Origins of the book

Origins of the book Edit
The binding of a Chinese bamboo book (Sun Tzu’s The Art of War)
The craft of bookbinding probably originated in India, where religious sutras were copied on to palm leaves (cut into two, lengthwise) with a metal stylus. The leaf was then dried and rubbed with ink, which would form a stain in the wound. The finished leaves were given numbers, and two long twines were threaded through each end through wooden boards, making a palm-leaf book. When the book was closed, the excess twine would be wrapped around the boards to protect the manuscript leaves. Buddhist monks took the idea through Afghanistan to China in the first century BC.

Similar techniques can also be found in ancient Egypt where priestly texts were compiled on scrolls and books of papyrus. Another version of bookmaking can be seen through the ancient Mayan codex; only four are known to have survived the Spanish invasion of Latin America.

Writers in the Hellenistic-Roman culture wrote longer texts as scrolls; these were stored in boxes or shelving with small cubbyholes, similar to a modern winerack. Court records and notes were written on wax tablets, while important documents were written on papyrus or parchment. The modern English word book comes from the Proto-Germanic *bokiz, referring to the beechwood on which early written works were recorded.[4]

The book was not needed in ancient times, as many early Greek texts—scrolls—were 30 pages long, which were customarily folded accordion-fashion to fit into the hand. Roman works were often longer, running to hundreds of pages. The Greeks used to call their books tome, meaning “to cut”. The Egyptian Book of the Dead was a massive 200 pages long and was used in funerary services for the deceased. Torah scrolls, editions of the Jewish holy book, were—and still are—also held in special holders when read.

Scrolls can be rolled in one of two ways. The first method is to wrap the scroll around a single core, similar to a modern roll of paper towels. While simple to construct, a single core scroll has a major disadvantage: in order to read text at the end of the scroll, the entire scroll must be unwound. This is partially overcome in the second method, which is to wrap the scroll around two cores, as in a Torah. With a double scroll, the text can be accessed from both beginning and end, and the portions of the scroll not being read can remain wound. This still leaves the scroll a sequential-access medium: to reach a given page, one generally has to unroll and re-roll many other pages.

Early book formats Edit

In addition to the scroll, wax tablets were commonly used in Antiquity as a writing surface. Diptychs and later polyptych formats were often hinged together along one edge, analogous to the spine of modern books, as well as a folding concertina format. Such a set of simple wooden boards sewn together was called by the Romans a codex (pl. codices)—from the Latin word caudex, meaning ‘the trunk’ of a tree, around the first century AD. Two ancient polyptychs, a pentaptych and octoptych, excavated at Herculaneum employed a unique connecting system that presages later sewing on thongs or cords.[5]

At the turn of the first century, a kind of folded parchment notebook called pugillares membranei in Latin, became commonly used for writing in the Roman Empire.[6] This term was used by both the pagan poet Martial and Christian apostle Paul the Apostle. Martial used the term with reference to gifts of literature exchanged by Romans during the festival of Saturnalia. According to T. C. Skeat, “…in at least three cases and probably in all, in the form of codices” and he theorized that this form of notebook was invented in Rome and then “…must have spread rapidly to the Near East…”[7] In his discussion of one of the earliest pagan parchment codices to survive from Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, Eric Turner seems to challenge Skeat’s notion when stating “…its mere existence is evidence that this book form had a prehistory” and that “early experiments with this book form may well have taken place outside of Egypt.”[8]

Early intact codices were discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. Consisting of primarily Gnostic texts in Coptic, the books were mostly written on papyrus, and while many are single-quire, a few are multi-quire. Codices were a significant improvement over papyrus or vellum scrolls in that they were easier to handle. However, despite allowing writing on both sides of the leaves, they were still foliated—numbered on the leaves, like the Indian books. The idea spread quickly through the early churches, and the word Bible comes from the town where the Byzantine monks established their first scriptorium, Byblos, in modern Lebanon. The idea of numbering each side of the page—Latin pagina, “to fasten”—appeared when the text of the individual testaments of the Bible were combined and text had to be searched through more quickly. This book format became the preferred way of preserving manuscript or printed material.

