Friday, March 4, 2011

Designing Wheels of Change

As the reviews for my recently published book, Wheels of Change, have started to come in, I've been pleased to see that many mention the book's beautiful--one reviewer said "flawless"--design. Rather than write about the process of designing this book myself, I invited Marty Ittner to blog about it. Marty has designed all five of my books for National Geographic, and she was a true collaborator on Wheels of Change. (She's also in the process of redesigning my Web site, suemacy.com. More on that next month.) So take it away, Marty....

Why, thank you Sue. Having an author request my design for their book is a great compliment (and good for business). What’s not to love about Wheels of Change? As Sue discovered, folks go bonkers over bikes. I can vividly remember my own exhilaration the first time my father let go of my 2-wheeler seat and I sailed off on my own. And Sue does her homework. She’s that smart kid you hope to sit next to in the back row with the A+ essay and all the test answers.

Wheels of Change ironically describes our design process. It was my first project with National Geographic director of design Jonathan “Jono” Halling and art director Jim Hiscott. The digital revolution has forced us print designers to create more dynamic visuals. It is simply not business as usual. From the get-go, Jono and Jim conveyed the new mandate for Childrens Books: they’ve got to be fun, colorful, lively and engaging. J+J wanted to visually push the concept of how the simple circle of a bicycle wheel enabled women to bust out of their domestic confinements.

Looking back, my first sketches were as constricted as a corset. I was concerned about leaving enough room for the text. Each round of style chapter proofs inched out a little further, but still were not “there.” Finally, Jono drew a REALLY big arc that shoved aside everything in its path. It finally sunk in that the wheel shapes dominated the design. Even my coveted type would have to conform to the big circles. Once the boundaries had been broken, the rest was finesse: the color palette, the shading on the wheels and just the right modern handling of the old newspaper stories that Sue included in every chapter. I was particularly pleased with the folio treatments, a solution that took four or five rejected ideas to achieve. (Thanks, Jim!)

So while the interior of the book was an uphill slog, we practically coasted into the cover. It helped that both Sue and I are night owls—some of our most productive exchanges happen between 10 pm and midnight. We had a few covers going, nothing too exciting. I was actually a bit concerned: this book was supposed to feel fun, and the cover comps were due the next day. Round about 10:30 pm, an e-mail pops up from Sue. She had just arrived home from her trip to DC and the Library of Congress with a new photo: nattily clad actress Madge Lessing balanced on a bicycle with one hand, the other held a tooting horn to her lips. Ka-CHING! We have cover.

For the type, Fontfont’s Disturbance font struck just the right note between modern and traditional, with one hiccup. No one liked the original “g” in “Change.” Rather than jettison the ideal typeface, I crafted a new “g” from...guess which font? The first person who posts the answer here gets a free copy of Wheels. I’m fond of filling the holes in letters, and the orange popped against the teal. The interior drop shadow which clinched the deal started off as happy mistake. Okay, enough shop talk. One could say I am as passionate about typography as Sue is about sports. Which is why I didn’t squawk when a certain member of the design team changed a certain body text font at the 11th hour. It was the right call to propel Wheels to “flawless.

—Marty Ittner

14 comments:

Jewel Sample said...

Interesting article on the book design. I think the "g" is done in Garamond script.

Thank you for sharing about "Designing Wheels of Change"

Rosalyn Schanzer said...

Very interesting, especially to me - am in the final design throes of my next Nt'l Geo book as we speak....

Sue Macy said...

I thought it was Garamond, too, but Marty says no.

Linda Zajac said...

I'd say Times New Roman, my first choice. I loved the way you took the pictures and enhanced it. Interesting design stuff.

Marty Ittner said...

Times NR? sorry, no.

Linda Zajac said...

Gosh, after looking at Garamond and killing half the morning on this (thanks for that!). I'd say it's Lucida Bright. The "g" on the cover on Amazon has been enhanced. On Amazon, the knob on the top right of the "g" does not look like any Word font.

Marty Ittner said...

Ok, another designer spotted the different "g" on the Amazon book. The pinch-hitter font *has* been altered from its original (I fattened it and lopped off the curly cue). Sorry, Linda! I totally forgot about these enhancements.

Sue Macy said...

The cover of the book on Amazon is an earlier version that was sent out for promotion purposes. If you look closely, you'll also see that the "w" in "With"--in the parentheses--is lower case on Amazon but upper case in the cover shown within the I.N.K. article, which is the final cover. At any rate, if no one guesses the correct font of the new "g" by Monday morning, the book will go to the person with the most passionate and analytical attempt to identify it. So far that's you, Linda.

Linda Zajac said...

I've got Word 2003, maybe that's the prob. Bookman Old Style has the biggest curly cue of all Word 03' fonts. And that's my final answer!

rglaser said...

I wish my design/typographer friend wasn't on vacation, she would probably know! But the closest I can find is Caslon (not sure which version though.)

Rebecca

Marty Ittner said...

The answer to the "g" challenge is: Cochin Regular. As a few astute readers noticed, the Amazon cover is different from the final version because advance promo images are released. The final cover involved meticulous handtinting of the black and white photo, fixing a typo and modifying that "g" so it blended with its neighbors. The curly cue was lopped off, and the whole letter went on a diet to slim down to the weight of the Disturbance. These are the little details that make a great cover, and frankly, are forgotten once it prints. Perhaps it was an unintentional trick question. Sue will be sending a copy of Wheels to Linda Zajac for her passionate attempt at identifying the font. Thanks for letting me blog.

Sue Macy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda Zajac said...

This post certainly made it clear that creating a cover requires time, thought and attention to detail, more so than a lot of people realize. It's like choosing the right word to paint a story. I wonder if readers would find it interesting to read design notes at the end of a book to find out how photographs were prepared and the cover was put together? Thanks Marty and Sue!

Amber said...

Each book really has four artists involved - writer, illustrator, editor, and designer. I have no doubt that the four together create a superior book in the end! I adored having an inside look into design.