Book Design The Features of the Analog Medium
The shaky book market continues to break up into increasingly distinct segments. Niche markets like self-publishing are expanding, and the trend towards e-books both shocks and boosts the industry. How are graphic designers reacting to these trends? An overview of current trends in book design.
Since June 2010, there’s been a video making the rounds on the internet that shows a young Spaniard explaining what these objects known as books are all about, as though his audience no longer knew what to do with them. The Spaniard demonstrates how a book works, how to turn its pages, how the latter are bound and what a list of contents and a bookmark are good for. He explains, beaming with joy, that it’s a new device, a knowledge machine that doesn’t need a cable, a wireless network or a battery. “And you don’t have to turn it on,” he adds.
Electronic CompetitionCatalogue design for the design brand kkaarrlls, Thomas Mayfried | Photo: Evi Künstle In reality, though, there is no need to worry that things will ever go this far. In an interview way back in 2012 Markus Dreßen, Professor of Graphic Design at the Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts asserted: "Printed books will always be around". He believed digital publishing venues, especially e-books, didn’t represent a threat, but rather an “additional choice.”
Experimental groundBook „Masterpieces“, printed with a risograph, Jung + Wenig | © The question is another, though. Is the dematerialization of the traditional paper book – an alleged threat – also affecting its design? How are graphic designers reacting to this phenomenon? For a couple of years now it has been evident that graphic designers are emphasizing the unique features of the analog medium, its materiality and the intrinsic character of the body of a book as a physical object, and have set out to showcase books as a visual and tactile experience. Graphic artists are using very unusual paper qualities, often several different ones within a single book, and experimenting with various types of bookbindings and print finishing techniques such as embossing, die-cuts, glossy lacquers and edge coloring, such as colored edges. Book design has become a new field of experimentation precisely for young graphic designers. “A lot of thought has been put into books in a very intense, almost excessive way”, according to Markus Dreßen in that interview. So much, in fact, that one could regard it as “the last great hurrah,” he added.
A large number of graphic designers, including Dreßen himself, have benefitted from the boom in the art market, which invested heavily in books to present the artwork and placed, and continues to place, interesting orders. Such experimental book designs, however, are still hard to find in the mass market and at the big publishing houses. Whoever heads for the fiction section at a branch of the book retail chains Hugendubel or Thalia will readily encounter book covers with non-descript photos or illustrations that allow plenty of room for interpretation in order to appeal to as many customers as possible, but in reality don’t have a whole lot to say. Since design doesn’t particularly matter in this segment, neither do independent graphic designers come into play.