The process of designing a book is a combination of art and logic—right brain and left brain. It begins with a manuscript, a collection of images and a creative brief. We’ll usually have a discussion around the themes it contains and the feeling we want to capture, as well as more pragmatic considerations, such as how much the publisher envisages the book will cost, and therefore the budget that’s available to create it. Necessity is the mother of invention, and while it’s great to have lots of money to spend on lavish production techniques, it’s also an enjoyable creative challenge to produce something special on a shoestring.
A poorly executed book can be diminished to the extent it becomes a tiresome trudge. Conversely, a beautifully designed book makes the very most of its content and is a pleasure to hold and a joy to read.
And so to work. I start with what the reader sees first—the jacket. You can’t judge a book by its cover, goes the old cliché. But this is untrue: the cover should inspire you to pick up the book—the designer’s first objective. It should seduce and intrigue you. It should capture the book’s spirit through an idea, an image, or even just the choice of colour, typeface or paper. This is the right brain’s domain.
Having captured your attention and engaged your imagination, you open the book and flick through the pages. The design should continue to complement its subject matter. It goes without saying that a book with bold themes requires bold design. A more contemplative book requires a quieter approach where the design becomes all but invisible. This is more difficult to achieve than it sounds. Simplicity requires craft and nuance, where every design decision is made for a good reason—the composition of elements on the page, the finessing of the typography, the feel and colour of the paper. (There are many shades of white!)
Now I need to weigh up the practicalities, and here my left brain gets to work—what’s the optimal font size and line length for easy reading? How large do the images need to be displayed to showcase them? (Bigger isn’t always better.) This informs the book’s size in terms of both dimensions and page count, and now we have a sense of how it will feel as an object.
I slave over all these decisions because design is the details. A poorly executed book can be diminished to the extent it becomes a tiresome trudge. Conversely, a beautifully designed book makes the very most of its content and is a pleasure to hold and a joy to read.
A title is selected for publishing based on the high quality of its subject matter, whether that’s inspirational stories or stunning imagery. But it’s also chosen because it shares and embodies the deeply ingrained values and purpose of the Scottish Mountaineering Press, whose like-minded, talented people combine their complementary skills and commitment to their craft in order to do justice to the author’s work.
Working with these people, and such amazing material, is what makes designing books for the Scottish Mountaineering Press such a pleasure.