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Notes on publishing design

Publishing design, more than a specialty of graphic design, is an essential part of all the design study, since each and all the designers have faced the generation of printed matters: leaflets, catalogs, cards, booklets, three–page leaflets, fliers, posters and any type of brochure, calendars and, obviously, gazettes, newspapers, books and magazines among others: publishing design involves all these, and therefore we should go deeper into the publishing world in all its languages, i.e., of the format, correction and typographic labeling, of the prepress, printing and finishing, of the parts of the books, etc.
First of all, the step number one is selecting the program with which one will work. Nowadays, many designers, guided by publicity and the innovations on programs for design, do not dawn on the publishing functions that these programs lack. It is exasperating for a publisher to ask a designer to use small capital or to make certain word cuts, and the designer just does not do it because the Illustrator of the Freehand -for example-, cannot do such things. It is essential to use the proper tools in order to make a professional work, and if most of the publishing companies use InDesign or Quark-Xpress, we as designers have no other option than bringing ourselves up to date and use the same tools.
In order to start making publishing design, it is necessary to know what the contents are about, the audience they are aimed to and all the communication strategy. Once the communicative objectives are known, the next step is the creation of the grid.

The grid
The grid is the document’s structure. If a building does not have a structure which supports it, it will fall down, the same principle applies to the publishing design. The terror of facing an empty sheet immediately vanishes when the structure is created, because over the same all the graphic elements of the publication will fall and so all the design will be worth it.
It is important to clarify that all this is not a novelty, if we go through the firsts books which were produced on movable type printers; all of them have a well defined structure. Even before the first half of the 15th century, the manuscript copies had an appearance of extreme refinement, which the printers tried to equal with the new printed books. Many of these manuscripts are called incunabula, from Latin, incunabulum, cradle; and were editions made before the year 1500 and the print runs did not exceed 500 copies, some of them made on parchment paper. They are real artworks.
Well then, if we go through all these marvels, it will not be difficult to find out that all the graphic publishing culture arises from there. On the image No. 11, we have the photographic reproduction of the 42 lines Bible, printed by Gutemberg on Magucia, around year 1456. Of an extraordinary neatness, we see a grid with a ‘hanging’ identical to the lower margin, and the side margins are of the same size than the rule gutters and the column–rules. On the image No. 2, Douce Apocalypse, around year 1265 2, we see the grid handmade with a perfect equilibrium, and on image No. 3, we have an excellent example of the year 1543, the page of Johann Opporinus’ De humani corporis fabrica, (another of the many printers–publishers–booksellers of that time)3, in which all the composition is laid over a three–columns grid. Since that time, all types of grids exist: centered, suspended, on golden sections, etc.
But it is important to clarify that in order to get a good design, a very complex of strange grid is not necessary, just observe the publications that have won important prizes and we will realize that they are simpler than we think of. Nevertheless, for a very dynamic or alternative design, we can choose a complex grid and make this way make the composition more energetic, vital or original, but always based on the grid. On the image No. 4 we can see some examples of grids.
This way, the photos, the text columns, the titles, subtitles, marginal notes, shots, all must be justified in a grid.

The typography
There are two indispensable terms on the publishing language: legibility and readability. The first one is of the designer’s concern, Rob Carter said that the legibility under the typography terms consists of the visual qualities which make the typography legible, and to this aim, observing the legibility rules established must be seriously considered.
Firstly, we should select the typography to be used: roman or traditional, modern (like Bodoni), of transition, Egyptian, (with ends and square serif), without serif, of fantasy, etc. Most of the publishing products, mainly those of long contents, show two different types: one with serif and one without them, with the aim of distinguishing the text out of the titles, and sometimes another type of font is added for marginal notes, overlays or folios, but the use of fonts must be limited to two or three types, since in addition to seeing a typography catalog in a leaflet is unpleasant, it confounds the reader, the communicative intention is lost.
Another important point regarding the legibility is the leading, if the objective is that the product is read, the text must be visually kind. To this aim, we must loosen the leading up by opening it. The best ratio between the points of the type and the leading is made through a four or more points of difference. If the type is of eight points and the leading of 12, it is said that it is of eight on 12, and is written 8/12. The purpose is to clearly differentiate each line and avoid the confusion of the same on a swift reading.
We must not forget the kerning and the space between words, because all the time we see texts that, just with the aim of being justified (aligned to the right and to the left), they have enormous spaces between the words, the so–called rivers, which break the text’s course or rhythm, this is a real visual rudeness. In publishing programs such as InDesign or Quark-Xpress, we can mathematically change the kerning in order to avoid orphans or widows, but these changes must be extremely careful. Another trap in order to fit texts is to extend or condense the words, which is not quite recommended because it creates a slight deformation on the font, and one of the main rules of design is precisely not to disfigure any typography.
The extension of the text column shall not be above 64 characters or taps, and when it is too small, it strains the reader’s eyes.
After choosing the fonts that will be used, the next step is to define the typographic hierarchies, known as styles. Thanks to the virtues of the design, it is no longer necessary for us to number the titles and subtitles, the so–called styles must replace the numbers’ role, and shall come out very clear for the designer so that the reader does not confound a title with a subtitle or a subtitle 2. In this case, we must very careful regarding the abuse of elements for highlighting titles, for example, avoiding at all costs the use of quotation marks on titles, italic capital letters in bold type and especially, the underlining. A good resource is using capital letters or small capitals without underlining, bold types or italics. We must always remember that abusing the capital letters is like speaking aloud.
Once the text format is designed, foremost is to accurately respect everything that was designed: the assigned values to the font’s size shall never be changed, much less the leading values. If, for example, it is decided to make a quote or a transcription4 aside (with a margin exceeding the text’s margin), the type can be lowered one or two points, but not the leading, because of a very simple reason: in order the parallelism on the adjacent column is kept.
And lastly, the text must always be laid over the grid and inside the box of the text.

