Changing technologies in book design?
May 31, 2008 10:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for information about how new technologies have affected book design and typography.

I'm particularly interested in the affects of computers and design software, but information about how things like Print on Demand and ebooks have changed the status quo of book design would also be helpful. I'd be happy to be pointed to books, web essays, blogs, whatever information I can track down and dig through.
posted by Caduceus to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The best blog I know of on the topic of book design is India, Ink., but it's more about the day-to-day workflow of typesetting and editing than an analysis or overview of changes in the industry. Still, could be a good starting point or contact for further research.
posted by bcwinters at 11:08 AM on May 31, 2008

If you could find copies of the last three to five editions of the Chicago Manual of Style and compare the sections on how a book is produced from MS to bound books, it would give you an interesting progression from optical type to DTP.
posted by rikschell at 1:34 PM on May 31, 2008

i work in STM publishing.

i can say that "web 2.0" and the internet in general have had an effect on the design of books (in addition to all the other parts of the publishing process). interior designs are much "peppier" now than they were in, say, the 70s and 80s. there are more elements (graphs/charts/illustrations/call-out boxes/etc.) in the text than there were in the past, partly to break up the text, and partly to give bits and bobs of information because people don't have such long attention spans anymore. yes, this is a content thing, but it also very much affects the design of books because you can just run 2 columns of text for 40 pages. you have to (almost literally) design every page so figures and tables and boxes fall in the right places. 2 and 4 color illustrations are much more prevalent now in print books than they used to be, and this is almost directly a result of having to compete with electronic publishing where it doesn't cost more to have a color figure vs. a bw figure.

um, is that what you were looking for?
posted by misanthropicsarah at 3:04 PM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've got bupkis on articles and/or books on design and type changes brought about by electronic typesetting and printing, but I can also offer a bit on the anecdotal side.

I think one of the things electronic design did was allow more illustrations and elasticity in book design. That isn't always a good thing. As this site itself seems to prove, constraints can actually improve quality. But for those of us who publish books about art for example, it did allow for much more luxurious books, even those with a complex apparatus.

POD invites templated designs. Even with some of the largest POD printers, sizes are limited to about 6 dimensions—just the most common, 6 x 9, 8.5 x 11, etc.— and only with a couple of colors of paper. POD also doesn't yet incorporate tip-ins, so while you could have a POD color book printed on a coated sheet throughout, and only print color where needed, you are unnecessarily paying for a lot more coated paper raising your cost. Even with heavily illustrated offset, we sometimes will design to group color into signatures, there is no advantage to this with POD. We are also bringing a lot of books back into print, and this creates another challenge for POD. There was a much greater variety of trim sizes in the past and when reprinting a scan, it's not always possible to fit them into one of PODs sizes without asinine margins.

As for ebooks, from what I've seen, there isn't a lot of design going on for them just yet. Again, illustrations are shunned, both for rights reasons, but also because so far, few ebook readers render them well. Outside of Sony's Reader and the Kindle, ebooks are also frequently just representations of the printed page, and that is also a poor presentation. I imagine the future of electronic book design will be very elemental, concerned primarily with textflow and tags, but leaving rendering to the device. In other words, not unlike the Web's influence on type and design. The designer takes a backseat and content gets a bit more free form, controlled more by users and devices. XML or some XML-like thing will rule the day.

Our designers still design for the object of the book. Our objective is still how can we present a physical thing that is both beautiful and easy to use. We'll worry about electronic presentation when the time comes. In the meantime, we archive every electronic version we can. We don't design much in the way of ebooks yet, and we know there is a demand. What there isn't is much in the way of standards. Once that becomes a bit more resolved, this will be a much more pressing issue.

I have noticed overall that cover designs have changed a bit from an unintended consequence of the Web. Covers are being influenced by how they look in the 200ish pixels tall version seen on Amazon. Type on covers is getting larger. Subtle covers are less common. So far we haven't done that but I know that is a concern for many of my colleagues.

Anyway, for what it's worth...
posted by Toekneesan at 7:48 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

It isn't only/necessarily about that transition, but Chip Kidd's collection Book One talks about this somewhat, including comments on new techniques he started using when the office got a xerox and so on. It might not be exactly what you're looking for, as the effects of technological development aren't the main focus of the book, but it definitely touches on some changes over the years.
posted by mismatched at 9:04 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

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