Shortly after “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” was released I got a nasty call from a reader.
“I’m a graphic designer. I own other Lost Art Press books,” he said. “And I have to say this new book has a terrible, amateurish design.”
“Exactly right,” I replied.
Each of the three books in the “anarchist” series takes its design cues from different points in history, reflecting something about the book’s content or storyline. (This is true for all of our books; we don’t have a house style.)
“The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” is supposed to look like a manifesto set on a Macintosh. The chapter headings were made with a clicky label maker. The body copy is 11-point Cochin, a free font, and is set on a 17-point baseline (way too much space between the lines). The font used for the quotations is Courier 8 point, another freely available font.
From a broader perspective, the book doesn’t have a formal “grid,” which is the underlying structure used by most page designers when setting columns, photos and drawings. Photos intrude into the body copy in awkward ways. Yet, the book is (I think) still readable from a typographical perspective.
For the second book, “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” I looked to 18th-century pattern books and 17th-century texts. The book’s physical size is the same as Andre Felibien’s “Des Principes de l’Architecture…” The body copy is Caslon 12 point (on 13-point leading). Caslon is from the early 18th century (circa 1722). The style of the subheadings, the drop capitals and even the running heads on the pages are all ideas swiped from early books.
Plus, of course, the book’s copperplate etchings by Briony Morrow-Cribbs add to the overall older feel to the book. The idea behind the book design (and the book itself) was to treat vernacular furniture with the same respect as the high-style stuff.
The third book, “The Anarchist’s Workbench” (download it for free here), is from an entirely different place. It is meant to echo the books of the early 20th century that were set with Linotype machines. The body copy is, again Caslon, but the letters are set tighter. The type is 10.5 point on 12-point leading. In fact, all of the text in the book (except the data page at the front with the ISBN) is set in some form of Caslon – a common feature of books of this time.
Unlike the other two books, the text is carefully justified to look more formal and present letterspacing that looks like it was done by a real designer. The images and text are locked to a rigid grid system. The design is (supposed to look) mature. And that mature design is supposed to reflect the ideas in the book (poo jokes aside).
Apologies for the “behind the scenes” content. I get asked sometimes why our books look so different. This is why.
— Christopher Schwarz
40 thoughts on “Page Design in the ‘Anarchist’ Series”
Chris, I love all three books in the anarchist series and own them all (just bought the Anarchists Workbench). These books have impacted me greatly and are perfect just the way they are; I think others will agree! Thanks for all you good folks do for the craft!
Well said Lance, and I agree completely. I own the books as well.
Thanks for the behind the scenes Chris, it’s one of the things among many that makes these books enjoyable to read.
Let me count the many ways I love this. You convey so much about the character and perspective of each book you publish through the design of the book as artifact–not just the graphic design elements, but the type of paper, trim size, cover, and so on.Your approach to book design makes your products far more interesting and fun and is one of the top reasons I’m honored to be among your authors.
I appreciate hearing about the thinking behind the book designs. It’s like listening to good movie commentary on a DVD. The more insight I have into the maker’s thought process, the more I can enjoy the work. Speaking of which, I highly recommend listening to Frank Oz’s commentary for Bowfinger. It made it a whole new movie.
Being unconstrained by ‘modern think’ adds great depth to LAP books
I’m glad the guy bugged you. The result is that you provided a history of the evolution…which most of us are really enjoying. Thank you.
Chris, thank you for the insights on these book designs. Typically I expect similar design for a series, yet your approach has its merit. That said, the label maker headings make me cringe. Can you clarify the “set tighter” of the 10.5 on 12 (equals 1.5 points leading) whereas the “looser” 12 on 13 is only one point of lead (smaller by percentage as well)? Thanks, Tom Buhl, formerly of Tom Buhl Typographers. Yes, THE Tom Buhl…oh, you know.
Sorry. The letterspacing is tighter in the H&Js. That’s what I meant by tighter. My mistake and will fix it in the entry.
Got it. btw, when I was reading The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, the dyno label chapter heads did not bother me at all. Being part of the opening image, tone of the manuscript and also the hue of paper dimmed any pain. When this post opened with a chapter opening page out of context I did thought it ghastly. Context matters in life and design. Keep on creating and sharing these treasures.
dyno = Dymo
I’ll tell you what. I love the design of your books. Why would your books have to look like anyone else’s books. They are designed in a style you feel is appropriate for the subject. I happen to agree. Keep them coming.
