ABD Vol.29 No.2
Beautiful Books - Some Thoughts on Book Design

Gow Michiyoshi


The Meaning of Books in Human Life

A book is like a mirror reflecting the era in which it was made. The words that appear in the text, the phenomenon of the book itself, transcend temporal space and, reaching the hands of the people, speak to their souls. Although books are an ancient, traditional form of media, they are imbued with a vitality that can provide the reader with new insights into the era in which they were written. Unhindered by their social origins, differences in ways of thought or expression, or by geographical distances, they in turn make the reader consider those aspects which are common to their own age including knowledge, living conditions and the role of beauty. Books record the transitions and momentous events momentarily glimpsed deep within the flow of current society. They allow us to follow the intellectual workings of other minds. And they transform love and sorrow, or even pain, into a form of human expression that can be experienced and appreciated by others. The act of opening a book, spreading the wings of our imagination and taking flight, can bring us moments of unimaginable joy.
The word 'book' refers to knowledge and information that have been recorded on paper, collected and bound together for reading. It was the first form of mass media developed by humankind. Books lay bare every aspect of human society, capturing life in the times in which they are written. While they cast a vibrant light, they are a quiet medium which brings peace to the mind of modern man.
Numerous advances have been made in the field of visual media in recent years. New components, approaches and methods have been successively invented and incorporated, and types of visual media continue to multiply, encompassing methods of expression in modern art and new images made possible through advancements in television and electronic technology. At the same time, the sophisticated technology of duplication has become available to the masses and thanks to the current accessibility of word processors, copy machines and DTP technology, anyone can make a book.
A book is a detailed world unto itself, comprised of text, pictures and colour and produced with paper, ink and other materials. It originates with the image of the writer, and is passed on through the publisher, editor, book designer, illustrator, photographer, printer and binder, finally reaching the reader via a distributor. It is an intellectual piece of craftsmanship woven with the close cooperation of all those involved in this intricate network. It is also an organic space created by pooling diverse knowledge and technology. The microcosm of a book is born through careful selection and organization of countless elements which are captured on the page. This fact should surely impress upon us the importance and significance of our work in producing exquisite books and sending them out into the world.

The Role of Book Design

The task of the book designer is to take the work that has been written by the author and arranged for publication by the editor, and render it in the most befitting form as a concrete published work. This task involves exterior design of the book which contains the box, the cover sheet, cover flyleaf, title page, etc., and internal layout of the all-important text and type, photographs, illustrations, charts and maps, etc.
The book as a priced product moves from publisher to distributor to retail store, and finally to the reader. As the book must compete for buyers with the many and varied books available in the book shop, the designer has a vital role in influencing the reader to select the book on the merits of its exterior design and beauty and readability of the arranged content. Furthermore, the book is, in addition to being a product for sale, a most important element of influence as a vehicle of knowledge and information in the social and cultural development.
Most book designers, then, keep in mind the objective and function of the publication, and through exercise of their individual expression and use of materials for printing and binding which would result in the most appropriate publication, design the book in that form.

Background of Book Design in Japan

Production technology in publishing in Japan has developed under the influence of Europe and US. Prior to the opening of the nation in the Meiji Period (1868), modern printing technology was brought via Shanghai and Nagasaki through the efforts of a few pioneers. On the other hand, the form of Japanese printed works has been developed under the cumulative influence of a long history of contributions from the cultures of the Eurasian Continent, especially from the adjacent culture of China as conveyed through the Korean Peninsula. In contemporary Japan, then, the shape of printed matter with its aesthetic style is a product of the meeting and merging of both Eastern and Western cultures.
Bookbinding technology imported from western Europe at the beginning of the Meiji Period was combined in application with the printing technology based in the Chinese and Japanese scripts and writing systems to result in the original form of the present-day Japanese book in western form.

General Features of Japanese Book Design

According to the 1997 annual statistics, the number of newly-published books in Japan was about 60,000 titles. Although classification is difficult, depending on the stage of the level of book-making, in broad terms, typical examples can be given as follows.

(1) Compact regular editions, Japanese paperbacks: bunkobon,sShinshoban
As for bunkobon (B7 size) and shinshoban (173 x 105 mm), literary books, general knowledge books and practical use books are numerous. They are mass produced at low cost. Their main texts are computer-typeset, have been standardized into a compact size, and new designs are few.