 Other elements of the publishing design
The first issue to be considered on every publishing design project is being aware of the sizes of the signatures. Regularly, the designer does not decide the extension nor the number of pages, therefore, the most logical thing is to make a mockup or dummy with a sheet of paper for planning the text’s distribution, its sections and the possibility to include photos that will exceed the half of the signature, in the case of saddle–stitched binding magazines with or without staples, or make a double truck special design.
The graphic documentary elements are often the most important aspects on the design, we are referring to overlays, folios, marginal notes and shots. They are called documentary elements because they offer certain information to the reader. The overlays, located on the upper, lower or side extremes, may inform the chapter’s or section’s name, of the edition or author. The advantage of this information is for example, if the reader makes copies of the document, said copy will carry the publication, author or publishing credit. The folios and the overlays are located outside the text box and are an indispensable guide for locating the sections. The marginal notes or shots are information additional to the text, they are written apart from the text and can have or not direct relation to it5; they must be located inside the text box and can be differentiated by the use of italics, with other font or by changing the font’s color.
The chapters’ entries on books and magazines are regularly made on odd pages, they can carry drop cap, the initial font with which a text or chapter begins. This font is bigger than the others and can extend over two or more text lines6. The grid can vary on the chapter’s entries and this way leaving more white spaces by diminishing the columns or widening the leading, with the aim of getting the reader’s attention so that he goes into the article, but then all the chapter’s entries shall carry the same format.
The preliminary pages on books are regularly eight. They include the false title page or bastard title, the title page, the legal page and at the end the colophon, and, if necessary, an occasional bastard title.

As we can see, the publishing world has its own language and rules well defined. Here we only expose some notes which help us to realize that, as designers, we are obliged to know this language and respect its rules with the aim of achieving good quality products and show our professionalism. Still, we still have many aspects to deal with and learn: the planning, the publishing management, the formatting and correction processes, the typographic labeling, the prepress, the printing and finishing methods, the parts of the books and finally the distribution and commercialization.
It is unbelievable to think that the simplest book contains all these elements, suffice it to prove it by opening any book we have at home. You will see how much you can discover on a single publication or section or page. That’s when we can make critical judgments regarding the design.
This way, if we want to carry out publishing design, all these knowledge are basic requirements which, paradoxically, while being more studied and performed, they result more fascinating than we first thought. We shall give them a try.

Susana Cabrera

1. Source: DREYFUS, John. Publishing and graphic arts dictionary, German Sanchez Ruiperez Foundation, Pyramid Editions, Madrid, 1990, p. 305.

2. MEGGS, Philip B. Graphic design history, Trillas, Mexico 1991, p. 77.

3. Ibidem, p. 120

4. The transcriptions are quotes that due to their extension are separated from the text when they exceed three lines and are presented with the same font, but with one point less than the text and with margins on the sides. The transcriptions must not carry quotation marks or italics.

5. CABRERA, Susana. Publishing manual, Processes and guidelines 2001–2002, Power Secretary, Mexico 2001, p. 56.

6. Idem.


The publishing design / A communication process

Every publishing design is a communicative process in itself, it has certain purpose as long as it is planned to be aimed to a specific social group or, as media analysts would say, a determined recipient profile. The publishing design, besides being a communicative process, is within other processes, for example, the publishing production.

