Just lift the cover to this lovely book and the endpaper has a quote from George Orwell's 1946 book 'Politics and the English Language' What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? Could I have put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? Although he was referring to writing I feel these thoughts could easily apply to publication designers and Derek Birdsall's book is a fine visual example of putting them into practice.
I thought the clever thing about the book was the way it explains design by using examples of Birdsall's work, so you get to see plenty of his spreads and their presentation is the design explanation. The two chapters, 'The process of book design' and 'Book design in practice' covers a whole range of creative solutions. Throughout he offers thoughts and practical observations with the second chapter devoted to many spreads from books and here I found perhaps the most fascinating section, his re-design of 'Common Worship, Services and Prayers for the Church of England'. Surely the ultimate creative (and intellectual) challenge, 860 pages, type only and two colors. As a publication designer I've always maintained that the most rewarding jobs are the simplest in appearance, airline timetables or tax forms for instance, where the creative resources are limited yet the information conveyed needs to be totally unambiguous. Birdsall's design solution to 'Common Worship' looks so right that you are not aware of the design and that is just as it should be. The back of the book has sample text settings (in foreign languages, too) and some very hands-on information about grids for books.
'Notes on book' design is beautifully designed and printed and a first-class review of a leading book designer's work.
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