The function of books
This brief asked me to identify a range of books that have different functions and consider how each book’s form reflects its function. I chose to look at a children’s picture book, a cookery book, a collection of poetry, a self-help or advice book, an autobiography, a fiction novel, a science book, a flipbook, and an art book (references are all listed at the end of this blog). I considered various aspects of each book’s design, such as the size, number of pages, cover and blurb, the paper quality, typeface, weight of the book, and any imagery. It was a specific piece of feedback from my tutor from Part 1 to look carefully at how the physicality of a book reflects the contents, so this was a valuable activity to address this feedback and find out how the design links to the text.
Children’s picture book – The very hungry caterpillar
I deliberately chose this picture book because it has some physical elements that cannot be replicated in a digital version.
The illustration of the caterpillar dominates the cover – this is the main character and focus of the story. The white background allows the vibrant colours to pop and the beautiful textures of the tissue paper and paint to be clear. The image is enticing to a young reader because it has movement and interest. The character is now so recognisable that many parents and children would pick up this book just because it is an essential picture book. The typeface is also interesting – uppercase letters are used for the title, and the style looks classic but stretched, with lots of limbs or legs, like a caterpillar. The author and illustrator’s name is smaller. On the back, the text identifies the book as a ‘much-loved classic’ and, again, showcases the stunning, bright illustrations. I think the illustrations also seem child-friendly – they are easily decipherable, minimalist, and textured – they look as if you could reach out and feel them. This would further engage a child with the story and the images.
Throughout the book, the illustrations dominate, and the accompanying text is smaller. The pages that hold the most interest – for me at least! – are the fruit pages that vary in size and have holes in. They show how much the caterpillar eats each day. This physical aspect to the reading experience is also typical of a children’s book, because it encourages them to take part in the process – to count the pieces of fruit and turn the pages. It adds interest. This helps establish it as a children’s book (even though adults enjoy this too!)
Cookery book – Meal in a mug
I chose this cookery book because it is different to a large, extensive recipe book – it is small (about the height and width of my outstretched hand) and intended to be convenient. The title itself is appealing to people who may not have much time to cook, or people who live alone and struggle with finding recipes for one. The cover is sturdy and smooth – I imagine because this makes it durable in a kitchen environment and easily wipeable if any food gets on the cover.
The cover design is simple and tells the reader exactly what to expect inside. The red is striking; I think I remember reading somewhere that red is used in food advertising because it is associated with increasing people’s appetite. There is a photograph of a meal (traditional and comforting) inside a mug, with a drip of gravy down the side (perhaps trying to make it relatable and not aiming for ‘fine-dining’) and illustrations of a knife and fork either side. The photograph helps to establish the factual nature of the book – it is meant to instruct people – but the illustrations and the playfulness in perspective helps to target the audience for this type of recipe book. It has a novelty element to it.
Even the back cover has that simplicity to draw people in. The ‘MUG + MICROWAVE = HAPPY TIMES’ simplifies the whole cooking process to make anyone feel like they could pick up this book and create a meal. The blurb paragraphs are angled, rather than being horizontal, adding to that playful style. There are also more photographs of different recipes to entice the reader.
Inside, the recipes are split into sections depending on the type of meal (lunch, snacks, etc.) and these section pages have almost a schoolbook appearance. They title is inside a pencil-shaded explosion shape, as if someone has doodled it. I think, again, this adds to the relatable, ‘anybody-can-cook-these-recipes’ vibe. The recipes themselves are either text only or accompanied by a full-page photograph of the finished result. There are no process photographs, which may be a deliberate attempt to make the recipes seem simple and easy – if there were lots of process photographs it might seem like the recipes were complicated.
Collection of poetry – the sun and her flowers
This is a paperback book, but the covers are thick and have a lovely texture. There is certainly a simplicity to the design, with the same typeface being used throughout, and Rupi Kaur does not use capital letters in her work because her mother tongue of Punjabi is written in Gurmukhi script, which does not use uppercase letters. This certainly makes an artistic statement on the cover – linking directly and personally to the author – perhaps helping to establish the contents of the book as alternative and creative. The illustration is natural, simple, and warm. On the back cover, it becomes clearer that the book contains poetry.
Each poem has its own page, which is an important part of the design of the book. It is a collection of individual pieces, so they need to remain separate. Some do link together in the themes they discuss, so Rupi has divided the book into five sections: wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. The poems are also accompanied sometimes by black and white line illustrations (by Rupi) which adds to the creative content of the book but does not make the book too expensive to produce. The pages are uncoated.
