Ask any book designer about their collection of reference books and you’ll get a long list of the usual suspects: books about design, typography, layout, and grids; dictionaries and style guides; software manuals; and lots of books and magazines kept for inspiration. But which books are indispensable to a book designer?
Here is a list of the books that we refer to often and would not want to be without:
Designing and typesetting book pages
Thinking with Type, Second Edition
by Ellen Lupton, published by Princeton Architectural Press, © 2010.
This book is gorgeous and packed with fascinating design examples. It covers the history and current uses of type, typesetting, and grids—the three elements of book design—with just enough detail to cover it all, plus a good touch of humor. This highly readable book is used widely in design schools, and for very good reason. Anyone who has been bitten by the graphic design bug should give it a try. —GC
Book Typography: A Designer’s Manual
by Mitchell & Wightman, published by Libanus Press, © 2005.
This is my go-to reference for all those questions arising while designing and typesetting book pages. Need options for a table of contents that includes subheadings? Wondering how to minimize the space around headings without being obvious? Numerous visual examples are given for every kind of element needed, including contents, headings, chapter openings, running heads, folios, drop caps, footnotes, glossaries, and so on. The names and point sizes of all the fonts used in the examples are also helpful. The authors are British, so some of the expressions are a bit different from what we use in North America (“extent” instead of “page count,” for example), but the few differences are not an issue. And, despite the book being published in 2005, none of the information will go out of date as long as print books are still being created. —FR
Typesetting reference book
I use this reference book more than any other except perhaps for my dictionary. It’s filled with rock solid information for editors, proofreaders, and yes, typesetters. Every publisher, editor, and book designer in North America should own a copy, as it is the standard reference on grammar, punctuation, numbers and math, captions, tables, typesetting foreign languages, and much more. CMOS keeps up with the trends and leads the way in dealing with new phenomena. For instance, it tells how to break a URL onto two lines properly (it’s not the way you think). —GC
Color guides for print
These little books contain thousands of color combinations printed on coated stock, and provide the CMYK values of every color so you can see how they’ll look in print. I have all five books in the series. Books 3 and 5 are particularly awesome, as they show all kinds of beautiful color patterns that are indispensable for choosing a color palette. Book 3’s color patterns include gingham, argyle, plaid, tartan, camo, florals, and paisley, as well as Islamic, Indian, Japanese, African, and Latin American patterns. Book 5’s color patterns are based on moods: romantic, sporty, subdued, cool, elegant, and chic, just to name a few. With these books, you can create color palettes with confidence, knowing how the colors will look printed and how they’ll look in combination with each other. —FR
Books for inspiration
Layout Index by Jim Krause, published by North Light Books, © 2001.
It’s small, it’s fun, and it’s bursting with ideas for any kind of publication layout. This is not one of those books showing wild, useless designs; each one is completely practical. I flip through the book all the time, and it never fails to give me a boost.
There’s a whole series of these wonderful little idea volumes: Color Index, Color Index 2, Design Basics Index, Idea Index, and Type Idea Index. Buy one and you’ll soon want more. —GC
Book, Jacket & Journal Show Catalog, published annually by the Association of American University Presses.
These catalogs are filled with beautiful examples of fine book design. Each award-winning book in the show garners its own two-page spread in the catalog, displaying its front cover and a few select pages (usually its title page, contents, and chapter opening). What I particularly love about these catalogs is that they include information about which fonts are used for display type and text, as well as trim size, page count, paper stocks, binding, and where the book was printed. —FR
Just one more
And guess what? We both use Book Design Made Simple all the time! We worked very hard on making it as useful as possible, but sometimes we forget some of the little details. It’s one of the handiest volumes we own.
What reference books are on your bookshelf?
It’s always interesting to learn which books other book designers consider indispensable. And, if you’re just starting a collection of reference books, we hope that by sharing our go-to books with you, you’ll get a solid start.
We’d love to know what’s on your bookshelf! Please share with us in the comments below.