What I started with
A very complex manuscript overflowing with cartoony illustrations (none of which are shown in these samples), line drawings supplied as Word art, equations, and notes to the typesetter, e.g., “Start light red background,” “Set in Bible font,” “Set in e-mail font,” etc. Also, a reasonably high-res comp of the cover, which uses ransom-note typography for the title, a very staid sans serif for the author’s name, and a photo of a tangled ball of colorful wire.
Usually I try to pick up the title treatment, at least for my front matter design, but in this case I didn’t have any interest in encouraging the ransom-note look. Instead, I pawed through our library of display type and picked one I’d never used before: Modula Round Sans. My boss didn’t like it, but she let it go, and the client didn’t mind.
For the body type, I needed something quiet and versatile, in which I could set lots of math. I decided to use another typeface I don’t spend much time with: Adobe Garamond Pro. I don’t know why I never use it; I guess because it’s so common. Also, the italic has a very sharp pitch to it, which bugs me. But although I’m addicted to OpenType, I don’t have a lot of faces to choose from, and I can’t set everything in Minion.
Then, to tie the interior to the cover, I started looking online for another piece of tangly art. Within a few minutes’ searching, I found the cover image itself and learned that it was royalty-free. So while I could have just asked the publisher to ask the cover designer to send me the original file, since I was only doing a design sample at this point, I snipped the image out of the cover comp, photoshopped out the drop shadow, drew in some more wire at the bottom where it had gotten messed up by the shadow, and used that. I had a notion that I would obtain a copy of the high-res image eventually, but that didn’t happen. So if you see the book, don’t look too closely at those tangles, which appear on every other page.
What I ended with
Verso: typical text page including a piece of art that the author supplied as an MS Word drawing. I had to paste these into Illustrator and clean them up, resetting any type, making things line up better, and adding color where appropriate.
Recto: a part opener, with my ubiquitous ball of wire.
The first of the pages with the “light red” (i.e., pink) background. The manuscript here called for “postcard font” or some such silliness. I drew up a little postcard (inline box, drop shadow), actual size, and used my tangly wire for a stamp.
Minus the pink background, this is a typical chapter opener. The Modula chapter title sits on an unfurled strand from the ball of wire. That strand is a live path in InDesign, colored using a gradient swatch. Because I could, that’s why.
The background tint indicates that this is a section you have to use to solve the big puzzle in the book. If you send in the correct solution to the big puzzle before the deadline, you can win a plane ticket for one between New York and London. Woo!
Here’s a page where the author asked for handwriting on legal paper. At first, I set all the handwriting bits in the same typeface (Caflisch Pro), as they weren’t distinguished in the otherwise obsessive notes to comp. On second pass, however, they asked for a different typeface for each writer—of which there were four. I grumbled that it’s not easy to find four decent handwriting fonts that set to roughly the same size, but on looking closer, I saw that I really needed only three, as some of the letters were typed, and one person’s writing appeared just once. So for the legal paper guy, I chose Tekton Pro, which I knew would drive me the least crazy.
The legal paper is a two-column table, not a graphic. The text of the letter is set in a separate box, layered on top of it, and the whole lump is grouped, drop-shadowed, and inserted inline.
Here’s another fiddly page: they asked for a letter on bluish paper on top, and a newspaper article on the bottom. That day I happened to receive a package that contained newspaper as packing material, so the style for the clipping here is adapted from some paper in Minnesota. The text face is Times, of course, and I used typical godawful newspaper-style H&Js, to make it look convincingly bad. The jump line is Myriad Pro.
On top, the third handwriting sample. My actual-size Post-It note uses Marker Felt. On the bottom, a letter from some Jesus freaks, for which the author requested “Bible font.” What the hell do I know about Bible fonts? When in doubt, use Caslon (Pro). And it was more of a Bible Stories for Youngsters kind of thing, so I made the type here quite large.
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: a metric assload of math. This solution goes on like this for pages, and it took me about two days to set all the mathematical expressions using TeX and Equation Service. A lot of that was set-up and learning time, though; once I figured out a process and a file-naming convention (each fraction or square root is a separate EPS), it went much faster. And there were almost no errors in this section on second pass, I’d like to point out.
So that’s that.
Do I think this book is “drop-dead gorgeous,” as the publisher called it?
Well, no. I don’t like the illustrations much, and the colors came out much more muted in print than I expected (uncoated paper!). And the cover is superglossy and has a sort of hideous bound galley quality to it. But design is all about doing the best you can within constraints. For a book this size, for this publisher, that has a million distinct and weird elements in it, many of them colorful, I think the interior design is relatively tasteful, readable, and ungarish.
I wouldn’t want to have too many of these in my portfolio, but it’s good to have one.