Thursday, 3 January 2013

On Reading

For some time, I've been confused about what I love and what I fear. I thought I loved books, but what I actually love is the experience of reading. I thought I feared the 'end of print', but what I actually fear is the end of reading in a way that is private, insightful, and mine to own.

My confusion has been in mistaking the thing – the printed book – for the experience it makes possible. It's easy to become distracted by the tactile pleasure of paper stock, the subtle smell of ink on a page, the familiarity that develops with my copy of a favourite book and other fetishes common to bibliophiles. These material concerns are important because they add a sensory dimension to the reading experience, but they're not the heart of the matter. As a publication designer, material and graphic elements are my concern – presenting an author's work in a readable form. In my professional work I focus on designing the tangible thing, but I am always mindful of the purpose thing in the first place: to communicate to readers – preferably, in an evocative and meaningful way.

What I love about books as objects is the anticipation of what's within. I was drawn to book design because I wanted to make beautiful things, but also because I wanted to work with great content. What's most important to me – as a designer and educator – is design that responds to the needs of the reader. I own an impressive collection of beautiful books, but I don't love any of them unless the content takes me beyond the surface of the book and to the world within. This is not to say that book design is meaningless or superfluous. But the surface of a book is such a transient part of it. This goes some way to explaining why I shifted from commercial design to academia – a desire to be involved in developing the content as well as designing its material incarnation.

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