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Tuesday, 05 December 2017


Oy vey iz mir! That page layout is really awful. Just heartbreaking. It's book design committed as a felony.

The funny thing is that outside a small number of people in the publishing world, no one, and I mean _no one_ will remember or care about the book designer's identity. The photographer is the artist here and the designer has inserted him or herself into the process of seeing Gruyaert's work in a most unhelpful, counterproductive way. Arrggg.

Oddly: This book's design reminds me of wedding bands that play too loudly. The bride and groom are thinking, "we want background music for our special day." But the band is thinking "DUDE!!!! WE GOT A GIG! LET'S THRASH!"

Sigh. I really like Gruyaert's work. And: I'd like to be able to enjoy it without being aware of the designer's choices. And that's book design at its best: invisibly helping the artist or writer convey his/her meaning. The sad thing? I might buy the book anyway, just because I find Gruyaert's use of color so interesting when it work. Reminds me of Saul Leiter and Harry Calahan's stuff. . . in a good way.

Kenneth Tanaka is so right. The original Harry Gruyaert book is brilliant. Its minimalist design, right down to the spare san-serif font for the limited text, lets the photographs speak for themselves; no nonsense, one photo per page, nothing across the gutter.
The kind of intrusive design demonstrated by East/West is like an Eames chair; hipster cool, but impossible to sit in.

I'm not sure what to think about the landscape issue. I know what you mean about how the design in the new editions force a landscape image onto a portrait page, leaving oceans of blocky white space.

But... I absolutely hate when photographs are bisected by a gutter. I think it ruins the photograph and it leaves me frustrated and wanting to see the image unmolested.

So which is the greater evil? To ruin the layout by forcing the image onto a single page, or to ruin the photograph by imposing a gutter?

Totally agree with Ken. Some design / production / style decisions have subordinated the images.

This is quite common in my own area as well ( web application design ) where sales and product ownership hi-jack the core product

"I just do not understand why publishers let designers run amok in such a way. "

No, it is the publishers that like tall rectangular books, not the designers.

TLDR, square books are just as expensive to print as a tall book of the same width.

Based on recent personal experience;
Hugh the designer would have really liked to have a squarish book.
Hugh the publisher couldn't afford it.

You have three common sizes of paper 787x1094mm 889x1192mm and 965x635mm

The most cost-effective book sizes are a size that can be made by folding one of those sheets of paper 3 times to get a signature of 16 pages, assuming that presses come in all sizes, but of course they don't.

The largest 16 page signature on a Heidelberg press is with no waste is 235x305mm or about 12 x 9.25 inches ( or slightly bigger if no bleed), that is no waste of paper and 16 pages on each plate. Assuming that 9.24 inches is one of the dimensions the only way to make the book more square is to cut the book down to size, but you are still paying just as much paper and labor.

If you want to larger you can find a printer that uses a Mitsubishi. Max size for a vertical 16 page signature on a Mitsubishi would be 255x360mm or 10 x 13.77 inches It will use 787x1094mm paper sheet, the paper is only partly used, so there is some waste. This is somewhat more expensive than the Heidelberg, and is why you hardly ever see books larger than 12 x 9.25 inches until recently. Now there are a lot of 10-inch wide books but they tend to be a bit more costly.

I had some unique constraints so I went with a 10x12.75 inch signature on a Mitsubishi press because the alternative would have been a slightly smaller layout with more than twice as many pages. I'm not sure that it is even possible to bind an 1800 page book on 80-pound paper but it would weigh over 25 pounds. Anyway, that extra 3/4 of an inch was pretty expensive but cost a lot less than the alternatives.

The other thing to keep in mind is that shipping can cost more than manufacturing, ( a lot more if you are going through traditional sales channels where the book gets shipped multiple times ) so cutting a third of the book off and recycling it rather than shipping it could be a money saver, but the publisher doesn't pay most of the shipping traditionally.

All that said, my next project will be landscape 9.24 x 12 or smaller.

if you want to play around with how much design changes effects cost there is a cool calculator at http://www.printninja.com/pricing/photo-books. Note that changes pretty much track what the changes would cost at any other printer and binder, but you are paying a big convenience fee. Also, note that the shipping costs about as much as the printing.

Thank you, thank you, thank you hugh crawford!!

Mike, as a storyteller I prefer books/magazine to single prints. Please consider making hugh crawford a regular contributor to TOP. It looks like he could be a fount useful of information.

Hugh: Keen points about the relative cost relationships of page sizes and total project costs. I cannot claim to know how much a factor it was for this project. My own guess, however, is that the design was likely the driving force for two reasons. First, whatever economies may have been achieved by paper sizes were certainly eroded by the elaborate packaging and cover stamping. The two volumes are housed in a very customized partial slipcase featuring separate tipped-on cover images and reversed stamping and mounting. Second, this ain’t no little indie publisher or one-off hobby project. This is the veneable Thames and Hudson, one of the world’s preeminent art book publishers. They certainly must have far more control over their paper cost framework than, say, an indie printer in China or Italy.

Ugh, that layout had my eyes twitching. It really subtracts from the photos.

"to leave evidence they were there."

great insight
well said
temptation & bane of all arts
mea culpa

I make it a matter of principle never to buy photo books in this most irritating format. Never, ever.

Everybody uses the same presses and other machinery.
Set up costs are pretty low on slipcases and other packaging , the labor is in the actual making of the thing, so the first one isn't that much more expensive than the next thousand. With the book block itself it can be $5000 for the first and $7 a piece for the next few thousand, but add a half inch to the short dimension and it's $7500 for the first and $12 for the next few thousand. Then you ship it and it gets marked up 4 times, it's a big difference.

I suspect that the cost of the two books in the slipcase was about the same as the larger single volume with no slipcase, but the perceived value of a two volume set in a slipcase is a lot higher, and I also suspect that a lot of these are going to be gifts. From a business perspective, it's a no brainer and Thames and Hudson is a business.

As an object, the Thames and Hudson is quite lovely, and the covers are conceptually very cool, almost like someone came up with the idea and the cool title and then a design that played off the title and only then handed it off to someone else and said "now fill it with photos".

The book I just did, is an exercise in first figuring out what the densest way of laying out 6754 pictures is, and then what is the least amount of book that I can contain that with. I love whitespace , but there is maybe 3 pages worth of blank space out of 768 pages.

All book designs are a compromise and you have to pick one or two things that are important and take what you can get away with for the rest.

Apparently seeing the images with few distractions was not the important thing in the east west books.

Of course I could be radically and totally wrong on this, I am only going by what I see here and have not seen the books in the pulp as it were.

First at all was the decision to print that size of book. Probably it was an economic decision and when you have a vertical book and a lot of landscape images you have to take decisions. Just thinking before to point the designer.

Ken, the book which you point out as the "first" Gruyaert book - a retrospective volume, probably accompanying an exhibition somewhere - is by no means the first book by Harry Gruyaert. The Magnum site lists his publications. Personally I would recommend "Maroc" and "Rivages", both of which have English editions (Morocco and Edges resp.). Granted, these are a little hard to come by, but it can be done.

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