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

July 18th, 2013 § 2 comments

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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  • Marie Low

    Enjoyed reading your PANZ awards blog Anna. I had similar sentiments in regards to some of the comments made on the night.
    I went to the workshop the day after, when they go over the reasons why they chose the winners and what they liked and didn’t like. Amongst some of the comments said there was mention that many of the educational books often had too much material on the page. I probably should’ve spoken up (like last year) in regards to this comment to explain that we always have very tight page extents that we have to stick to (for budgeting reasons and also because the size of a textbook does put off students and lecturers from purchasing and using), no luxury of sexy white space, images have to be close to the related text and large enough to show detail as it relates to specific activity text questions. Body text is often cross referenced to margin text hence it has to be aligned. Tables and bank statements can’t be broken which often influences design and layout with as little wasted pages as possible, image budgets are exceedingly tight, we hardly ever have the luxury of a photo shoot budget which might allow us to take a beautiful cover photo or internals pics. Our time to create the design a book is generally 1-2 weeks, and often we have to supply text to the typesetters in batches so it meets our deadline. We don’t have time to work over and reset out each spread in massive detail as this could mean re-paging of the whole book which we can’t afford as well as the lack of time. We also never have the luxury of getting page proofs or cover proofs to check as this also costs money and time.

    Essentials of Maths which won the top educational design award, had a nice open design (which the judge commented on). This text was a very hefty book and everyone in house was quite concerned about it’s size for students carry around. Sales and Marketing were very concerned on whether this book would be bought or adopted by tertiary institutes.

    Hopefully, this is a more detailed insight into the world of educational book design.

    • Hi Marie, thanks for your comprehensive
      comment and contribution. It also shows just how complex the mark-up is, and needs to be. Designers and editors of textbooks know all about the importance of Styles!

      I know too that local education publishing companies work to budgets that would astound the larger companies overseas and yet the quality is often (even ‘usually’) of a similar standard.

      As to the internal design of Essential Maths and Stats, I saw some pages on the website and I too loved the use of white space (hopefully in future years, the PANZ Book Design Awards will include internal designs in the slides they show at the ceremony), and so it is interesting to hear of the concerns about the extent in that context. Another case for digital …

      It is sure to be an excellent book, as David Barton is one of the most professional authors I know, and we know the production too will be very good.

      Thanks again for your comments.

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