It’s not Greek to them. © Jain Lemos.

Design… so many directions and so little time. Finding design concepts can be invigorating and overwhelming. This is why your designer needs clear instructions about the book’s vision. You also need to allow enough leeway so their expertise is not challenged. It’s a delicate mix, so let’s get into design in my web series, The Ultimate Guide to Producing Documentary Books.

You’ll need to help your designer assemble and finalize the visual elements which include the book’s photographs, illustrations, color scheme, typefaces, type treatments, folios, icons and ultimately the pacing of the pages as a whole. Mood boards are the way to go! MoodShare is a good virtual platform for collaboration with your designer. Pinterest is another way to quickly see a lot of design concepts on one page by searching pins and then assembling your own custom board.

Start by searching for the descriptive words that will become the base of the design concept. What ideas express the core subject matter? Athlete profile = sporty. Social issue = serious. Travel = adventurous. Behind-the-Scenes = intimate. Period piece = vintage. Then drill further into the topic; a profile of an extreme athlete is sporty and edgy but a bio pic of a golfer is sporty and classy. Keep it simple here because just a few words are needed for you to start conceptualizing the visual pieces of the book.

Most projects start out with a batch of representative or existing photographs. Documentaries covering live events won’t give you the advantage of seeing photos in the pre-production stage so ask your photographers to submit some placeholders. Edit to a handful for mood setters. I don’t like sampling photos from other photographers for the mood board. You’ll know who is shooting for your book when you get to this stage and it’s better to use images from their archives for design direction even if they’re not exactly on point. Picking up textures and elements from other images can be helpful from a marketing standpoint, though, especially images of product packaging design.

For choosing colors I love to use Adobe Kuler. Search for golf and you can’t believe how many swatch boards there are and not just shades of green. Practically any concept returns results. Once you have decided on five core colors, the designer will pull lighter and darker hues from each to show you how they work in the layout. Colors are about the easiest thing to change in the design phases so don’t sweat this decision too much in the beginning.

As for fonts, I am clueless but intrigued by them. For books, the only requirement is that the font is readable! Typefaces need to translate to your audience demographic but don’t assume gamers only respond to silver and black doom fonts. Really, you don’t need novelty fonts and it’s best to avoid them so your book doesn’t look dated in a year. Fonts are not as easy to change once you get started for spacing and flow reasons so look at a lot of type samples—printed out—to be sure you are happy.

I prefer seeing three complete design directions and then finessing the best one. That includes a title treatment (what becomes the book’s logo), a chapter opening spread and three or four interior spread choices using placeholder images and text. Now a word about what is called dummy or Greek text: don’t let the designer use it. Provide actual text for the book that you or the writer has prepared for the design direction samples.

With few exceptions, large format books succeed with plenty of white space and clean, refreshing spreads. The photographs are the stars but these aren’t portfolio books. Not every spread should have bleeding photos. Text design around the images is far more important. You’ll be deciding on how titles, subtitles, captions, bullet points, sidebars and callouts look while working to avoid too many crunched up text boxes or icons flitting though the pages. Designers want direction so spend productive time with them in the beginning by providing clear and consistent concepts they can run with.

Now that the design is coming together, Creating Marketing Materials is next so I’ll see you back here soon. I found this great board on Pinterest: Learning Ancient Egypt.

Producing Documentary Books: Hiring a Printer
Producing Documentary Books: Creating Marketing Materials