The PANZ Book Design Awards, digital absence, and lessons to be learned from Educational Publishing

July 18th, 2013 by Anna von Veh § 2 comments § permalink

Digital publishing didn’t make an appearance at the PANZ Book Design Awards that were held tonight (18 July 2013) at the beautiful Gus Fisher Gallery at the University of Auckland.

It was a lovely evening, with luminaries from the New Zealand Publishing industry and others in attendance. Of course, one couldn’t ignore that many people are feeling unsettled by the merger between Penguin and Random and the seemingly inevitable job losses to come, the closure of Pearson’s education branch in New Zealand, the cutbacks at Pearson Australia, and the news of Lonely Planet’s demise in Australia.

The speeches were entertaining and enjoyable. Alan Deare won four awards, including the Gerard Reid Award for Best Book (sponsored by Nielsen Book Services) for On Song, published by Penguin, and gave weary, droll, thank-you speeches which were a mixture of appreciation and the seen-it-all cynicism of someone who has worked in the publishing industry for many years.

The shortlisted books were beautiful. There was creative use of typography, and some striking covers, including a maths book, published by Pearson, which surprised everyone but the Educational publishers.

Essential Maths and Stats by David Barton and David Cox, cover design by Cameron Gibb

Essential Maths and Stats by David Barton and David Cox; cover design by Cameron Gibb

Educational books tend to be patronized by trade publishing, and that was evident in comments tonight too, but they are true tests of a designer’s skill. Designers are constrained by budget, the curriculum, the requirement for consistency, unforgiving deadlines, and sometimes challenging content (Essential Maths and Stats. Hmm).  The user experience is vital, not just a ‘nice to have’.

Textbooks are what I call ‘tipping point’ books. They sit at that edge between the old ‘aesthetics’ of handcrafted book design (yes, including in Adobe InDesign) and the structure required of content management and true digital workflows. Trade publishing could learn a lot from educational publishing.

But I digress.  The absence of any digital presence, even in the speeches, was both surprising and it seems, to be expected.

I long for the day when local Book Design Awards include true digital books, not just ebooks, or ‘enhanced’ ebooks, or god forbid, fixed layout ebooks, but books that start with flow and ebb, that use the liquidity that digital provides.

Light, space, movement. What could skillful designers do with that?

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