One of the nicest books I received in the mail recently was The Association of American University Presses’ catalogue to the Book, Jacket, and Journal Show (2013). It’s a gorgeous reminder of the creativity of book designers, not to mention the vibrancy of academic publishing.
Book design is one of those careers that, in my Walter Mitty moments, I increasingly find myself wishing I had undertaken (the other is TV set design, but ignore that for now…). I love the combination of constraint and creativity, the way there are only so many ways you can arrange type and illustrations on the page, and yet year after year designers keep coming up with ways of startling and enchanting our eyes. Dancing in chains, Nietzsche called it.
One of the things it made me think about was how open-ended digital reading design is by contrast. There is of course the design-less world of the Kindle, but really there are no more constraints. Ebooks are the least interesting aspect of where reading and design are headed today. That openness of course leads to a lot more failure. The constraints of the page are there because the page works so well as a technology. Newer interfaces are all over the map (literally at times with geo-spatial imaging), and it requires a different mind-set to design in such an experimental setting.
The logic of book design is the beauty of small differences — placement and the small curves of typography. It is a world of creativity in miniature. The logic of digital design is expansive. What more can you add in? How cosmological is your surface?
As always, I think we need more of both.