Thursday, March 25, 2010

Let Designers Design

I try very hard to let authors author and designers design.

Seems rather simple, doesn't it?
But you would be surprised how many times in textbook publishing authors or even editors try to become designers, and it just doesn't work.

Years ago editors at my company actually designed the interior of books, and I must tell you, those designs were almost universally horrendous. Editors and the vast majority of authors are word people. They're linear, they think in words, phrases, and sentences. They tend to be not very good at colors, shapes, white space, and the like. Those elements belong more rightly with designers, those glorious, right-brained picture people.

I believe publishers like me should let authors and designers do what they do best.

For instance, I never tell an author what the dosage of a particular drug should be or which ICD-9-CM code should be used for a particular disease. They're the authors, they're supposed to know that clinical stuff. The only time I step in is when I know a piece of information is wrong, and even then I typically ask the author to check it and make sure I'm correct in a suggested edit.

I never tell a designer which colors to use for a cover or an interior design unless I want to make sure we don't select a color palette that's too close to the palette of a competing text.

I never tell designers what font to use for a heading or how big to make it unless the color or size impinges on the reader's ability to discern content hierarchy. Subheads should look subservient to main heads, and if they don't, there's a problem. Even then I don't specify what to do, I just tell them that, say, head 2s need to be more pronounced visually than head 3s.

I steer the overall vision for the book and the basic design to make sure they're meeting market needs but I try never to get into things so deeply that I become an author or a designer. Believe me, no one wants that.