information that's too large and impractical for most general reading but is instead effective as a directory for looking up music trivia with hundreds of pages of alphabetical lists of songs and dates to search through. With so much information on hand, the front of the book offers a contents and guide for use and the back contains a glossary of where to find specific items.
The pages are printed on thin paper in black and white, but also in splashes of red to list section titles and hit albums. This really helps to navigate the walls of small text on some pages that frequently push to the edge of the page margin to make use of every available bit of space. To break up some of the monotony of this, there are also some sections that act as interludes to feature a particular band and its history which read as traditional articles with photos and retrospectives about the times that they were most popular.
23 x 0.71 x 30.1 cm
Like most academic books about the work of a particular artist, this one for the paintings of Paul Cézanne offers glossy printed reproductions of his work as either full-page images or inserted between sections of a written biography of his life experiences and influences. The covers usually represent the most famous work of the artist and in this case Cezanne's Still Life with Pomegranate and Pears. Inside, the information is easy to digest against clear white page backgrounds that read as visually similarly to a gallery wall with text panels next to each painting.
The lightweight form and clear prints make these books easy to transport and lay flat on a desk to use as reference material for students. This example is also part of a basic art series by the publisher Tashchen that I found useful for my own studies during A-level Art many years ago. I prefer art books with this form factor this as often hardback biographies printed at smaller sizes can be cumbersome and difficult to keep open. This can also sometimes lead to a loss of the edge of a full page image as it curls into the spine in thicker book examples.
The Christmas Mouse
Toby Foreward / Ruth Brown
23 x 0.6 x 30 cm
Although this book has a very similar physical profile to Cézanne, its purpose is very different as a fully illustrated children's story. As a retelling of the of Charles Dicken's timeless classic A Christmas Carol but with anthropomorphic mice as the main characters, this seasonal story is presented in a way that aims for immediate visual attention from its readers. The size advantage gives complete visibility to each double page watercolour illustrations by Ruth Brown and keeps the story engaging for young readers.
The writing is cleverly integrated into the negative spaces within each illustration, and I can see where the author and the illustrator must have closely collaborated to make sure enough area was kept free for text during the development of each spread. Although the text can be read alone by the appropriate reading age, this is a great example of a book that can be read along with a young child. The book can be a shared experience as a parent or guardian reads the story aloud to a child them as they also take in the plot through the illustrations.
Field Guide to the Animals of Britain
20.2 x 2.8 x 15.5 cm
The Field Guide to the Animals of Britain is straightforward in doing as the title suggests in helping the reader to identify a large selection of native species of British wildlife. There are a few photographs printed inside, but the majority of the imagery comes from clear and colourful traditional illustrations by multiple artists. Many of the page layouts have these drawings as the focus, with information about the animal orbiting the paintings with informative labels and paragraphs. The cover creates the same effect with a repeat of one of the badger illustrations alongside the main title and succeeds at emulating the "countryside picnic" aesthetic of the British Countryside.
The book has been beautifully bound with a blue hardcover around multiple signatures then glued to a cloth spine. This lets the book flow freely and lie flat in a landscape format and a blue ribbon integrated into the spine and hardcover can be used as a bookmark for quick reference. Interestingly, while the hardcover has a real burlap texture to the material used, the main cover image is a convincing print of the texture on the same paper wrap that has the title. The compact size and robustness of the build makes the book ideal to bring along on nature excursions and as part of a series by readers digest, it can comfortably sit on the library shelves of a small study.
Guy Martin: My Autobiography
12.7 x 2.29 x 20.32 cm
Guy Martin's first book follows many of the typical conventions of a celebrity autobiography, with a glossy headshot photo on the cover and a direct quote written on the back as a blurb. A lot of the personality of an autobiography comes from the interests of the writer themselves and it's the same case with the design decisions here. A rough-edged stamped font is used for the appearances of his name on the front cover and again along with another photo of him in his motorcycle helmet on the spine. Together against a bright background in racing yellow, you can see immediately the visual connections to vehicle mechanics and motorsport that Guy is known for.
Looking at the inside, each chapter starts with his logo of a skull and crossed spanners that encapsulates his main interests and daredevil approach, but the rest of the body of writing is of a standard written format with no extra flourishes. The writing is broken up by three sections of photographs from guy's life to give some extra context to the chapters as another common feature for autobiographies to have. These sections are printed on glossy white paper and inserted at even points between the other signatures. The main pages on the other hand are made up of a thin off-white coloured paper that I commonly see in novels. I wonder if this is to avoid eye strain for over long reading sessions, or simply a matter of keeping production costs low.
