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A Little Highbrow Topic for Discussion

A little bit if what I’ve been writing lately discuss, if you're so inclined:

Book design has always responded to changes in technology developments in printing, papermaking, typesetting, and aesthetics. With all of these, though, the book itself was the primary result of the publishing effort the culmination of advances that made its form possible. All along designers have used all these developments as part of a language that, at its best, has created new possibilities for communication and enhanced the historical value and sensual pleasures of the tangible object. The last few decades have seen the emergence of other technologies, though, that have led to a vast store of published ideas outside the physical substrate. Software and publishing communities have sought all along to find ways of adapting material published as books. The growth of the internet and electronic publishing, though, has spread an acceptance of ways of reading, viewing images, and organizing information that are often alien to the established book format.

Publications are often conceived for primary delivery in one medium, even though they may be delivered to many. For instance, academic research may be summarized and analyzed for publication as a book, even though the information may be gathered within a database and distributed as digital documents or published as web pages. Each of these media offers its own advantages to the reader/user; however, a design refined for only one form may alter dramatically as features specific to each medium are incorporated when the publication is transferred from one form to another.

We read/view different media differently, and each medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. When a body of work is published in multiple media, it should be seen as an opportunity to enhance the meaning and evocative qualities of the work, rather than a need for compromises that detract from them. Instead of using a visual and structural vocabulary intended for one format when the publication is transferred to other media, how can the best features of the printed book as well as its sundry electronic counterparts be considered as core elements of a design approach that enriches the publication in all formats?

The design of books can be enhanced by an understanding of other media. Typography, composition, use of imagery, the sequence of information, and use of materials are all components of book design, but they are also the components of electronic design, which may use them in completely different ways. Just as digital media often take cues from the the established traditions of the book, the modern book could also take some cues from the evolving conventions of electronic publishing.

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