Report: What Place do Book Design and Illustration have in the Digital Age?

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Words by Chris Russell, photos by Daniel Solomons.

For May’s Byte The Book, Tate Publishing’s Jacky Klein chaired an event discussing the role of book design and illustration in the digital age. The panel comprised Andrew Sanigar (Commissioning Editor at Thames & Hudson), Mark Ecob (Creative Director at Mecob Design Ltd) and Tom Bonnick (Business Development Manager at Nosy Crow).

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Ken Jones from CircularFLO giving a thumbs up to sponsoring our event.

The discussion began with some thoughts on the secret to outstanding design in the publishing industry. Mark recommended that designers actually read the book they’re working on, stating that while this may seem like “Book Design 101”, people would be surprised how often it’s not adhered to. Designers must really “get” the book, he said, and make an effort to fully understand its “voice, heart and soul”. The industry’s best visual minds, he added, are able to expertly marry creative concerns with practical ones, being sensitive not only to the tone and character of the story but also to the deadlines, limitations and logistical quirks of the project.

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Our panel from right to left, Andrew Sanigar, Tom Bonnick, Chair Jacky Klein and Mark Ecob

Andrew suggested that the art of great book design is in creating an experience, not simply a printed object, and so the entire package needs to be carefully considered – from the paper and the binding to the cover and the formatting. He underlined that a book is far more than simply a bundle of information, and the future of the book industry depends on recognising and embracing this. Tom, meanwhile, hammered home the mantra “Know your reader”, an especially apt principle for his company, Nosy Crow, who as a children’s publisher often need to understand the age of their readers to the precise year.

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The audience was in good spirits at the close of a sunny day

Tom went on to discuss the growing app industry, which is particularly buoyant in children’s publishing. Occasionally, he explained, publishers are guilty of creating apps that are really just glorified eBooks, but “story apps”, as he calls them, must be justified in their own right. In other words, added Andrew, if design isn’t fundamental to a book, it probably won’t warrant a reincarnation in app form (especially considering the audiences for books and apps don’t necessarily overlap).

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The talk was accompanied by excellent visual case studies

Overall, there was enormous optimism for the ongoing role of design in publishing. “The industry is in rude health at the moment”, concluded Mark, “and I have very high hopes for the future”. People are far more visually literate than they used to be and, in pushing up standards and challenging publishers to constantly innovate, this can only be a good thing.

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Good spirits continued into the networking section of the evening at the Groucho Club.

If you enjoyed this report and want to keep up with the latest happenings in publishing as well as network with publishers and authors alike join us at for our networking at The Summer Digital Book Party. Members of Byte the Book get in half price. You can join us for just £75 a year here.

Click here to see more photos of the evening

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