Designing books: practice & theory

A Brief Review

Abook that carries the names Jost Hochuli and Robin Kinross on the cover is enough to get just about anyone’s synapses salivating.* Designing books: practice and theory, published by Hyphen Press is the best single volume on the subject of designing books. Why save it for the concluding remarks. Hold this book in your hands, flip through it, take note of the color of text blocks, the proportions … in these simple acts there are invaluable lessons to be learned.

The book comprises three main sections. The first two are concerned with fundamental principles—symmetry, asymmetry, proportion, form, etc.; the third is a collection of real examples of good (oftentimes, exceptional) book design. The writing is concise and intelligent; the illustrations informative and relevant; and the design of the book itself is a product of Hochuli’s consummate skill.

Learning to design books is not a particularly complicated affair. The fundamentals—all of which are covered in the book—can be learned with little effort. However, the same can be said of, for example, chess: learning the moves is nothing more than filing away the rules in memory. Mastery, however, is a lifetime’s work. And as grandmasters of book design and typography, one is in good hands with Hochuli and Kinross.

What’s inside?

For a pretty short book, a lot of ground is covered: nomenclature, symmetry and asymmetry, proportion, kinds of book, prelims (e.g. half-titles, title pages and contents), end-pages (e.g. bibliography, index), and numerous fine examples of book design, including a section dedicated (in chronological order) to books designed by co-author Jost Hochuli.

Set in Monotype Baskerville roman and italic, with perfect interline spacing and measure, and accompanied by a little Univers 75 Black. I also love the generous inner margins—I hate having to almost fold a book back on itself so that I can read the text closest to the spine.

And the motto that ‘typography serves’ holds true for almost every book, where it serves with special modesty. Modest but not uncaring: even the simplest typography can be decent, appropriate, yes even beautiful.—Designing books, page 48

Should I buy this book?

Yes. If you’re thinking that you never design books, then don’t let that dissuade you from reading it. Even non-designers would come away with a greater appreciation of book design. For designers not involved in book design, many of the principles covered are equally applicable to the design of other printed matter.

In a market saturated with coffee-table pretties, masquearading as instructional books, Designing books by Jost Hochuli and Robin Kinross stands out as an intelligent, well-conceived, and inspiring title.

Win one

I will choose someone at random from the comments. The chosen one will receive a free copy of Designing Books: practice and theory.

You can buy your copy from Amazon, or directly from Hyphen Press in the UK.

* Yes, I’m aware that synapses don’t salivate, but the alliteration was irresistible.

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