The Anatomy of the Book
A free one-day conference assembling designers, publishers and critics to dissect the contemporary book from a range of perspectives. The speakers interrogate the material and typographic features of the book, from the cover to the footnote and beyond, and investigate books and publishing from editorial, curatorial and sociological points of view.
Monday 26 November 2018,
10am – 4.30pm
Media-TIC Building, Level 5
c/Roc Boronat 117
08018, Barcelona, Spain
Ruth Blacksell Catherine Dixon Stuart Geddes Brad Haylock James Langdon Fraser Muggeridge Megan Patty Žiga Testen
Convenors: Brad Haylock and Fraser Muggeridge
Supported by RMIT Europe
Tickets are free, but booking is
Questions? Ask us.
The expanded field: categories, order systems and the spaces of publishing
This paper focusses on the ways in which hosting environments and forms of expanded publishing can serve to dissolve disciplinary boundaries and activities of production, spectatorship and reception. It draws on lineages from 1960s and 1970s art and architecture in considering the use of editorial publishing in books and magazines as a means through which we might ‘escape medium specificity and spatial confinement’.
Ruth Blacksell is an Associate Professor and Director of the MA in Book Design in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading, UK. She has recently completed a two-year research fellowship in the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture at Kingston University. Her research falls into two connected areas: the use of typography, acts of reading and contexts of publishing in practices of 1960s and 1970s Conceptual Art, and the emergence of interdisciplinary information space in contemporary art, design and architecture.
Graphic design discourse has been preoccupied of late with the shift from artefact-driven approaches to design towards more strategically oriented models, this re-emphasis on thinking prompted, at least in part, by increased automation in some aspects of design production. Yet, the wholesale move away from making in design curricula is a mistake. Ideas need to be executed and that is far from straightforward, as an encounter with too many poorly made modern books will evidence. The book represents an interesting intersection between the conceptual and the material. Confident in their software skills and lulled into a sense of absolute typographic control, a student can think they have designed a book without having any sense at all of the object they are making. With ever more demands on the curriculum, and so with limited time available, where is the space for book design? This paper takes a moment to reflect on what is being taught and learned in relation to the making of a book, and what might usefully be repositioned and carried forwards in terms of the ongoing education of the designer.
Catherine Dixon is a designer, writer and teacher. As a designer, she works with text-based projects, including covers for the award-winning Great Ideas series for Penguin Books. As a writer, she has a particular interest in letterforms, her doctoral thesis focussing on the problems of describing typefaces. She writes regularly on letterforms in environmental contexts, having co-authored with Phil Baines the book Signs: lettering in the environment, and contributing to a range of design journals and websites including Eye and FontStand, and she is a regular speaker at international conferences. She teaches typography on the Graphic Communication Design programme at Central Saint Martins, London, UK. From 2011 to 2012, she was a Visiting Professor at the University of São Paulo, Brazil.
The conversation: discourse as a mode of production in book design
Books are formed in conversation. Whether it be collaborators trying to figure out an idea, or a book referring to a previous book, or the forming of a new relationship between image and text on the page – these are conversations, verbal or otherwise.
The overlapping of these three kinds of conversation – with collaborators, with histories and with the materials of the book – begins with Donald Schön’s idea that designing is a reflective conversation with the materials of a situation, and expands this idea with specific research into the form of the book.
This three-part evolution of Schön’s conversation will be drawn out through the lens of a single publication – a pair of books designed by the researcher. This publication will form a case study for discussing collaboration (through interviews undertaken with collaborators), historical precedents (one of these books is a facsimile, the other is a new book that refers to the original) and material invention, focussing on specific manifestations of things being in conversation in the anatomy and mechanics of the book (such as interview typesetting, cover and half title page and full title page, and paper specification and binding).
This paper will propose this mode of working not merely as a metaphor for practice, but as a series of methods of conceptualisation and production that are made comprehensible and reproducible when understood, sincerely, as forms of discourse.
Stuart Geddes is a graphic designer and occasional publisher, mostly of books. He is also an industry fellow and researcher at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, where his research interests converge around the form of the book, through collaborative practice, emerging histories and material practices.
What kind of work is typography? Prior to the fifteenth century CE, the crafting of letterforms, the composition of a page and the application of ink to paper were undifferentiated component activities in a single kind of labour: writing. Following Gutenberg’s invention, entirely new professions arose: the type designer, typographer, typesetter and press operator became respectively responsible for sequential stages in the process by which an author’s words were modulated into pages. Bracketed within this sequence of tasks, we can see typographic labour for what it is: the task of specification is not merely a part of the typographer’s work, it is the typographer’s work.
Yet, the advent of digital typography changed the nature of this work once more. The tasks of typography and typesetting have, in most publishing workflows, become one. But there are also qualitative changes afoot that are not merely changes in the division of the labour of the production of the written word. Bézier curves in a digital drawing environment are plastic in a way that lead is not. Style sheets in contemporary layout software permit a complexity and a fidelity of specification that was, if not impossible, at least prohibitively impractical during earlier typographic epochs. The kinds of instructions that can today be given by the typographer to the machine are unlike those that could have been given by a typographer to a human typesetter of lead in the previous millennium.
So, this paper asks: what kind of work is typography today? And if new kinds of pages may today be specified, to what ends this newness?
Brad Haylock is a designer, publisher and academic. He is an Associate Professor of Design at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. His research spans typography, independent publishing, critical theory and sociologies of critique. He is founding editor of Surpllus, an independent, para-academic imprint focusing on critical and speculative practices across art, design and theory.
