Book designers play an indispensable, if sometimes underestimated, role in the process of turning an author’s manuscript into a finished, printed book. Chip Kidd, in his entertaining and enlightening 2012 TED Talk, says that his job as a book designer is to ask the question, “What do the stories look like?” A book designer, he says, “Gives form to content.”
We are constantly amazed by the solutions, by the answers to the question “What does the story look like?”, that we see from the designers with whom we have the privilege to work, and wanted to give these incredibly talented individuals an opportunity to talk about how they understand their roles, and about book design more generally.
Today, we have a Q&A with Leslie Fitch. Leslie has been a freelance designer for 15 years, designing image-driven books for arts institutions, museums, and university press publishers. Her book and publication designs have received awards from the American Alliance of Museums, the Association of American University Presses, and Publishing Professionals Network (formerly Bookbuilders West).
Y@rtBooks: Why did you pursue design, rather than, say, painting or architecture or sculpture?
Leslie Fitch: I love books and reading. Designing books involves using typography which is both a craft and an art. I also like collaborating with scholars and editors in many different disciplines but especially art history.
Y: Have you ever completed a project and only after the book was printed did the perfect (or, at least, a better) design solution occur to you?
LF: There is no one perfect solution but many different possible ones. Of course, there is always something one could have done differently.
Y: Is your work on a book project usually more of a slow, progressive effort, or is it moved forward by unpredictable moments of inspiration?
LF: It starts out slowly but gains momentum as the deadline approaches.
Y: Do you feel that a book’s design can, or even should, play an assertive role in how a reader experiences the book, or do you feel the best book design is a kind of behind-the-scenes art – where the reader isn’t even always aware of the influence of the design?
LF: The latter. I want the reader to pay attention first to the author or artist’s work instead of my design.
Y: What is your favorite font?
LF: So many typefaces — so little time! I always use Open Type fonts with all the diacritics for all languages. There are a few fonts which work well in many kinds of books. Scala Pro is one of them.
Y: Do you design books in other genres and categories than art and architecture? If so, what are some primary differences between designing, say, a novel versus a large, glossy book on architecture?
LF: I usually design art monographs and museum exhibition catalogues but one thing that all genres have in common is the need for good typography. The book is for the reader first and foremost. The weight of the type should not be too light, or too dark, but just right.
Y: How can an author make a book designer’s job easier?
LF: Turn in the manuscript on time and don’t waste time formatting it. That is the designer’s job. The publisher will probably strip out the unnecessary formatting anyway before sending it to the designer.
Y: Who are your favorite book designers?
LF: I admire all the designers whose amazing and creative work I have seen over the years in the AAUP book and journal show and I appreciate the publishers who hire them.
Bruce Rodgers, the designer of the typeface Centaur, is one of my inspirations. He is considered one of the finest book designers of the twentieth century.
This photo is a recent one of Leslie’s desk as she’s been working on a book Yale University Press will publish in March of 2014, The Life Within: Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence by Stephen Houston.
Some of her recent collaborations with Yale University Press and our museum publishing partners are Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine edited by Thomas Denenberg, The Waters of Rome: Aqueducts, Fountains, and the Birth of the Baroque City by Katherine Wentworth Rinne, and Modern Architecture: Representation and Reality by Neil Levine.