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Book Design in the Age of e-books

Published in January 2015 in Arredamento Mimarlik Magazine, articles published in Turkish, click here to read

Gutenberg Bible of the New York Public Library
Kindle Paperwhite
Editor of the Dossier: Anil Aykan
The definition and form of the book hasn't changed for centuries: a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers. However when we have taken a step into digital age, a book can also be a computer file. Digital reader tools are about to change the identification of the book.

Book design is one of the oldest and important fields of the graphic design. However because electronic books are seen independent from the book design tradition, they are seen typographically insignificant. In fact there are valuable lessons to learn from the traditional design practices on the representation of the content. John Bath in the first article underlines the importance of the tradition of the book design in the age of electronic books which degrades the book merely into the content. However according to John Bath, tradition should not be studied to be followed one-to-one; if the designer of the reader interfaces would like to present a good reading experience, they should understand the interaction between themselves, products, users and book culture.

An important question concerning book lovers, designers and publishers is, if the book is going to survive in the digital age. Michael Agresta, in the second article of the dossier, discusses that the books should evolve in order to survive and oversees that the printed book will lose the traditional value as a container of the content but the physical values of it will be more important. Actually this foresight is already confirmed by the new literary consumption forms. In such a way that tipo print is used for special and more expensive products anymore rather than mass production, printed books will be more important as objects. Graphic designers already know the book as an abject is more than the content and the readers are more volunteer to have them and pay more for the books they value as an object as well. 

The third article gives a good example for the foresight mentioned in the second article. When it seems there is not place for one more classic series in the book market, the publisher Four Corners Books with their Familiar Series manages to interpret the pictured book tradition with a modern design approach and gives a great example for the contemporary book design practice.   

Cover design is the crucial part of the book which is most under discussion. The cover of the book is very important part of the book, as a reminder of the content which will lead a negative or positive opinion. In the last article Dilek Nur Polat, discusses an important but understated issue related to book cover design: the cover designs of foreign editions.  Whereas the same album covers are film posters are used all around the world, should the book covers be designed differently among the countries? In her article Polat discusses the answer of this question by giving examples of different approaches being followed for the foreign editions. 

Design is not just about the exterior look, it is also about the meaning: one of the ways to understand what is going on around us. Likewise book design is not defining the look of the book, at the same time it is the representation of the content in a readable, accessible and meaningful way, it is also forming the the narrative of the book.  Even though the technology changes, the function of the book stays same, thats why in all ages it is important to consider the role of the book design as an integral power of the publishing process.
Tradition and Transparency:
Why Book Design Still Matters in the Digital Age
By Jon Bath
Saskatchewan University,
Art and Science College, Canada
Nicolas Jenson, Eusebius' De Praeparatione Evangelica, 1470

Summary:  Designing for the Internet can be a wonderfully enlivening experience for the graphic designer. Layouts can be morphed fluidly, pages can contain all manner of multimedia objects, and design decisions are not hampered by practicalities such as the cost of four-colour reproduction. But it can be an equally frustrating experience for typographers, as their control over typeface, word spacing, justification, and the other myriad details that define a well-crafted printed page is reduced to the most rudimentary choices.

This paper will examine this apparent disjuncture by first briefly outlining the historical separation between the trades of graphic designer and typographer and then discussing some of the advantages of having the designers of electronic interfaces become familiar with book typography traditions and of having electronic reading interfaces support basic typographic practices.

Book typographers have traditionally viewed the more "artistic" graphic designers with suspicion because "typography is the efficient means to an essentially utilitarian and only accidentally aesthetic end" (Morison 5), and any overtly artistic gestures by the designer can potentially intrude upon the reading experience.

This notion of typography as the art of creating a transparent interface between the author and the reader has its roots in the humanist tradition of the author-god and is obviously challenged by new models where the act of reading has the potential to be a three-way communication between authors, readers and the community and where the lines between the three are blurred. As a result some typographic practices, such as methods for including scholarly apparatus and annotations, will undoubtedly need to be modified. But this does not mean that all typographic traditions need to be tossed aside. For example, many digital reading interfaces present a "page" view designed for a screen that is taller than it is wide. While this mimics the dimensions of a single page of a book, readers of books seldom view a single page; the bound book presents a "spread" that allows the reader to view two pages at once. Presenting digital texts in such a manner not only has the advantage of familiarity, but this orientation also allows for specialized displays of information such as parallel text editions or facing page translations. If one is truly serious about wanting a digital interface to be "read," it is worth gaining an understanding of the practices of the crafts people that have focused on just that for over 600 years.

