For many, design can be seen as a luxury – particularly for publishers who are finding it hard to maintain profit margins. Design for us is our passion. Making books more beautiful is of fundamental importance. However, design (and its processes) has many other functions, and we believe these really matter.
Design isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s also about applying common sense to page layout. It involves adding structure to make sense of content. It’s about visually creating a world around the reader and helping them to navigate through it. It’s as much about the function as it is about the form.
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Steve Jobs
When design is done well you shouldn’t even notice it’s there. If readers and users become fixated on the architecture and the bad experiences they are having, no matter how good the content is, you’ve lost them. Design is therefore paramount in producing effective materials to help keep customers happy. Having good designers on your team goes a long way in helping to achieve this.
When to Start
Design is often one of the final parts of the publishing process to be considered with illustrated books – even the sample design is often done at a relatively late stage. By this point the majority of the budget has often been used up, markets and sales targets have been defined, the product spec has been tied down and all that’s left is to hit the “design button” and hey presto!
Whilst this works in some cases (albeit often in frenetic working practices!), it does beg the question as to why designers aren’t involved at earlier stages of the publishing process. By doing so, huge amounts of duplicated research time and market feedback would be saved. By not doing so, colossal U-turns on product scope and project often creep in which cost everyone a lot of stress, time and money.
How Designers Add Value
Our FutureBook manifesto highlights how publishers can make design a more integral part of their working processes. But why would having design input earlier on be of benefit? Well, designers are problem solvers who continually look to new software and processes to find a solution. Designers have the ability to look at things objectively and systematically; they like to creatively come up with new ideas and approaches to solve a problem.
Designers have had to constantly adapt, learning new software and ways of doing things, which perfectly places them as people to help implement change and new ideas as well as help solve problems. Many publishers are still undergoing a huge amount of change and uncertainty – the pace and complexity that digital presents us all is not going away. And so the need to have a more collaborative approach and ensure you have the right, problem-solving, people on your team is of greater importance than ever.
Design really does matter, so the next time you get the chance to talk to one of your designers ask them a few questions on whether they think the material is working, give them a little bit of mileage to be creative and see if they can help you solve a problem.
If designers were integrated into the full publishing process (from concept to delivery) and if publishers took advantage of their skill sets, both in-house and external design teams, then don’t you think the end results would be phenomenal?
Sophie O’Rourke works at emc design, a leading print & digital design agency for publishing. She is interested in how education is being transformed by new technologies, the web and social media. You can find her writing for emc design’s blog, on Twitter or at the next BookMachine event, Why Design Matters.