The 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 do’s and don’ts. But the rules (like the tools and media) must be mastered before they can be challenged creatively and effectively. For example, Pablo Picasso had a better understanding of human anatomy than most medical doctors.

Design of an art book is entirely different from publication or advertising graphic design. The “Ten Commandments” en force in our studio did not come from a college textbook. Rather, they were distilled from actual comments from our clients as well as some of the top designers whose visions we helped make reality.

  1. The design of the book never competes for attention with the featured art. It only compliments it.
  2. For the art to speak the text must step backwards. Using grey text instead of black generally helps create an elegant environment for the images.
  3. 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.
  4. We avoid exuberant fonts. Page numbers, headers and footers must be unobtrusive or absent. Type does not run over images.
  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 or edit images in any way unless specifically requested by the client.
  9. We do not put a date on images if the art is by a living, active artist.
  10. We make sure that our typography is error-free and our files are truly print-ready.

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

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