There’s a difference between commenting and criticizing. I don’t know which one the “nasty call” was, but I can guess. As I’ve said before regarding LAP, it’s a small company appealing to a very small niche market. It’s not for everyone. If you don’t like what Chris and LAP offer, for whatever reason, don’t buy it, there’s more than enough alternatives out there. Obviously that’s my opinion and may not reflect anyone else’s. That doesn’t mean that I’m a blind fanboy of all things LAP; some of their offerings don’t appeal to me, so I don’t buy them. And it doesn’t mean that, in their place, I wouldn’t do somethings differently. My first “real job” out of college was writing for a small town daily newspaper with strict house style guides, generally based on the AP manual, Like including a fine point border around all photos and kerning between some letter combinations such as lower case f and i. LAP doesn’t appear to do either. I’m still hung up on the way I was taught, and it tweaks me just a little every time I see it. That’s a reflection of me, not LAP.. I was working for a newspaper, not a book publisher and more importantly, LAP is not my baby, so I try to keep my parenting advice to myself.
All this to say, thanks Chris for doing what you do, regardless of how I or anyone else says you should.
Well there _are_ alternatives, but they don’t necessarily give you the same information. As Mr Schwarz says in the Workbench book, there are untold numbers of books and articles out there telling you how to make a bench. But if you want the real stuff, then the alternatives won’t do.
cool info, and rationale with regard to design. I like it. Nicely done.
Thank you for the 17 point leading in The Anarchist’s Tool Chest! You could have made it 50 pages shorter, but you made it 100 times more readable. My copy is from the first printing, with ochre cover, signed and looking perfectly at home on a shelf with antique books.
Thanks for the free download! The Caslon type reminds me of Dick and Jane early readers.
See Chris saw. Saw, Chris saw! See Chris’ saw saw.
I think you’d love this Calendas font from a foundry in Spain. It’s pay what you want, just two weights and swashy italic.
Thank you very much for these interesting insights into how and why these books came to look the way the do. I designed a couple of books myself, for a publisher friend, back in the 1990s, and know there’s a lot more goes into it than one might think.
I’m also glad that you brought up the subject of typography, as there are two things I’m curious about in connection with the design of all three “Anarchist” books: you tolerate widows and orphans, and you use i-dashes rather than n-dashes to signify to/from, e.g. between years.
Both these are strict no-nos in the typographical tradition with which I’m familiar (i.e. the Swedish one), but I am of course aware that at different times and in different parts of the world, the rules have varied on these (and many other) subjects of typography.
In other words, the above is in no way meant as a criticism; I’m just curious to learn more, and am thus wondering on which rules or other guidelines for typography you base your work?
On widows/orphans, we have decided to stick with the tolerant approach used in newspapers and magazines. My opinion is that many times the remedy (increasing or decreasing letter tracking, or modifying hyphenation/justification schemes) looks worse than the widow or orphan itself. I know I’m in the minority here, but I am used to that position.
On the punctuation between years, we use the hyphen, which is traditional here.
As I said, ’twas not meant as a criticism! I took it for given what you have just confirmed, namely that it is the result of a conscious decision on your part, and in my book (hah!), that’s what really matters. I may have different druthers (or not), but that’s not the point.
And I’m delighted to have learned that the hyphen between years is traditional over there! If ya’ don’t ask … 🙂
Thank you very much!
Are you saying that Sweden takes better care of widows and orphans?
I’ve designed thousands of aerosol labels with 5 pt, reverse leaded, squished to 60% type in three to six languages. The worst part of my job is sizing type to meet regulations written by people who have no clue, telling me that certain warnings need to be .125″ tall. Type is of course, not measured in inches and not all fonts measure the same. I’ve given up preaching the value of adequate leading.
I’m glad there are people who care about type. Perhaps we should start a support group.