Creative Design Process

Working to a Brief

Working to a ‘Brief’

A book designer generally works to a ‘brief’ – a specific set of requirements for a particular project. The brief may be set by an external agency, or it may be self-initiated. The scope of the brief may vary in terms of how much creative input the designer can exercise. In some assignments the designer is provided with text and images, along with clear guidelines as to how these are to be set out. In other cases they may be provided with a brief outline of content and title and asked to ‘come up with ideas’ – to devise concepts for cover images, for example.

The role of the designer

The designer’s role is collaborative and communicative. The designer is responsible for the visual elements on the page, the structure, arrangement and layout of typography and images. The role can be highly creative, particularly when the role crosses over into art direction; where this is the case, the designer’s ideas play a major part in shaping the visual book form.

There is a clear distinction between:

  • editorial roles: an editor deals with all the text
  • designing roles: a designer deals with the images and layout. A designer deals with the arrangement of the text and images but never edits the text. Although errors in the text may be apparent, a designer never makes corrections without first alerting the client and the editor.

Depending on the publishing and production model used, the designer may
be largely responsible for aspects of the proposal, development and realisation of the book form and may oversee the control of various elements as the book makes its way through the production process, ultimately checking printer’s proofs and ‘signing off’ a project when it is ready to go to print.

Creative Design Process

Book design is related to graphic design and a similar working process underpins much of the creative thinking and evolution of any particular design job. The creative design process includes the following stages:

  • Ideas generation
  • Research
  • Development
  • Visuals
  • Presentation

But it is not a prescriptive process – key phases (eg research and development) often overlap and link quite organically. Design work generally follows a cyclical rather than a linear process, repeating the phases many times from a micro to macro scale and back to refine and ultimately conclude the design.

Generating ideas
The design process begins with the generating of visual ideas. In this early formative stage, be as wide-ranging and imaginative as possible in your ideas. ALL ideas are valid at this point, so don’t censor; this is not the stage to decide what is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ idea – at this point they are all just ‘ideas’ with equal
merit. Record your thought processes and ideas using (in no particular order):

  • Brainstorming/spidergrams/mindmaps: ideas expressed in short sentences, ideas can be triggered by previous, or be new, bizarre ideas are encouraged – good triggers, freethinking – the more the merrier, all ideas stated uninterrupted and accepted – none are rubbished. Concept maps like spidegrams can be used to explore concepts and the connections between them, these can be coloured, rearranged and reworked and redrawn to progressively clarify and then link, or deconstruct again to get new thoughts and angles. It may be useful to mix working with computer programmes like Mindjet, Inspiration or iThoughtsHD and work on paper.
  • thumbnail sketches: quick pen or pencil line drawings to give a reminder of a fleeting idea, and can give an indication of composition and art direction. For example, how does the subject sit in the frame? How is the subject lit? What particular attributes does that subject have? Often experimentation in digital form using Illustrator or Photoshop can usefully complement the work on paper to quickly explore different compositions and colour combinations from scanned sketches.
  • annotation in wiring or ‘sketchnoting’ on the paper thumbnails. Again it is often useful to scan in combinations and get printouts that can be scribbled over without overshadowing the original ideas.

It is important to let one idea flow fluidly, intuitively and organically into another to make unexpected links and associations.


Review and selection
Review your thumbnail sketches and analyse each one through a process of critical evaluation. Which ideas are you drawn to? Which ideas have ‘legs’ – possible interesting outcomes which are worth pursuing? Often the ideas which are strongest are those which have depth, or many layers of association. Perhaps you are intuitively drawn to a particular idea. Select several ideas/thumbnails which you would like to develop further.

