Friday, January 18, 2008

Historical research

The more I look into books as art, and altered books, and the relationship between books and readers, the more I realize that I (and probably everyone in the 1st world with easy access to lots of books) take their basic nature for granted.

In this vein, yesterday I started reading a book my mom gave me for Christmas, Alan Bartram's Five Hundred Years of Book Design. And although on the surface it looks deadly boring, once I started reading I discovered a whole new and fascinating world. Starting with a text printed in Venice in 1470, Bartram shows (with big reproductions of the original works) how type, illustrations, margins and punctuation - everything we take for granted these days - evolved, and why parts of these things changed when they did. Bartram not only clearly knows and loves what he's talking about, but he's funny, and he makes the books he lays out - and more specifically, the people responsible for printing them - seem very real and interesting.

In terms of my project, one of the most interesting things I've read so far is this:
" The eye and mind, while extraordinarily flexible mechanisms, are basically conservative. They resist peremptory changes to well-established habits. Many of the design practices I have criticized in this book for hindering communication were happily accepted because the reader was accustomed to them. In any period, technical and visual changes have to be introduced with caution, no matter how beneficial they are eventually found to be." (p.14)

So I'm trying to keep that in mind, and play off it, in thinking about the next book.


Alia Shields said...

I took a web design class right before I graduated and learned that this tendency towards the conservative is something that plays to the design of websites too. And when thinking about the usability of a website you often have to balance what people are used to with what is actually a better way to communicate information.

Also, you might also want to check out Helvetica, an independent film about typography. I came across it briefly on Netflix. I think its one of the ones that you can download straight to your computer (if you have netflix.)

Alex Z said...

I'll try to find Helvetica - thanks for the tip!

In line with trying to balance usability with expectation, I just spent half an hour mucking around with the layout of this site, trying to make it look cleaner while also keeping it easy to find all the links, etc. But I don't know HTML, and there's only so much I can do with the available templates, so here it stays.