On the contrary to what has always been supposed, the publishing design does not create products for group communication massive media. However, we should not forget that on its origins, the publishing process was conceived for the written press industrialization, that is to say, in order to print large circulation newspapers, magazines and later on comics (in Mexico, for example, we could mention the ‘Libro Vaquero,’ ‘TeleguĂ­a,’ ‘Eres’ magazine or the newspaper ‘La Prensa’), the print runs of the mentioned publications are unbelievably large compared to any other printed product and without considering the amount of readers of non paid copies, such as the friend, the brother or a person who finds an abandoned copy.

Nevertheless we can affirm that these publications do not reach the high class, quite the opposite to what happens on television, whose programs can get to almost all homes, i.e., all the houses that at least have electric power.

With the aim of confirming the afore mentioned with numbers, 95 out of every 100 Mexicans can have access to television, since we know even the most dispossessed have a television, and nevertheless, they do not have access to regular printed publications and much less to books (not to mention the electronic publishing, we must remember that in Mexico those of us who have a computer are a minority).

Another data that confirms the above said is the prices difference regarding advertising spaces on television, as compared to the prices on a magazine (if a proportion could be regarded), without forgetting the fact that on television said advertising spaces last only a few seconds, while on magazines they can be valid for weeks and in some cases even for months, as long as the magazine is on sale. These prices find their explanation on the size of the audiences and readers (readers?), since in fact both the audiovisual and printed media do not sell spaces but audiences.

In this context, we can understand that the publishing design is not exempt of a communication project, therefore the deeply necessary moment to ask how many of the graphic designers are media analysts or communicators. If we can barely study at some graphic design conferences and systemized syllabuses the semiotics or semiology (study of the signs). It still should be deepened more as regards to the communication sciences, even when their theoretical and methodological grounds are already dealt with in most of the different graphic or visual design institutions and degree courses offered in our country.

Let’s talk then about communication in regard to graphic design. First of all, we must remember that graphic design initiated with the creation of drawn publications and continued with printed publications, this means that printed publishing and design share the same history. We can find an essential and definitive purpose in this shared history from the beginning: to communicate.

With the creation of the firsts pamphlets or what we nowadays know as posters, and later on with the great Gutenberg’s invention (in Maguncia, around year 1440) for printing characters with movable types, it was not only sought to transmit information, but also to have a bearing on people’s cognitive mechanisms (or what some people call manipulation or brainwashing). Since then, an effect on the recipients was pursued, which would finally go back to the publishers–designers–printers, who would adapt their new messages, this means that as of those days what we now call feedback in communicative terms, was already thought about. Here the famous discussion of some communication analysts is pertinent: if there is no feedback, we are referring to diffusion then? The relevant issue for us now is that the designer assumes himself as a communicator, and that therefore he is aware of his own communicative roles.

Coming back to the origins, the illustrator–publishers–printers accompanied the texts, mainly the religious ones, with large illustrations aimed to overload the signification, also taking advantage of the ignorance of the writing by the recipients, since as we know, the books, then incunabula (we are referring to the Middle Ages, before Gutenberg and a little time afterwards), were only read by an intellectual and religious minority, and starting with the elaboration of posters and pamphlets for the rest of the community, the messages had to be structured with simple codes, susceptible to a fast or immediate decoding aimed to affect the recipients denotation and therefore, their opinions (and then in their acting).

During those far days, these publications were artistic but also didactic, and their manifestations in the teaching symbiosis with the graphic, would become a strategic design, and why was it strategic? The answer is precisely what we are aiming to: simply because it communicated.

As we can see, all these elements are immersed in a communication process, but not each and all of us understand the communication concept.

What is communication? In order to arrive to this definition, we should rescue a very well–known and simple model, in which we have a transmitter who generates a message and conveys it to a recipient: transmitter–message-recipient.

But beginning with this model, presumably functionalist, other more complex models appear, which, besides showing more elements, such as the channel, referent, feedback, etc., other theoretical models are generated for each element, like the Marshall McLuhan model, which falls on the channel (the means being the message); or on the message with the Jakobson model, although for example, in the latter, all the communicative roles existing in the elements intervening in a communication process could be structurally studied.

Now well, as publishing and graphic designers, we must think that these and many other communication theoretical processes can be susceptible of being applied to our process (the publishing process, also communicative), this acquires its own communicative personality and can play the process lead role like this: transmitter (designer), channel (printed mean), message (the design and its linguistic content), recipient or addressees (readers). Wouldn’t this model fit better with a graphic?