Self-help book – The little book of mindfulness
I chose this book because it is strikingly different in size and function to the others. As the cover indicates, it is intended to give readers quick ideas to help reduce stress. The imagery on the cover is an illustration of a dandelion dispersing its seeds in the wind – a natural image, and natural imagery is often associated with calm and peace. The colours are also muted and therefore could be interpreted as calming – mostly blues, greens, and purples are used. The text is not in an exact straight line – the letters are floating a little – which gives me the impression of flowing water or a gentle breeze, probably intended to fit with this natural, calming theme. Additionally, the author is credited at the bottom of the page in a dark blue colour (which does stand out) as a doctor. This may give the reader confidence that the content is professional and potentially more genuine and trustworthy. All these design choices link to the function – the book is intended as a self-help and wellbeing book.
The book is, as indicated by the title, little. I think this may be so it can be easily place in a pocket or handbag so that the reader can browse in a spare moment during a busy day. The ’10 minutes’ text is bolder than the rest of the statement, again, supporting the idea that the content is meant to be consumed in bitesize chunks and the advice can be practised in short spaces of time.
Inside, the calming colour scheme continues – blues and greens dominate. Illustrations also appear consistently throughout the book. They are minimalist in style and have a ‘cut out’ feel, as if they have been created by cutting out shapes from textured paper. Mostly, they are natural images, but some of them link to the exercises. Each exercise has a time indicated in bold in the top corner of the page, which helps if you are flicking through to find something to do (if you only have 5 minutes to spare, you can easily find what you are looking for). This all supports this ‘on-the-go’ style. The book is intended to be used in everyday life and is practical enough for this.
Autobiography – How not to be a boy
Immediately, it is clear that the function of this book is to inform us about someone’s life or give us someone’s opinions. A photograph of Robert Webb dominates the cover, as does his name in a vibrant pink, rounded typeface. A photograph typically suggests real-life content, whether this be someone’s experiences, opinions, or a particular venture of theirs. The title is positioned just behind the photograph of Robert Webb in white – the typeface has sharper edges and is larger than the rest of the text. The ‘How to…’ title also suggests factual content. I really like how the pink has been chosen, because of its connotations with all things female, and how this is potentially jarring with the boy-themed content. The other colours remain neutral – mostly black, white, and grey. It is almost as if the ideas in the book are rebelling against the blandness that surrounds it.
The blurb is also mostly grey, black, and white, with a striking pink banner, titled ‘Rules for being a man’ in white capital letters. The text is quite minimal, but gets the point across succinctly – Robert Webb intends to challenge traditional masculine ideas. This clearly indicates the function of the book. There are also smaller statements from other authors or personalities, linking to the celebrity genre, and engaging potential readers.
Inside, the majority of the pages are text (on uncoated paper, typically used for novels) but there is a section in the middle – as there often is in an autobiography – containing photographs from Robert’s life on glossy paper. Although glossy, it is quite thin, probably to reduce the weight as the book needs to be mass produced.
Fiction novel – Circe
I decided to choose a fiction book to compare this against books of other functions. This is a hardback novel and is set in the ancient world of Greek mythology and gods and goddesses, which is reflected in the cover design – an elaborate patterned cover (and this pattern also appears under the dust jacket). The title – ‘Circe’ – is in a bold, textured typeface positioned vertically down the centre of the page. It almost looks like it is printed or carved out of stone, adding to that historical feeling. The cover has images and words that are embossed (edit: this is foiling!), giving it a luxurious effect. The colour scheme also indicates grandeur; the black and shiny bronze is striking. It also has an overall darkness, which helps indicate the content of the story. This is an adult novel, with some darker themes.
On the inside of the cover is a map, linked to the story, which is the only imagery on the inside of the book. It is mostly illustrative, to give the reader an idea of the places mentioned in the story. Having read the book, I do not think I ever referred to the map – unlike other stories where maps sometimes come in handy – so I think it is mostly there as an artistic piece. This also reinforces the fictional nature of the story, with drawings of fantastical creatures appearing on the map.
The rest of the book contains the story in a classic typeface. The paper is fairly typical of a fiction novel – uncoated and definitely not thin. As this was published within the last five years, it could be argued that some people need a reason to buy a book physically, rather than just read an electronic version, and I would say this book is enticing enough – visually and physically – to justify buying the physical copy.
Science book – How the body works
This book is intended as an information book, which I think is apparent as soon as you see the cover. The main image on both covers is a diagram of a heart – specifically, the outline of an accurate heart shape, rather than a symbolic heart – and this is filled with text. On the front cover, there is a chunky, bold title – ‘How the body works’ – in capital letters. Although the title text is all the same size, ‘the body’ is in white, and ‘how’ and ‘works’ are in black. Underneath the title is a tagline of ‘THE FACTS visually explained’, also in white. All these words are clear, but the white text jumps out more due to the white background to the cover, helping to identify the function of the book as informative and factual. Then, in grey, with some splashes of white, there are some facts accompanied by illustrations to give the reader a taste of what will be inside. Using the word ‘how’ in a title sometimes indicates the content is informative or instructional.