Joseph Moxon, Mechanick Exercises title page, 1685
What Will Become of the Paper Book? How Their Design will Evolve in the Age of the Kindle.
By Michael Agresta
Writer, Austin
Tree of Codes, Jonathan Safran Foer,
Visual Editions Ltd, 2010 
Design: Sara De Bondt Studio/Visual Editions

Summary:  The change has come more slowly to books than it came to music or to business correspondence, but by now it feels inevitable. The digital era is upon us. The Twilights and Freedoms of 2025 will be consumed primarily as e-books. In many ways, this is good news. Books will become cheaper and more easily accessible. Hypertext, embedded video, and other undreamt-of technologies will give rise to new poetic, rhetorical, and narrative possibilities. But a literary culture that has defined itself through paper books for centuries will surely feel the loss as they pass away.

In the past several years, we’ve all heard readers mourn the passing of the printed word. The elegy is familiar: I crave the smell of a well-worn book, the weight of it in my hands; all of my favorite books I discovered through loans from a friend, that minor but still-significant ritual of trust; I need to see it on my shelf after I’ve read it (and I don’t mind if others see it too); and what is a classic if not a book where I’m forced to rediscover my own embarrassing college-age marginalia?

Luddites can take comfort in the persistence of vinyl records, postcards, and photographic film. The paper book will likewise survive, but its place in the culture will change significantly. As it loses its traditional value as an efficient vessel for text, the paper book’s other qualities—from its role in literary history to its inimitable design possibilities to its potential for physical beauty—will take on more importance. The future is yet to be written, but a few possibilities for the fate of the paper book are already on display on bookshelves near you.

Modern Approach To the Tradition of the Illustrated Novel: Four Corners Books, Familiars
By Anıl Aykan Barnbrook
Academician, Graphic Designer 

Summary:  Illustrated novel is a literary medium, where both text and visuals take place. Visuals accompany the text, visualise, interpret and expands it. In classical times illustrations  were a very important part of the books, both for the writers and readers. Towards the end of the 18th century, due to the development of the printing technologies, illustrated novels became widespread.  For example the novels published around that time such as Alice In Wonderland, Don Quixote and Oliver Twist etc. are remembered with their illustrations. In 80th century the tradition continued with the novels from previous centuries, yet it is not common to see any visuals accompany modern classics. The reason can be the fear of losing the not depictable nature of the prose. Also the fast development of the cinema and television led the novel to be positioned in a completely different area of  the fictional culture. 

Today illustrated novels are considered to be part of the Children Literature. However English Publisher Four Corners Books, with the 'Familiars' series offered a contemporary approach to this old tradition. Four Corners calls artists to propose new responses to classic novels and short stories, as long as being loyal to the original text. Till today twelve books are published and each of these have different formats, style and visual interpretation. They are not new editions of the classics, moreover they offer a contemporary reread of their timeless content. 

Familiars is a collective effort of the artist and the designer; and in this cooperative structure graphic designers role is to embrace the diversity of the artistic, visual and economic methods, create a unified visual language for each unique book.  Graphic designer of the series John Morgan who successfully leading this process, says in an interview: "the form of the book has changed very little over time. it’s pleasing to work with a medium that has found it’s optimum form, where the development and interest switches from a desire for an innovative jump – a naive hope if you’re designing books – to a more enduring refinement and development of small gestures. in comparison to other areas of graphic design, the content of books is usually more meaningful and considered. to help shape a text by somebody with something to say, that readers might find helpful or enlightening and that deserves a shelf life is a gratifying and worthwhile social activity."



The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor
Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor
Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor
Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor
he Prisoner of Zenda
he Prisoner of Zenda
he Prisoner of Zenda
he Prisoner of Zenda
Four Corners Books 
Design: John Morgan
Photography: Anil Aykan Barnbrook

Summary:  This article aims to reveal the process and the purpose of rebranding book covers for foreign editions. Different perspectives and involvements on this procedure, such as publishers, authors and designers are mentioned with the aid of existing or new interviews that were conducted for this study. Additionally, the examination of book cover designs from around the world, different design approaches are identified and covered. The debate about whether there is a national design style in cover designs and whether it is a good idea to change cover design for every local market are enlightened with a conducted survey on the readers’ choices of different book cover designs. The differences on cover style and marketing strategies between the UK and the USA is widely known in the publishing world, so, in this article, it is also aimed to input Turkey –as an additional perspective– to the discussion with its developing European style.

Rebranding Book Covers
of Foreign Editions

By Dilek Nur Polat, Phd Student,
Reading University,
Typography and Graphic Communication
Foreign editions of Baba ve Piç by Turkish writer Elif Shafak
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