Research and development

The form your research will take depends on the individual elements of your idea. It may be that you need to make some objective drawings, for example, to understand your subject better, and to consider aspects of composition. Other research activities include arranging a photoshoot to further explore your visual ideas, or going on-line to source material that informs your ideas. You can use both primary and secondary sources of research in this way. Research feeds into the development of your visual work, informing and advancing your ideas. Document this phase of the work accordingly.

This is the culmination of all your preliminary work. Work up some more developed visual sketches. These can be hand-drawn illustrations, photographs, and/or include typography. The presentation can be a little rough around the edges but should show the main elements of the design.

Present your ideas as finished visual images. Create digital files of your images, making sure these are a reasonable resolution – 180dpi is a good minimum, 300dpi is optimum.



It was first used by US sci fi enthusiast Louis Russell Chauvenet in 1940 and by 1949 was in common use.

‘Fanzine’ was abbreviated to ‘zine’ in 1970s.  The rise of fanzines  was part of the punk subcultural response to mainstream society – in this case, mainstream print.

  • Distribution: Zines were hand-made publications produced in small quantities on an irregular basis.They were usually small enough to easily fit in the hand although sometimes they were oversized broadsheets. They were distributed by hand and word of mouth or via independent music or book stores or through zine fairs and symposia.
  • Readership were super-niche interest groups and cultural underground.
  • Production: Created by a single producer as both author and designer. Unencumbered by censorship or corporate strategy. Producers were often readers and/or fans sharing same interests.
  • Subject matter As ‘Genuine voices outside of all mass manipulation’  they  explored a wide variety of themes political, humorous, poetic, underground music not necessarily represented in more conventional print.  They were also a forum for personal experimentation ‘perzines’ as unique auto/biographical snapshots.’practice of self-making though zine-making is particularly momentary,’Sometimes a testing ground to ideas which then move to the mainstream. Eg Giant Robot and Bust Magazine.
  • Style Lively Do it yourself style uninhibited by design conventions. Often chaotically lively layout.
  • Cheap and designed to be ephemeral They were often printed using photocopiers, stencil and other ‘hands-on’ processes. Sometimes they were more 3-dimensional and incorporated recycled objects or materials.
  • Materials different coloured papers, crayons, felt-tip markers, Ribbons, stickers. Collages photos hand-drawn illustrations. often made with very basic tools: scissors, glue.
  • Typography handwritten or typewritten or using rub-down lettering.

Feminist zines use provocative language, sexual imagery, a mix of styles aiming to shock. Guerilla Girls, a feminist group fighting sexism in arts practice produced many fanzines. Formed in New York in 1985, the group maintain their anonymity by wearing gorilla masks and using the names of dead female artists as pseudonyms, e.g. Frida Kahlo and Hannah HÖch. They put pressure on organisations such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York by uncovering statistics that reveal the extent of patriarchy in the art world past and present. The original group disbanded in 2001 but several Guerrilla Girl spin-offs still exist. Recent campaigns include ‘Unchain female directors’ targeted at the male-dominated world of the Hollywood film studio.

In the 1990s faux fanzines started to be produced by multinational companies. Dirt by Warner Brothers, Full Voice by Body Shop etc.

There are now also online and digital forms.

History of book design


Book Design History

The language and terminology we use in book design today stems from early Egyptian books.


The earliest forms of books were scrolls produced by Egyptian scribes over 4,000 years ago.

Images and vertical text were hand-drawn onto palm leaves, then later onto papyrus scrolls. Papyrus was made from the pith of the papyrus plant and was rather like thick paper. It was used throughout the ancient world until the development of parchment.

Parchment was a superior material to papyrus. Made from dried, treated animal skin, parchment could be written on on both sides and was more pliable than papyrus, which meant that it could be folded. Folding a large parchment sheet in half created two folios – a word we still use today to number pages. Folding the sheet in half again created a quarto (4to) and folding that in half again made eight pages – an octavo (8vo).The development of parchment created a break with the scroll form. Folded pages were now piled together and bound along one edge to create a codex, a manuscript text bound in book form.

