Monday, October 26, 2009

Much anticipated



.... and very disappointing.

My gripe with this book,
In House by Derry Moore, is not with the contents per se (though I do have reservations about those) nor with the quality of the graphic design. Let me explain.

A few years ago I bought another much anticipated book, Dawn Jacobson's
Chinoiserie, and was thoroughly irritated by the way the designers of the book seemed to concentrate more on the design of the page than its content. Simply put, many of the images were too small for legibility and floated in a sea of negative space – resulting in pages that looked like a poor imitation of a Swiss grid layout current in graphic design thirty years before.

In the case of Mr Moore's
In House, the size of the photos is not in question – in most cases they fill the pages. Without exception they are of rooms that feel hermetic, so it could be argued that the photographer achieved an appropriate sense of intense privacy, underscored by the designer's use of black as a framing device for the photos.

The printing is the problem. The photos are printed on a relatively matte paper. Those of you who have ever printed a color photo on regular bond paper will know what I am complaining about. Matte paper does not reflect the light back through the layers of transparent printing ink - what is needed is a good quality art paper of high sheen. The publishers of
In House chose to use a matte paper so to my eyes much of what I am seeking is lost in sunken ink.

A disappointment to the point that I am sending the book back to Amazon. Some might argue that if the photos are interesting enough, the book is worth keeping. Interesting they are, but I have seen so many of them over the years and did not expect to see them again with 1980s-quality design and printing.


Top image thanks to Amazon and the second thanks to my iPhone.

17 comments:

  1. Thanks for illuminating weveral of my pet peeves about book design. A truly good graphic design for a book serves the material. And let's not forget split gutters----where, let's say, 20% of the photo is on one page, and the rest on the other, almost inevitably splitting the picture at a critical point. My late partner, a book designer as it happens, refused to do these.

    Last year, I bought an architectural monograph, and was drooling with anticipation. I had to return it also. It was absolutely bizarre---each page had one or two large photos, and smaller photos on the outer margins. Inevitably, the large ones would be of a small detail, and the tiny margin pictures would be the wide views. It was frustrating. Here's hoping some of the clever designers responsible see your post and think next time they design.

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  2. Oops. 'several', not 'weveral'

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  3. A problem with at least a certain percentage of design books is the time spent on creating an 'ambient whole', rather than dealing with the facts and some good quality illustrations.

    The design style of a book often disguises the fact that the book is in fact very thin on facts, in fact thin on any useful text at all. I am not saying that same formula applies to this book, but perhaps it is part of a larger problem of living in a century where serious reference books now have to compete with the froth books that take up most of the front page of any Amazon site.

    Or maybe someone just thought that they were smarter and more stylish than they really were.

    I don't blame you for sending it back. A curt note might help. Do people send curt notes anymore?

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  4. Sir, you and I are clearly on the same page - if you'll pardon the pun. Rather like "weveral" - has a Dickensian ring to it.

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  5. John - emails have taken over from curt notes, even thank-you notes. Seemingly, there are those who cannot deduce tone from an email and much fuss is made. Don't get me started!

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  6. Thank you for this review. I too have been eagerly awaiting this book, so I am sorry to hear that it is such a mess. It is truly a crime that with so many great designers out there that the publisher was not able to find one. I have to admit that I found the placement of the title on the cover a bit odd...but was holding out hoped for the inside.

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  7. Janet - you may like the content enough that the shortcomings in the design may not bother you as much as they did me. Look at it in a bookstore and see what you think. Caveat Emptor.

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  8. My long awaited copy came late today. I was 20/20 at 40. At 60 not so much. I find the small type irritating. Such a cursory glance before I soak away a garden day, I really dislike the "artful framing" of the itty bitty type. I was a high school yearbook advisor in the 70s. I would have nixed this design.

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  9. I'm not a design book buyer but I'll will consume any that are at hand. I am irritated on your behalf: Professional designers and publishers should have figured this out by now. Right? Can't the book serve the material and the reader without getting in the way?

    Leaving content aside, what are there classic books that publishers should emulate? I presume there are many.

    And like "home before dark" I don't see so well any more.

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  10. I agree with Terry and HBD. Is the publisher looking at who the audience for a book like this is going to be? Is it a 20-something or a 50-something? Most likely a 50-something. Take that into consideration and make the type a little larger, a little heavier and legible to old eyes.

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  11. Legibility for the aging eye is a problem that is pretty universal - witness medication packaging, nutritional information, etc. Reading glasses are a solution but they're not the whole one. The demographic for this type of book probably needs reading glasses or will do so soon. Even at $30-something on Amazon buying a book requires a certain discretionary income and its usually the reading glass crowd that has that. None of my students, for example, would afford it. My objection in the main was about the quality of the printed surface. Interesting discussion!

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  12. A truly great example of a well designed design book? Richard Pratt's famous "David Adler, Architect" published by the Art Institute of Chicago. Elegant, not so large as to be unwieldy, the right paper, beautiful printing, and a layout that is a model of elegance and clarity. It long ago spoiled me for most others. No tricks, just superb presentation, in black and white, of a superb subject.

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  13. BWE - thank you. I'll look for it online. I have The Country Houses of David Adler by Stephen Alney.

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  14. Truly, I don't intend to keep this conversation going forever, BUT, your mention of Stephen Szalny's excellent book about Adler brings up another point aside from design, which is print quality. Although the Szalny book filled a demand, and contained much important new material (the Pratt book about Adler is much sought after, and at the peak of demand, copies, including mine, were selling for around $1200), and the design, though uninspiring, is adequate, the paper and print quality is terrible. I'm guessing that this was an economy ove on the part of the publisher, unsure of the desirability (high) of the material. Szalny's book uses several of the same photos as the Pratt book, and to compare is to weep. Szalny's book sold well, and his subsequent book about Adler's brilliant sister, Frances Elkins, is better printed. Okay, I'm done about book design and quality. For now. Thanks for the forum and discussion.

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  15. A little late here, but for what it's worth...happy to find that I was not alone in my disappointment. This book presents a VERY FRUSTRATING reader experience. Agree w/other comments here re: disappointing production values. BUT...the graphic treatment of Mitchell Owens' wonderful writing was the MOST frustrating aspect of the whole thing. Centering most of the minuscule text (with ragged right and left margins) rendered it virtually unreadable for me. Won't be returning my copy---want to retain access to the images and nurture the hope that some day I'll have the patience to read the text despite the frustration every attempt to date has occasioned. Sad that the terrific content here (text and visuals) is so compromised.

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  16. I am a big fan of Derry Moore's photography of interiors, but I thought the book ROOMS of just a few years ago was spoiled by the over-wrought graphic design. One would have thought a lesson was learned, but perhaps not. I was really looking forward to this new book, too! Out in the Hinterland, we are so dependent on sources like Amazon.com, and have to be wary of generic rave reviews, possibly by the author's brother or sister-in-law!

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  17. Blue,

    Thank you for this most incisive review. Just pulled it off my sidebar.

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