The binding of a codex book exerts contrary forces on its content. Binding enables various pieces of content to be presented as a unified editorial proposition in a single material volume. But, inside an open book, the visual field of each pair of facing pages is divided by its binding.
Appreciation of these contrary forces is exemplified in language used by practitioners of different technical aspects of book production. The vocabularies of the editor and the bookbinder are distinct yet parallel. A bookbinder might describe industrial procedures such as collating, gathering, gluing and stitching. An editor might speak of compiling, collecting and anthologising. These two lists of complementary verbs suggest book production as a set of materially and ideologically unifying processes.
Conversely, the vocabulary of the graphic designer must attend to the divisive consequences of bookbinding at the level of the page opening. A graphic designer might refer to double-page spreads or facing pages. These spaces are structurally divided and implicitly require graphic remediation of content.
This paper considers historical and contemporary approaches to such graphic remediation. Categorical distinctions emerge readily. An entire tradition of book design smooths over the book’s formal discontinuities. Here, typographic conventions have developed to afford the visual flow of continuous prose text between pages and openings in a book, with the aim of countering a reader’s cognitive disruption. Other approaches – found within, but predominantly without this dominant tradition – are more ‘site-specific’. Examples from diverse publishing genres, such as artists’ books, children’s books, graphic novels and technical manuals, treat the page opening as a space for graphic displays of comparison and contrast whose spatial reasoning is self-evidently responsive to the codex form.
James Langdon is an independent graphic designer and writer and Professor for Communication Design at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe, Germany. Since 2004, he has worked closely with many artists on graphic design for publication and exhibition. From 2008 to 2018, he was a founding director of the artist-run space Eastside Projects, Birmingham, UK. He is presently working on a biography of English designer Norman Potter (1923–1995) as a teacher.
‘Just chuck them at the end’ is a common request from publishers regarding how to deal with notes. Certainly, this approach is neater, easier and time-efficient, but it is a pain for the reader who has to memorise the footnote number, find the page on which the notes are listed, and then navigate back to where they started. That’s a big ask.
Footnotes that appear on the same page or spread offer a challenge to the designer: how to design a system that can work on multiple pages, with each iteration creating a dynamic layout, containing many, few or no footnotes? How to control and enjoy the power of white space? This typographic element, along with page numbers and, often, running heads, form the marginal variables, always specific to each book, that inform the design. Micro sizing and rigorous typographical detailing come into play to complete the typographical jigsaw that is ’the footnote challenge’.
Fraser Muggeridge is director of
Fraser Muggeridge studio, a graphic design company based in Bethnal Green, London. Throughout a wide range of formats, from artists’ books and exhibition catalogues to posters, maps and postcard invites, the studio prioritises artists’ and writers’ content over the imposition of a signature style. By allowing images and texts to sustain their own intent and impact, each project is approached with typographic form and letterform playing a key role in arriving at a sympathetic yet subtly alluring object. Fraser teaches on the MA Book Design course at Reading University and on the BA Graphic Design course at Camberwell College of Arts, London.
The index: on editorial design
The index of a book is traditionally thought of as a ‘dumb’ referencing system, a necessary inclusion for the reader and, more often than not, a late inconvenience for the book designer. Reflecting on Conceptual Art, Sol LeWitt stated: ‘The idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work ... The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.’ In publishing, how does the index serve as a machine for the public and the publisher? What if an index could be more than a wayfinding system? What can we learn from the index, and how might it be reimagined?
This paper will look to various illustrated book indexes from art, museum and architectural presses, and will reflect on recent case studies. Specifically, the paper will look at the ways in which the index might highlight the socio-political concerns and the editorial approach of the publisher, and it will examine the conventions, challenges, successes, failures and design considerations affecting this crucial component of books.
Megan Patty is a publisher, writer and curator. Megan is publisher at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, and curator of the Melbourne Art Book Fair. She has worked across the museum and arts sector to develop new publishing propositions for museums, artists, and private and public collections for the past 12 years.
The designer as reader
Do book designers read? And if they do read, do they read about book design? And if they do read about book design, what kind of discourse is book design discourse? Who contributes to it, how and why? How does the broader social and cultural context of the discourse inform and shape practice? This paper will take aim not at the practice of book design, but rather at the ideas that inform the practice. It will attempt to interrogate the discourse surrounding the practice of book design.
Modern Typography, Robin Kinross wrote: ‘People do not do what they say, and to take their words as unquestioned truth and to deduce action from words leads to idealisation and falsity.’ This might well be true on many accounts, but there is at least one notable exception: Jan Tschichold, the German/Swiss designer and typographer, is renowned for doing pretty much precisely what he wrote about, and for acknowledging without much hesitation his theoretical mistakes and correcting his practice accordingly.
Tschichold remains one of the most polarising figures in design history, however it is not Tschichold’s own work that is the object of this research. Rather, I investigate the reception of Tschichold’s practice and writing. Utilising a method known in social studies as CDA (Critical Discourse Analysis), this paper looks at design discourse as intrinsically linked to and subjected to broader social and power relations that it knowingly or unknowingly reproduces. This paper proposes to view Tschichold not as the ‘German/Swiss’ designer and typographer, but rather as a German Slav designer and typographer in Nazi Germany, a war refugee in neutral Switzerland and an immigrant worker in post-war England, amongst other lenses, in order to ask: how is Tschichold read?
Žiga Testen is a Slovenian graphic designer living in Melbourne, Australia, whose activities include graphic design, editing, curatorial projects and collaborations with artists, curators and theoreticians. His work relies heavily on language and typography with a specific interest in the relationship of aesthetics and politics.