This model appears to be simple, but implies a real complex series of features that without their partaking they would atrophy or prevent the fulfilling of the process, for example and first of all, the transmitter (publishing designer) must be aware of all these elements, as of their technical and technological possibilities, human and finance resources, up to the recipient profile; where will all the contents be built from, and how every transmitter of any communication process will codify his messages through symbols (in our case, images, colors, graphics and writings; in  other cases, sounds and gestures) that the receiver will decode according to its sociocultural context.

The channel is the issue that will establish physical contact with the recipient, this can be the paper itself (very important issue also for the assimilation of the message) and the printed format.

The message is a stage that could result catastrophic on a designer’s work, here we have the rhetoric of the graphic image with its graphic, iconographic and decorative elements: the composition, typography, leading, grid, box, rule gutters, gutter sticks, overlays, folios, margin notes, shots, vignettes, feet, quotes, transcriptions, etc. Some elements that have been quite neglected by the designers themselves more than by anyone else, which is sad (and absurd) are: the linguistic rhetoric, the writing and style.

The designer should know well his recipient before creating the message, he must as well consider the effects on the readers, which sometimes are devastating and others fascinating. Here we should ask ourselves, for example, how we design the grids or choose the font, its size and leading, if it will be roman, gothic, modern, of transition, fantasy, etcetera, how we decide the inclination, modulation and contrast, also, if it will be with sans or serif.

The selection of these features and other typographic matters should be decided based upon the so–called typography psychology, without neglecting of course the importance of the legibility and comprehensibility (this is a term accepted by the Academy, and not readability, which is an Anglicism), because it must be considered that we can be perfectly legible but if we do not structure the messages based on our recipient’s profile, we could be totally incomprehensible, fact that can be applied not only to the text, but also to the product’s graphic part and aesthetics.

It is important to take into account as well that the careful planning of the message with each of the afore mentioned elements will not only have a bearing on the assimilation of the same, but it will also speak about the transmitter: about the company, the product and also the publishing designer and his image on the composition and graphic creativity, as well as his language and even spelling: putting on the most innovative design the word ‘built’ (‘construido’ in Spanish) with accent, can completely destroy the work because it would evidence an elemental grade ignorance, that should have been learnt in primary school.

The recipient is the person to whom the message aims, and the effects of the message should be planned in advance, but quite often the recipient’s interpretation with regards to the message does not always meet what the transmitter wants to convey, signify, due to the common inconsistency of cultural codes that the publishing designer and the reader must have. Thus, the communication purpose will be ideally achieved as long as a relationship between both exists inside a shared frame of cultural references and codes.

Thus, if any of the afore elements is neglected, it will be very difficult to achieve the communication with our readers, but we should ask ourselves what happens with the message after being received and maybe embraced by the recipient. Here we enter a topic we already mentioned: the feedback; it is supposed that on every relationship in which exist two or more actors, there must be an answer so that communication really occurs.
On printed publications it seems that an immediate response to the transmitter cannot arise through a technical connection which allows the interactive proximity of both, especially from the same channel, it means that it could look like a unidirectional mean, but the communication’s interactivity or two–way does not emerge immediately, rather, it occurs during the recipient and transmitter voluntary participation, on which the recipient can have an intimate dialogue with his sensations, feelings, reason and knowledge, and can as well turn into a transmitter of the same message within the field of common experiences. We quote this from Jean Clouthier’s communication theoretical model called emirec (on which a person is transmitter and recipient at the same time). Robert Escarpit used to say: “Reading is the best remedy against the loneliness frustrations, and it is like this because essentially it is an act of communication which puts forward or answers questions, opens and recreates experiences, memories or life episodes, lets flow or closes feelings, it definitely achieves that a person feels communicated as a reader with the person who describes” (or designs).

By studying the communication theoretical models (raised by Jakobson, McLuhan, Abraham Moles, Jean Clouthier, Daniel Prieto, Shanon and Weber among many others), as well as those of the field of communication sciences in order to carry out the publishing design, a white sheet or electronic white sheet of any design and publishing program must definitely appear, since without these tools which are the grounds of all the traces and compositions that will be printed out, the publishing designer might find himself in a kind of ignorance prison, not perceiving at all what he does nor his enormous responsibility as a communicator above all.

Let’s think about the importance of the afore when the words of Octavio Paz come to happen: “Any kind of printed publications: books, magazines, newspapers, are born so that we live, dwell or reside with them, to be inhabited as human coexistence spaces. They can be read fast or slowly, in a few minutes, hours, days or years; constantly, with interruptions or at short or long intervals; it can be read line after line, page by page or skipping between them, going forward or backwards, as our reading habits may be, we can read or reread whenever we want, but almost always we keep something that we read within us, and sometimes we keep it forever”.

Susana Cabrera

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