19.94 x 1.65 x 19.81 cm
Cookbooks can come in a wide array of styles and appearances, but I chose this one as a handy lightweight example from the genre. This square book on microwavable mug cake recipes is in hardback form with a flexible spine and the pages lie very flat, which is ideal for laying on a worksurface or propping up on a stand while baking. The images on the cover and throughout the inside are all made by photographer Richard Boutin, who has supported each recipe with cosy soft-focus arrangements of the ingredients beside the final bakes.
Each double page spread is set out clearly for individual recipes as the essential information for baking is always on the left with a supporting photograph on the right. The title, ingredients, and cooking instructions are separated by dividers and some sections are set apart in bold and italics. This really helps the flow of the book by knowing what types of information you are looking at before you even start to read it.
National Trust 2020 Handbook
14.5 x 1.5 x 21 cm
Unlike my other choices, this book is more temporary in its function as a handbook for National Trust properties in 2020. After a brief contents section on the inside cover, the pages become like a travel magazine as each of the Trust's properties are listed with information such as local history, photographs, maps, opening times, facilities and contact details for locations. The locations are divided by colour coded regions and to make them easier to navigate a small band of the associated colour is at the base of each page which is easy to find when flicking through.
Like most small guidebooks, the handy size of the item lends itself to keep in a cars glove box to use when needed on day trips. This is a seasonal book however, being only fully relevant for the year it has been published for. It could still be kept for the sake of posterity, but to keep up to date with the latest information, a newer edition would be needed as a replacement. Because of the temporary nature of these kind of books, the materials used to make it are fully recyclable to align with the Trusts intentions to be eco-friendly. This may have made the printed photographs look like a lower quality than most books, it's a fair trade for practicality.
Secret History of Twin Peaks
TV Tie-In Novel
19.8 x 2 x 23.8 cm
I've mentioned this book a few times in previous blogs as it was one of my inspirations for the cover redesign exercise I did back in Key Steps in Illustration. I wanted to include it here again though to explain exactly why it does a good job at supporting the writing through its design. It was released as a tie-in for the mystery television series Twin Peaks, which originally ran in the 1990's but was revived for a new series in 2017. To offer new insights and expand the fictional world of the show, one of the show writers Mark Frost wrote this novel as a fictional document profiling characters from the town of Twin Peaks that has been recently discovered by the FBI.
The entire book has been styled to support this from the outset, from its mysterious green hardcover with embossed symbology taken directly from the show, as the introduction is written as if it is a letter from a prominent FBI agent. Inside, there is a wide range of visual techniques used to evoke the feeling of a restricted government document. The main body of text appears typewritten, but the fonts used for annotations from other characters also appear as handwritten letters or a more modern font for comments left by agents. The images and photographs come either directly from the show or have been edited to appear that way as they bulk out the book so convincingly that it feels like a collection of real accounts rather than a work of fiction. This was also considered by the publishers as to avoid confusion and probably also as a legal requirement, FICTION has been clearly written on the inside cover.
There's Treasure Everywhere
29.8 x 1.6 x 22.8 cm
In another returning appearance, some of my favourite Calvin and Hobbs comics have been compiled into this charming collection. Most of the original black and white comic strips were in the 4-panel format for newspapers and are simple to read from left to right. This makes them easy material to transfer and present in book form, though Watterson did vary his formats from time to time. As you turn the pages it's always a treat to find a much larger scene play out, sometimes in full colour.
Instead of printing several smaller comic strips per page in portrait, I prefer this books landscape approach as opposed to other comic compilations that I own, as it has two short stories per page where the artwork is printed larger and clearer than it would have originally been seen. This is probably why I found this copy more accessible when I was younger as it was my first introduction to the series. It's a sturdy paperback and easy to open as I can't imagine comic books in hardback being effective as the medium is intended to be easily handled and shared.
I've really enjoyed considering the designs of these titles holistically and considering why they have taken on these different formats. I feel it's opened me up to look at every book with this same perspective in mind and now when I pick up a book I'll be looking for inspiration beyond just the cover for my own designs.
Becks-Malorny, U. (1995) Cézanne. Cambridge: Taschen
Foreward, T., Brown. R (1996) The Christmas Mouse. London: Anderson Press Ltd.
Frost, M. (2016) The Secret History of Twin Peaks. London: Macmillan
Knudson, L. (2014) Mug Cakes: Ready in Five Minutes in the Microwave. London: Hardy Grant Books
Martin, G. (2014) Guy Martin: My Autobiography. St Ives: Clays Ltd.
National Trust (2020) National Trust 2020 Handbook. Essex: Walstead UK Ltd.
Readers Digest. (1984) Field Guide to the Animals of Great Britain. London: The Readers Digest Association Ltd.
Robert, D. (2004) Guinness British Hit Singles and Albums. (17th ed.) GB: Butler and Tanner
Sweet, C. (2017) The Anxiety Journal. London: Boxtree
Watterson, B. (1996) There's Treasure Everywhere. London: Warner Books