Nah. We’re not bothered ’bout them at all. What we (are supposed to) take good care of are single and double bastards (“enkla och dubbla horungar”), ’cause that’s what we call’em … 😉
And thanks for telling about those aerosol labels! Although I am in general quite aware of matters typographical when I come across them in the wild, I must admit that I’d never given much thought to that particular subfield (and its cousin food labels), and the challenges inherent to it! I will never again look with the same eyes at such a label, or just scan the nutritional values list on the back of a package of food purely for information …
It was nowhere near as difficult, but what you say reminds me of another job I did for that same publisher friend back in the 90s. He also ran a book club specialising in military history, and had at some point gotten his hand on a large batch of remainder stock of (mainly) WWII documentaries on VHS. I think in all some 60 or so films, of, let’s say, middling quality and interest, for which he hired me to write the catalogue blurbs. Each blurb had to be precisely 1,000 +/- 5 characters long, truthfully represent the contents of the film while talking up its strengths, be sufficiently different from all the others that any two of them could be published next to each other in the catalogue, and be enthusiastic enough in tone to attract orders. I’m glad I only had to do it that one time … 😉
Thank you for the behind the scenes look! Personally, I love the ATC design. The label-maker headings and photos that look like stills from a David Fincher film are delightful, contrasted with the beautiful and traditional binding of the book.
Thanks Chris. I had seen all of those things, and noticed many of them, but didn’t know the terms or the context. With this blog post you’ve expanded my knowledge in this area, and it’s a nice gift.
I just love the quote about the dog pen under “that’s not a knife”. The first time I read it I wondered if I was a lunatic (it hit a bit close to home). Then I concluded I wasn’t the lunatic, the client was. She could afford to be and I I’d be crazy to refuse the work.
Viva la difference!
I vividly remember reading The Anarchist’s Tool Chest and being struck like a punch in the guts that this was something completely different to anything else I had read. On reflection that was probably down to a combination of the message within, the design and layout, and probably the production of the book itself. The book had a freshness and what almost felt like an urgency to get the message out there, which to my mind the design was an integral part of (ironically I never actually made a tool chest myself, as I didn’t think that was really the point being made).
What? Thoughtful design decisions from someone who wrote a book on thoughtful design decisions? Color me surprised.
Nasty call huh, hire the guy!
Let him make it what it “should” be, and criticize him relentlessly for the effort!!
Either that or take the book back and stop him from ever ordering again.
Maybe he was cooped up in his house to long?
I kinda go by a content of a book but that might just be me.
I am gratified you put so much thought into what you do for us
With a name like “Lost Art Press”, the design of your books always made sense to me. Please continue being different.
Who would’ve thought that the man who has dedicated the remainder of his working life to strive against disposable mediocrity and champion quality and integrity in work would have designed his books on that very subject with intention? Crazy.
Man, I can only say one thing here.
I love you, and I love this world that let me know the stuff you have produced. Hard capitalism, tragedy, and climate change and all included. Yes, I have two martinis in my body right now, but that doesn’t make this any less true.
Please keep doing what you are doing. I’m reading the Anarchist Workbench right now, and I have a duty to bought it at some point of my life. Please continue being you and doing whatever you want to do.
My feedback is to say “Thank you” for font types & sizes in your books that are easy for the older reader (like me) whose eyes are not as good as they used to be.
The provision of complementary PDF versions of the books are also a great help as they can be magnified for reading using an iPad or Android tablet.
That page from atc is my favorite photo of the whole series. At first i couldn’t tell what the heck it was and figured it must have passed by way of a 4 beer inspection night. Even after reading the chapter i figured it must be a joke or at worst a short lived, failed, pointy haired boss design. That is until a couple weeks later when i saw one in the wild at my local big box store. Stopped me in my tracks. I picked it up for a closer look and just laughed. I never would have even noticed it but for your description in atc which is the nicest thing that piece of mutant excrement deserves. The whole affair made my day and was the best and most drawn out joke I’ve known.
LAP books always have great design and great content. Your comment on Linotype made me think of my grandfather; he sold Intertype machines, a relative of Linotype.
Why would CS be less intentional in the design of his books!
I love the “feel” of this book.
I also love the reference on page 47 to “Tales from Top graphic Oceans”.
Being 10 years older than Chris I waited with great anticipation for the latest
Yes albums as I do for the latest Anarchist book.
For a supposedly tolerant age we demonstrate a marked ability to get stuck in narrow little ruts and ideas of how things should be. Thank you Chris for nudging us out if them into the wide sea of a very rich history. I wonder if other aspects of our collective history are as rich in spite of our flaws and failings?
As someone who works in Open Source I was happy to see the Anarchist Workbench with a Creative Commons license! It’s not just us geeks using Linux that are sharing code & content.
Thanks for the background. Are you seeking out fonts that are open as well?
Love that about your pubs. 👍
The hybrid chisel rasp was used to make me spring a leak last December while we were setting up the Yuletide celebration at the Indianapolis symphony. Dumbest. Tool. Ever. I should have never picked it up.
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