A bookstore as a means of inspiration

Jason Santa Maria of Happy Cog likes to look at lots of different things as a means of inspiration for his design work (I know this because he told me so in his An Event Apart presentation ;). Riffing on that theme myself I headed out to a place that never ceases to grab my attention and imagination when I’m there: the bookstore.

The bookstore in question is a local Barnes and Noble and I had not been there in a long time mainly because it, or any bookstore really, is also a major inspiration for me to liberate cash from my wallet. I intended to go there this evening though with the sole mission to take a look around at all sorts of books and magazines with an eye towards their design and not buy anything. Inspiration only, no debt 🙂

I can easily spend hours browsing in a bookstore but I have to say that going there with the intent to look at how books and magazines are designed was very cool. I can honestly say that while I have always enjoyed thumbing through books and magazines I’ve never quite seen them the way I saw them tonight.

Normally I’m focused on the content because I’m an avid reader but with the focus on the elements of design I started noticing things like how different publishing houses format their books or magazines in the exact same format across authors (or magazine titles). A very simple example that most programmers would readily know is O’Reilly Publishing.

Their titles are instantly recognizable: a plain white cover with an illustration of an animal of some kind usually just above the title of the book. The title itself, or most of it, is in white text on a background of a certain color. Here is an example:

O'Reilly JavaScript: The Definitive Guide bookcover

The O’Reilly web design series always has the same green background for the title. The scripting books have blue or pink. You get the idea. This is all about a brand and making sure that brand is consistent and easily recognizable. Other publishing houses have done the same thing with their technology lines.

What was far more interesting though was to look at the use of color and type in the magazines. I looked at a pretty wide range of magazines to see how color, type, and layout were handled depending on the title. Not surprisingly colors tended towards the warm, inviting hues in the house and decorating magazines. There were exceptions but generally most people don’t paint their houses in jarring colors and the magazines tended to reflect that fact 😉 Quite a few artsy photo magazines were in black and white. History magainzes trended towards historical color schemes, etc. Typefaces matched the color schemes (ie: more formal type in the history magazines). My biggest hit came from the books in the arts and crafts section.

I have to say that at one point I thought my head was going to explode with ideas when I was looking through a book in the Art section called Euro Deco: Graphic Design Between the Wars 😉 I really, really, identify strongly with the artwork during this time period. It never fails to grab me and start pulling me in. If I didn’t know better I’d say I had a past life as an artist during that time period – it affects me that strongly (not surprisingly I feel the same way about swing music/dancing). Flipping through the pages of that book and looking at the art (not surprisingly a lot of it was advertising art) my brain was dripping with ideas of how I wanted some personal things I need to work on to look. Obviously I need to peruse the bookstore more often 😉

That all is fine and dandy I guess but where I then get socked in the gut is when I need to recall those ideas when it’s time to actually get some work done. Jason (Santa Maria that is…I’m not referring to myself in the third-person) had ideas for that as well that I need to try. More about that in another posting.

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