Exercise 2

Double page spread

For the first part of this task, I looked through some of my art and design books at the various layouts. I also created a layouts mood board on Pinterest, focusing on interesting, unusual layouts and techniques that captured my attention.

I chose to trace the structure of a double page spread from ‘Fingerprint No. 2’ (a book recommended to me by my tutor, looking at things made by hand) which I have been reading through recently. I find the layouts interesting because the text direction can be left to right or bottom to top, which makes for an enjoyable experience, turning the pages, altering the orientation, and seeing the pages in a different way from another angle. I also like the use of sans-serif type, which does not overpower the page – the images dominate, as this is an art book, showing off various projects, with the text accompanying in a clear, small, unobtrusive way.

Chen, J. C. (2011) Fingerprint no. 2. Ohio: HOW books

First, I traced the spread, using a sharp pencil and tracing paper. I used my cutting mat to help with measurements and accurate lines, and I also had a couple of rulers to hand. I then measured all the margins, column dimensions, and the spaces between the columns (interestingly, this differed on both pages – the images as a whole block took up the same width, leaving the same space for the text on the edge of the page, but the spaces between each image were different on each page). I then transcribed the tracing onto clean paper (due to the size, I drew each page separately and then joined them together to create the double page spread). This activity took me longer than I expected, but I was eager to create an accurate drawing and to understand more about the structure.

When comparing this particular spread to the rest of the book, there are some minor differences, but the structure is mostly the same. The chapter start spreads are completely different. They are bright yellow, with a main body of text in a serif (quite square) type and the material and chapter number (the organisation of this varies). The main body of text travels as if the text has been turned 90° to the left (bottom of the page to the top instead of left to right). The big, chunky, sans-serif material heading is made up of a dotty pattern, adding texture. This design choice distinguishes the chapter heading pages from the pages displaying the art projects.

The project pages all follow a similar structure to the spread I traced. Sometimes the text is along the bottom of the page, rather than the outer column. Some pages are filled exclusively with images, while some contain an extra chunk of text, entitled ‘Digging deeper’. The images always fill the same amount of the page, although the number of images and the size of the images differs greatly from page to page, so the arrangement also changes. Overall, there is clearly a consistent design choice in that the images are the focus.

Is there an underlying grid system and how does it adapt to deal with different content?

There is definitely an underlying grid system on the project pages. The margins remain the same, the size of each text block stays the same, and the column containing the text stays the same. The space for images also remains consistent – but, as discussed, the actual images (in terms of number, size, and arrangement) will look different on each spread. On some pages, there is no column added for the text, so the whole page (inside the margins, away from page number etc.) can be taken up by images. Even here, the spacing is consistent and images are always in line. (Having just typed this while flicking through the book again, I found a page of just images where a couple of the images go right to the edge of the page, so the margins are ignored here!)

DTP recreation

Next, I recreated the spread using DTP software. This was another good opportunity to practice my digital skills, as I am not as confident. I started by creating the spread by inputting the dimensions and margins. I then dragged guidelines to form the underlying grid structure; this was the essential step to ensure I could recreate the spread accurately. It was the step that took the longest, as I double checked my measurements.

Following on from this, I added the image boxes – as the brief stated, I used 10% shaded area. As I did this, I ensured I was naming each layer and grouping the elements that were on the same page. I also used it as an opportunity to use some key vocabulary (verso and recto).

I used dummy text and experimented to find a similar typeface to that in the book. I do not think I got the exact type, but it looked close enough. For the smaller text, I used HP Simplified Japan, and for the headings (all in uppercase) I used Futura heavy.

There were a few details I wanted to add to get a more accurate recreation. The chunks of text are displayed within a black border (not a full, four-sided border – it cuts off) so I moved the text boxes in 3mm each side and drew this around the text. I also added a small 10% shaded area for the decorative illustration underneath the chapter number.

I was delighted with my recreation! It was an eye-opening process and quite tedious when initially creating the underlying grid, but once this stage was over, the actual placing of items was relatively straightforward. I can definitely see the benefit of having this consistent structure to aid in creating layouts, and to give pages that link together visually.