Paper, invented in China, spread through the Islamic world to reach medieval Europe in the 13th century, where the first paper mills were built. See ‘Paper’ full post.

Skilled hand-lettering was laborious and time-consuming and a world apart from the printing methods of today.

Illuminated manuscripts

The term manuscript comes from the Latin for hand ‘manus’ and writing ‘scriptum’. Illuminated manuscripts, often containing religious, historical or instructive texts, were coloured with rich and delicate pigments, often with the addition of gold leaf. These were objects of rare beauty. Bound manuscripts were produced in Britain from around 600 to 1600.

The advent of movable type

Movable type brought about a massive revolution in the way books were designed, produced and perceived.

Sandcast type was used in Korean book design from around 1230 and woodblocks were used to print paper money and cards in China from the seventh century.

Johann Gutenberg produced the first western book printed using movable type in 1454. This was the Gutenberg Bible or ‘42-line Bible’. This led the way for a revolution in the way books were designed and printed. Having set the metal type, the printer could then produce multiple copies.The printing process made books much more widely available to a larger audience. By 1500, printing presses in Western Europe had produced more than twenty million books.

Arts and Crafts movement

Private English presses such as Doves Press and the Ashendene Press typified the publishing industry in the early part of the twentieth century. The influential designer, craftsman, artist and writer William Morris (1834–96) founded the Kelmscott Press in 1891; this was dedicated to publishing limited edition, illuminated style books. The designer Eric Gill (1882–1940), a
fellow member of the Arts and Crafts movement, designed books for both English and German publishers. Gill also produced The Canterbury Tales (1931) for Golden Cockerel Press, which was one of the last English presses still going strong after 1925.

While English and German publishers were known for the quality and craftsmanship of their typography and overall book design, French publishers such as Ambroise Vollard (1866–1939) focused on the illustrative elements of book design. ‘Livres de luxe’ were expensive editions of books illustrated by contemporary artists such as Bonnard, Chagall, Degas, Dufy and Picasso.

20th Century

Artistic movements had a real and direct impact on book design in the twentieth century, with the Fauvists, Futurists, Dadaists, Constructivists and Bauhaus feeding into a febrile pot of manifestos, ideas and approaches to typography and book design.

Allen Lane founded Penguin Books in England in 1935, with the aim of producing affordable books for the masses. The books were characterised by strong typographic and design principles. In the early 1950s designers Jan Tschichold and Ruari McLean created modernist iconographic cover designs for Penguin books.

Advancing print technologies, letterpress, offset lithography and the development of graphic design, gave rise to a plethora of colour printed material, making book design one of the earliest and best examples of mass communication.


The digital era

The 1980s and 1990s saw the burgeoning of desktop publishing (DTP). Book design was no longer bound by the constraints of metal typesetting. Apple Macintosh computer systems enabled book designers to integrate text and images into multiple pages digitally, on-screen. This move away from traditional design and printing processes created massive upheaval in the publishing industry, and many long-established forms of working were usurped by the new digital technology.

A new wave of graphic and book designers emerged who embraced the new technology and, like the Futurists and Dadaists before them, questioned and experimented with some of the conventional approaches to typography and book design. Designers such as Neville Brody (Fuse magazine) and David Carson (The End of Print) captured the experimental mood of the time.

The revolution in printing processes continues apace today, but the book in its traditional form remains a pervasive presence alongside its digital counterparts – the ebook is a good example. The internet has revolutionised the way book designers work, making distance book design work a  commonplace reality. In addition, a huge and often overwhelming range of fonts, images and resources is immediately available online. The word ‘font’ has entered everyday vocabulary – even for schoolchildren – and choosing the best font for the job is now something that many of us do almost without thinking. DTP means that everyone can potentially access what they need
to design a book. From a purist perspective, the inherent danger with this creative freedom is that poor design choices result from uninformed ‘quick-fix’ solutions. The positive aspect is that the designer has never before had so many options to choose from, in terms of typography, design and production values.

