Book design has generally been collaborative since the invention of printing. A designer usually works with a range of people within the publishing and printing industries. A printed book is  the culmination of a group effort, between author, publisher, editor, designer and printer at least; often other specialists are also involved to realise the book.

With the rise of self-publishing the traditional relationships between different actors has significantly changed. The person creating the content, designing its form of communication and distributing it may now be the same.

This final part of the course focuses on the process of producing a book. It started by  considering the artist’s place in the book production process and how the flow of work can best be organised.

Publishing Models


I began by reflecting upon the sorts of projects, exercises and assignments I had enjoyed most in this course, and also possible ways of building on developing interests in other courses.

Project 5.1: Reflective practice 

There have been many aspects of the course that I want to explore further in future:

  • visual dynamics of design
  • calligraphy and expressive type and visual dynamics of letterforms – following on from my work in Assignments 3 and 4
  • using different papers and materials for printing and then seeing how to enhance the effects through further digital manipulation in Photoshop – drawing also on work for OCA Printmaking 1 and Illustration 2.
  • commercial self-publishing options and process, including further work on layout and narrative.

As a way of linking these elements, I decided on a book playing with the visual dynamics of letterforms  exploring different associations of the letterforms themselves (style and typographic variants) and the words they may begin (colour, media, objects and moods) as a design challenge to see how apparently random elements can be combined to create harmonies and/or tensions.

I then started to plan production of the book in the context of both the self-publishing workflow and the inherent unpredictability of the (my) creative process – and the potential conflicts between linear planning and the need for openness to new ideas and directions as work proceeds.

Project 5.2 : Planning your workflow

In the end the product became two books – both still works in progress:

  • a draft book for children using my initial simple ideas and sketches, as a colourful book focusing just on letterforms. These still need further refinement and simplification, then testing with children.
  • a draft book for adults and teenagers where images and ideas are more (too?) complex but where I had much more scope to explore different media, relationship between words and images. As it stands I very much enjoyed experimenting and developing all the images and researching the histories of the different letters. But it does not yet hang together as a book – I need to think more about how the images relate together as a sequence with either greater diversity or greater similarity in styles.

Part of the issue was lack of time – although in the real world there are tight deadlines, and I could have been much tighter in focus at the planning stage, my purpose in this assignment was learning and exploration. Potentially there is a series of different books here, each with a different focus – for example more formal patterns, fantasy and narrative, flat design, alphabet history and so on. I now need a follow-on process of reassess and refinement – and testing with different audiences.

Assignment 5: A is for …

Tutor Report BD5

Other research and links

History of the Alphabet

Runic alphabets

Islamic calligraphy

Concrete poetry

Typographic Art

There are three main publishing models that can be distinguished that have a different role for the designer.

Model 1  the mainstream conventional model used in the large publishing houses

Writer – Publisher – Editor – Designer – Production – Printer – Distribution – Retail

The writer’s manuscript is the main source. The designer’s input comes between editor and production and the design and production of the book involves predominantly dialogue with these two departments. The production department of large publishing houses most often deals with the printer, but in smaller organisations, or for freelance book designers, this role is often assumed by the designer.

Model 2 design-led (eg artists’ books)

Artist/Designer/Author – Publisher – Editor – Production – Printer – Distribution – Retail

The ‘author’ is the designer (or photographer/artist/illustrator) and it is their concept, content and vision which drives forward the book from initial stages through to completion.

Model 3 Print on demand and self-publishing 

Self-publishing is the publication of any book or other media by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher. A self-published physical book is said to be privately printed. The author is responsible and in control of entire process including, in the case of a book, the design of the cover and interior, formats, price, distribution, marketing and public relations. The authors can do it all themselves or outsource all or part of the process to companies that offer these services.

  • Print on Demand
  • Vanity publishing
  • Electronic (E-book) Publishing

In all cases it is essential to have a good understanding of how the book will be printed. In the first two models the designer will need a good working relationship with the printer, as this will provide valuable guidance about the best way to print any individual book eg technical parameters including format, page size, paper stock, binding methods and print finishes. In Print on Demand there are also usually choices to be made, some of which have cost implications depending on anticipated volume of sales, but it is easier to change later with the next print run.

Project 5.1: Reflective practice