(2) Simple "scholarly books"
They have hardly any book design. Usually, paper sizes B6-A5 are common. On the cover the book name, author and publisher are indicated using the minimum number of necessary characters, printed in the single colour black in the classical printstyle.

(3) General books
Frequent examples can be seen in general knowledge books, literary books, practical use books and textbooks, and paper sizes B6-A5 are common. They incorporate on their surface more visual elements that the foregoing, and on the front cover pictures and photos are used rather moderately.

(4) A combined book and magazine style called "Mook"
Examples can be seen in practical use books on everyday life, and popular editions of art books and paper sizes B5-A4 are prevalent. The visualization of the main text has become multicoloured thanks to the colour printer.

(5) "De luxe books"
Concerning the paper, cloth, photos, printing and bookbinding, a luxurious appearance is emphasized. They are large versions, often A4-B4.

Undertakings in Promotion of Book Design

Book design promotion is carried out on a continuing basis, through contests and awards, training seminars, group activities, and publication of anthologies and yearbooks, etc.
One of the major concours is All Japan Book Design-Concours/Exhibition, 1998 marks the 32nd annual holding of this event. Held in conjunction with "Reading Week", the theme is "Making more attractive, better books." The event aims to bring together the concerns of the publishing-related industries and the general readers in relation to the roles of bookmaking and book design. Of 449 works submitted from 102 companies, the 41 which are award recipients are displayed for the public. Another one is The Kodansha Book Design Award. The "Kodansha Cultural Award" is provided in five categories-illustration, photographs, book design, picture books, and scientific publications-for works which represent pioneering, qualitative enhancement and progress in publishing culture. In the book design category, the 1998 award is the 29th. Up to 1998, 33 persons have received the award for 32 publications.

Major Organisations of Book Designers

The Society of Publishing Arts, established in 1985, is the first and only specific book designers' organisation in Japan. There are 110 members. The term "Book Design" in this association can be described as the process of taking into consideration all elements in the forming of a book, and concretely designing the book as a composite work. Major elements are: meaning or content element, visual element, material element, production element (printing, binding, and processing), marketing element, readability and durability factors. Based on such views, the Society maintains an active existence as a group of specialists carrying forth research and development and production. The existence of a book design organisation is in itself a rare phenomenon.
Other organisations which book designers belong to are: (1) Tokyo Art Directors Club (ADC), established in 1952 in connection with the New York ADC, include editorial design and book design. (2) Japan Graphic Designers Association, Inc. (JAGDA), established in 1986 as a functional group, is a nation-wide organisation with 2,032 members in 1997. (3) Japan Typography Association (JTA), established in 1964 by letter artists, typographers and graphic designers as an organisation for activities of developing, producing and promoting lettering design, at present has 240 members.

Books in Future

We depend on books, not our memories, to reproduce the events of even the most recent past. They are a superb medium that can replay the past without the use of any special equipment. Printed information can expand into infinite images within the reader. Although we cannot expect the same feeling of actual presence created by audiovisual media, printed media is one component of multimedia and the Internet, both visual in its form of transmission and endowed with a logical, easily comprehended structure. The advantages of letters and printed media for the development of analytical knowledge are now being reevaluated. For these reasons, we can look forward expectantly to the development of new horizons for books in the 21st century.
(translated by Cathy Hirano and ACCU)

Gow Michiyoshi
Born in 1933. After graduating from post-graduate course of Kuwazawa Design School, he worked in the editorial section of Quarterly Magazine Graphic Design, in the design room of Organizing Committee for the Tokyo Olympic Games and as vice-secretary in the design division of Japan Association for the World Exposition. He also had part-time service lectures at Musashino Art University. At present, he is one of editorial committee members of this periodical Asian/Pacific Book Development (ABD), Representative Director of The Editological Society of Japan (ESJ), Director of The Society of Publishing Arts.
Gow Michiyoshi
Supervisor of Michiyoshi Design Laboratory Inc.
1-1-3-7 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0022, Japan
phone: (81) 3 3409 5955/6, fax: (81) 3 3409 5824