For more information see: 


As a photographer of people, you need to get to grips with the idea of identity and social constructions of identity. How you portray people will have ethical and moral implications. And you’ll need to create images that convey a particular truth or message, depending on the brief in hand.

What am I to who? The discovery of self and the search for identity

An important strand in feminist art is the idea of selfhood – the individual who is lost within the objectifying image.

  • Do images of us represent what we are?
  • Or do we see them in a postmodern sense where they represent who we think we are and what we know about ourselves in a way
    that allows us to analyse and learn about ourselves, growing and shaping our perspective on self even further?

When we talk about our identity, we usually mean one of two identities:

  • social identity – mother, Scottish, student
  • personal identity – goals, passions, dreams, achievements, style, etc. Personal identity encompasses body image which is very relevant to disorders such as bulimia or anorexia.

These two short papers on self and identity give further perspective on this issue. The second link, in particular, examines the nature of self-identity through roles and its interaction with social identity formulated through group attachment or membership.

Female photographers may choose to investigate the classic female roles of wife, mother and daughter and the expectations associated with these roles. For women there is a great deal of visual pressure through the use of manipulated images of women in fashion and PR situations. Women compare themselves unfavourably with the ‘false’ images they see, for example in the marketing of beauty products. A recent BBC website poll found that only 2% of UK women see themselves as beautiful.

Men also have dilemmas in terms of identity. Are they boys or men, fathers, husbands or sons? Are they role models or wasters? Writers or Romeos? Again, crucial components of identity that deliver self-worth and self-esteem. Think about men who over-train at the gym or use steroids to change their body shape. (Go on the internet and look for Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein’s photographs of Olympic athletes, for example.) These are all issues that have been explored in contemporary fine art photography.

Issues of identity are fertile ground for photographic investigation. Richard Billingham explored the effect that his father’s alcohol dependency and the consequent impact on his personality
had on family life.

Cindy Sherman has investigated a range of roles in her work – executive/employee, equal/object.

Self Portrait

We can examine ourselves through the art of self-portrait and looking at how we wish to be seen – how we wish to define ourselves and how we are seen by others and how they would define

us. You could base a project on your own identity, asking ‘How am I perceived and is the treatment I receive in life, the interactions I like or dislike, related to the way people perceive me?’ There is also a lot of potential for project work in gender roles, society’s perceptions and expectations, and acceptance (or not) of different sexualities.We can also just use ‘things’ that we feel represent us, items that have the properties that we hold dear as signs of honesty or virtue, humour or fate. These images can be combined to form allegorical images of our personas.

  • How we are perceived is important to some people; for others, it’s not an issue worth considering. For most of us, though, people’s perception of us is important at certain times or places in our lives, for example if you’re looking for work or trying to sell something. Even then, you can’t assume that prospective employers or buyers have the same values as you do.
  • Are the things that you hold dear evident in the way you are seen or do you put on a ‘mask’?
  • Are the things you are perceived to hold dear just an illusion?
  • Does your dress code say you are ‘one of us’? What is meant by ‘us’ in a particular context? ‘Us’ is usually the group making the judgment, those who consider themselves able to make judgments on our behalf. Judgments may be based on all sorts of factors – race, nationality, colour, religion or speaking with a southern accent. (Scottish accents come across as more trustworthy according to advertising research.)


Guerilla Girls

Guerilla Girls, a feminist group fighting sexism in arts practice. Formed in New York in 1985, the group maintain their anonymity by wearing gorilla masks and using the names of dead female artists as pseudonyms, e.g. Frida Kahlo and Hannah HÖch. They put pressure on organisations such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York by uncovering statistics that reveal the extent of patriarchy in the art world past and present. The original group disbanded in 2001 but several Guerrilla Girl spin-offs still exist. Recent campaigns include ‘Unchain female directors’ targeted at the male-dominated world of the Hollywood film studio.