Experimental layouts

The next step was one I found initially very challenging. The brief asked me to think about how I could radically change the layout – by ignoring the grid structure, challenging it, or offering radical alternatives. I had to develop a range of ideas using thumbnail sketches and DTP layouts. The brief really emphasized creativity, risk-taking, and being ‘RADICAL’. This was initially very intimidating to me and it took me a while to get going.

First, I drew a quick sketch of the original layout in my sketchbook and colour-coded the images (I found it difficult to visualise the images without some kind of corresponding colour system or number system so I knew which one was which). To take the pressure off myself, I started by simply rearranging elements within the existing structure, to see if this would spark any ideas. As you can see from my sketchbook, nothing looks ‘radical’ or creative or different at all.

I started browsing for inspiration, looking at Pinterest and adding to my layouts board. I stumbled across Lucas Czarnecki’s ‘Seven Essential Typographic Layout Systems’ (found at type365.com, accessed 29/12/20) which was a wonderful find and sparked some ideas.

My sketchbook pages show some thumbnail sketches that I created, inspired by these layouts. I also ensured I was thinking about the content on the page (for example, in the Anni Kuan Mailer, clothespins and pegs were used, so I experimented with a peg line of images as a potential layout idea). The ideas came quite easily after this and I spent a lot of time gathering ideas and playing around with thumbnails in my sketchbook.

My next source of inspiration to help me along was a book I found called ‘Making and breaking the grid’ (Samara, T. (2017) Making and breaking the grid (2nd ed.) Massachusetts: Rockport Publishers). I looked mostly at ways I could break the grid, and, this spread in particular, inspired further thumbnail experiments.

Once I was happy I had some decent ideas, went back to my DTP layout. I made copies of this original layout to play around with and also colour-coded the images to match my sketchbook colours. As I created the layouts, I kept records of my experiments by screenshotting my process. I also noted down in my sketchbook which thumbnails/processes had inspired each one (sometimes I tried copying a sketchbook thumbnail and sometimes I took inspiration from a few). To ensure the layouts looked feasible, I used the exact text (this helped especially when I created radial text with the key information or transitional text waves – I needed to know the length/size to know how much space I had).

To create the dilatational and transitional text, I learnt something new – I drew a line with the pen tool, made the line invisible, then added text to follow this line. I was delighted with this new process as it allowed me to create some really interesting, ‘radical’ layouts and added a sense of fun to the spread.

For some of the spreads, I resized the images (ensuring I held down ‘shift’ to keep them proportionally the same) and rotated the images and moved the images. As I experimented further, I also resized the ‘title’ text – I found that as the layouts became less uniform, the title needed to be larger to stand out. The original spread, based on the grid, is predictable, therefore after the reader looks at the first few pages, they know where to look to find the information. As my experimental layouts became less predictable, it was important to distinguish certain elements in other ways.

My final five layouts use radial text, dilatational text, transitional text, and the layouts vary between clusters, spirals, and waves. I tried to keep pushing my designs further away from the grid structure and take some risks.

My first DTP layout was just a slight deviation from the original grid system. I tilted images and used radial text and dilatational text, but kept to roughly the same page proportions.
For the second layout, I tried creating circular/spiral shapes with the images. As a double page spread, I think the spiral effect is lost and there is probably too much negative space.
This time, I tried increasing the size of the title text. This, along with the description, is transitional in layout. I think this helps fill that space.
This time, I tried a wave across the double page with the images, and increased the leading of the transitional text. This design seems to flow better.
Finally, two clusters of images and the text splaying from these images at different angles. I kept larger titles to help fill the space. This is probably my favourite layout – it feels the most balanced and appropriate for the content.

I thoroughly enjoyed this learning curve and I am pleased with my DTP layouts. After finding inspiration, I felt that I managed to create some layouts that definitely challenged the grid structure, if not completely ignored it. They remind me of scrapbooks, which I feel fits the content of the book too – Fingerprint champions handmade art, so to have a scrapbook layout seems quite appropriate (although I completely understand why the designer went for clean, sleek, and consistent layouts!) It made me appreciate a grid system as a starting point, even if your only intention is to break it. The whole process has been extremely valuable and has given me more ideas moving forward.

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