Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
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Project. Book Design.

Purpose. To learn the traditional parts and aspects of book design. To continue to refine typographic sensibilities as they pertain to detail, harmonious relationship of type to space, and the “finer points” of typesetting. To consider the relationship between content and page size, proportion, grid and margins. To learn to work with multiple pages in a single complex linked document in InDesign. To work within and to become familiar with the conventions of book design. To carefully and intelligently break convention by allowing typography to express, through type treatment and unconventional arrangements, a conceptual point of view. To make a visually dynamic, intellectually challenging typographic interpretation of the relationship between two (or more) typographic voices/styles/messages. To use all the knowledge you have acquired this semester to make an advanced final project.

Assignment. The last major assignment for a sophomore class. The goal of this project is to design, typeset, and bind a hardcover book which combines at least two different texts, allowing the student to experiment with the relationships between typographic form and verbal meaning. However, key to this assignment is to do so within the limitations and conventions of “good typography.” That is to say, careful attention must be paid to all details of letter and line spacing, overall page proportion, and visual harmony. Consonance and dissonance must be under the student’s control; texture and pacing must be attended to; and of course meaning and concept must be carefully considered. We proceed in the following sequence:

1. Students choose one of the two assigned texts. This year we used Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 or Marguerite Duras’ Writing. They are given a plain text file and must come to class with the text set in a readable format, exploring page size, margin size, point size and leading. Typefaces are limited to those we have been using all semester (Caslon, Bembo, Garamond, Univers, Franklin Gothic, etc)

2. Once the typeface, trim size and point size is resolved, students must chose a second text to accompany the primary text. This second text should serve as commentary, support, refutation, elaboration etc. It can even be somewhat random as long as the student works out a way to use it deliberately and intelligently to activate the primary text. Simply put, there ought to be a point. In the past I have seen everything from Yellow Pages ads to Walt Whitman poetry.

3. Students must include /invent:
• Chapter titles
• Major heads, Minor heads
• Running heads (or feet) + Folios
• Footnotes
• Sidebar annotations
• Call outs (optional)
The book must also contain the following: Half title page, Title page, Copyright page, Contents page, Chapter openers, and Colophon.

4. Once students have completed the initial formatting of the entire text, they phase in the second voice (their chosen text) with deliberate intent. Using typographic design, they can co-opt, subvert or in some way affect the primary text through the addition of this second voice which (for example) could sneak in, or enter explosively, or appear clearly but quietly. Consideration is given to how the second text emerges. Students must think of the parts of the book that might serve their needs conceptually. Throughout the whole project, the focus is on typographic texture, harmony or deliberate disharmony, pacing of the pages, and the relationship between the main primary essay, and the secondary text. How can meaning be affected by all the variables available to work with. How can this text be “re-authored”?

5. Mid-project we have a workshop on bookbinding. Students learn the fine art of (im)perfect binding, a good though non-archival form of presentation binding. They are given about one week to finish production on their books and in the end all students make a hard cover, cloth bound book.

This project is ultimately about the parts of a book, the legibility of pages, the conceptual and typographic possibilities of combining two texts, and “authoring” a book through design and typography. Students are encouraged to take risks. Be imaginative. Creative. Controlled. Elegant. Wild. At once. CHALLENGE convention, and do it well... Images are only allowed at the discretion of the instructor.

Readings: Robert Bringhurst The Elements of Typographic Style; Carl Dair Design with Type; various articles copied from Eye Magazine.

Format. 5 1/2" X 8 1/4" (14 X 21 centimeters) From 50 to 150 pages in length.

Time. Six weeks, twice a week.


Lucinda Hitchcock is an associate professor of graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). She has taught at the Art Institute of Boston and the Letterpress Guild of New England, and most recently worked in New Haven, Connecticut; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Lucinda was born in Tokyo, Japan and has traveled widely. She received her BA in 1983 from Kenyon College in Ohio, with a combined concentration in English literature and photography, spent a year at Exeter University in the UK, and received an MA in literature from Columbia University in NYC. She established her own letterpress/design studio in Boston and in 1992 was accepted into the Graphic Design program at Yale School of Art from which she received her MFA two years later. At Yale, Lucinda explored the boundaries of the book form and, working in both sculpture and photography, built large and small “book” structures, and documented the progress of a tulip/word garden through the seasons.

At RISD she continues to teach with an emphasis on pushing the boundaries of conventional book design and typography. Some of her ideas appear in an article Word Space / Book Space / Poetic Space: Experiments in Transformation in the journal Visible Language (34.2, 2000); and more recently in the book The Typographic Experiment: Radical Innovation in Contemporary Type Design. She has won awards from the AIGA and the American Association of University Presses for her book design and continues to explore notions of the book as time-based narrative while maintaining her design studio, working with such clients as Beacon Press, David Godine Publishers, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.


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