This book is almost square in format, and is larger than a typical fiction novel, which also distinguishes it as having a different function. The typeface is bold, chunky, and clear to read – important for a book that intends to inform.
Inside, the pages are filled with a mixture of text and imagery. All the images are colourful diagrams – scientifically accurate and annotated – and are somewhat integrated with the text. Everything flows across the pages; diagrams to show processes are accompanied by text, and any introductory notes or summarising paragraphs are bold and clearly separate. Some text is boxed off – there are circles with questions and answers inside, and some key processes are boxed off and explained too. The function is to inform and to provide facts, so using both images and text makes sense; combining both is optimal to help the reader understand the information.
Additionally, there are clear index and contents pages, again, to help the reader find and access information more easily. If they are searching for a particular body part or process, they can use these resources to find the information.
Flipbooks – Nine old men: The flipbooks
These flipbooks are presented in a box as a collector’s item, so the quality of presentation is key for the function. Perhaps these would be bought as a gift (as they were for me) or purchased by a collector to keep. The box has a linen feel and the gold text on the lid is engraved. The typeface for the Disney logo is iconic, in keeping with the authenticity of the item, and the titles are all in a clear, sharp typeface (the shapes and lines are all clean) that is spaced out to add to the clarity.
Each book has a soft spine binding the pages that has the same linen quality as the coating of the box, and the covers are hard, smooth board. These cover boards go over the soft, flexible binding, presumably to aid in the ‘flip’ part of the flipbook experience. It all feels durable and of high quality. These books are intended to be treasured.
The covers are clean in their design. They are ivory in colour, with blue and grey text (the blue matches the linen). Again, the typeface remains consistent; it is clear, sharp, and easy to read. The name of the artist is the largest piece of text as this is the focus of the flipbook collection – the ‘Nine Old Men’ – and an illustration of theirs that indicates the contents of the book dominates the cover. The muted colours give it a classic feel, like a museum artefact. Each flipbook is the height of my outstretched hand, which makes sense as the book designer wanted them to be easy to hold and flip through.
Inside, the paper is good quality and has a shiny finish, but it is not thick. It needs to be flexible enough to be curled and flipped through to see the images move. The original drawings are directly used in each book, including any notes and even the metal bindings the animators had on their pads of paper. Every colour is recreated – red, blue, and black lines are all there as the animators intended. This matches the function of the book; it is intended as an insight into a creative process and as a historical piece too, so accurately recreating these images is key.
Art book – A Disney sketchbook
This book is the largest in size from the selection I have chosen – it is a little smaller than A3, but close to this format. It is also the heaviest, with sturdy covers and thick pages. The high quality of the materials used to create this book indicates that it is intended to be long-lasting and probably a treasured book. Like the ‘Nine Old Men’ flipbooks, it is a collector’s piece, an insight into the art behind Disney. As well as being thick, the cream pages are also textured; it feels like you are looking through a real sketchbook and adds to the experience. The book designer definitely considered how the reader should feel when turning the pages.
In terms of cover design, it is simple and clean (in keeping, it seems, with the Disney Archive brand). In the centre of the front and back cover is a cream rectangle, surrounded by a thin silver border. These are engraved, so when you run your hand over the cover, there is a dip in the centre and it feels smooth. In contrast, the rest of the covers are dark red-brown and have an almost leathery, rough texture. The front shows two sketches and the title, in a red-brown typeface. The text is in uppercase and is not as clean as the flipbooks’ typeface – it is a little more elaborate. The whole appearance is classic and, again, like an artefact in a museum. It looks like a keepsake.
Inside, there is an introduction, in black text, over a double-page spread. This spread includes images, but they surround the text, rather than dominate the pages. For the rest of the book, there are only images. Some sketches take up an entire page, or even an entire double-page spread, whereas some spreads are filled with several sketches. Again, the function of this book is to display the artwork and to help the reader feel like they are browsing through someone’s sketchbook, so it would be expected for images to be the focus.
Carle, E. (2002) The very hungry caterpillar. London: Puffin
Collard, Dr. P. (2014) The little book of mindfulness. London: Gaia Books
Doctor, P. (2012) Nine old men: the flipbooks. California: Disney Editions
Houston, R. (2017) How the body works. London: Dorling Kindersley
Kaur, R. (2017) the sun and her flowers. London: Simon & Schuster
Lefkon, W. (2012) A Disney sketchbook. New York: Disney Editions
Miller, M. (2018) Circe. London: Bloomsbury Publishing
Smart, D. (2014) Meal in a mug. London: Ebury Press
Webb, R. (2017) How not to be a boy. Edinburgh: Canongate Books