Our “Ten Commandments” of Art Book Design

Our “Ten Commandments” of Art Book Design

Designing an art book is like hanging an exhibition. Nothing is left to chance.

In modern graphic design, as in modern art, rules are made to be broken. Creativity cannot be stymied by archaic ‘dos and donts’. But the rules (like the tools and media) must be mastered before they can be challenged creatively and effectively. For example, Michelangelo had a better understanding of human anatomy than most medical doctors do!

Design of an art book is entirely different from publication or advertising graphic design. The principles summarized below did not come from a college textbook. They were distilled from actual comments from our clients whose vision we helped make reality.

  1. The design never competes for attention with the featured art. It must only compliment it.
  2. For the art to speak, we force the text to step backwards. Using grey text instead of black generally helps create an elegant environment for the images.
  3. We avoid exuberant fonts. Page numbers, headers and footers must be unobtrusive or absent. Type does not run over images.
  4. We want every page spread to be a new experience, building on the previous spread and inviting the reader to discover treasures waiting on the following spread.
  5. We respect white space. It is a critical design element.
  6. We generally do not place more than one art image per page and sometimes just one image per spread. We often see too many works featured in a book.
  7. We do not bleed art images across the fold or off the edge of the page, unless such image is used as a section intro or a detail close-up.
  8. We do not crop images unless specifically requested by the client.
  9. We do not date images if the art is by a living, active artist.
  10. We make sure our design is error-free and truly print-ready.

Once these rules are diligently applied, it is time for creativity to be unleashed!

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