What is Advanced Book Design?

This short article is based on a portion of a presentation I gave for the 2008 PMA University in Los Angeles

Beyond the covers of many cool looking books, there’s more going on than beautifully typeset pages. At least this is true for that category of books that fit into what I think of as advanced book design.

To help explain what this concept really means, I have some diagrams. You may be thinking —”Whoa!, I want to see some interesting book designs, not diagrams illustrating concepts.” But hang on, these are pretty interesting concepts, especially if you are a small publisher or self-publishing author wondering how far you can take your book idea.

Graphic chart illustrating the basic conponents of Advanced Book Design

Advanced book design is achieved by bringing together two things:

  1. Your brand mission and vision (i.e., the mission and vision about yourself as a author or publisher that exists or you want to exist in the mind of consumers), especially it’s visual identity, and
  2. Quality book design, meaning design that adds value that the book would not otherwise have—such as design features that give the book increased functionality, specific benefits, and create a desireable user experience, and an overall image that increases user identification (so that, in effect, the consumer believes “this book is so me!). To better understand the idea of quality book design, see Figure 2.

Graphic diagram illustration Quality Book Design

Quality book design involves a wide range of things that can be done to make a book better and more appealing — like clear navigation graphics, visual information categorization, a fashion that appeals to the target market, etc. — but ultimately advanced book design goes further, but marrying these qualities with the author and/or publisher existing or planned brand identity. It can, in fact, be a tool for developing a publisher’s brand identity and brand value. In time, such design can translate into well-known measurable benefits:

• Good design adds higher perceived value to brand identity.
• Stronger brand identity guides purchase decisions.
• Stronger brand identity commands a price-premium.
• A perception of quality is created by a price premium.
• Perceived quality increases customer usage.
• Strong brands give immediate credibility to new product introductions.
• Design quality can be a point of differentiation.

These brand objectives can inform the book project in the developmental planning stage, the formulation of design briefs, and aid evaluation of market testing. The designer engaged in advanced book design does more that simply make the author’s stack of pages ready to look like a bound book. The bar is set much higher. Ultimately, advanced book design takes the end user of the book as close as possible to the station of complete identification. That, at least, is the holy grail of advanced book design. The final design communicates not merely what features the book has, what benefits it offers, or how you will feel, but who you are—the central goal of brand identity itself.

If you have a book idea that is successful, you know that, as with all products, at some point this success will likely end. To prevent or delay this inevitability, you’ll need an advanced book design strategy. Most every product has a product life cycle. First you plan and create the product, during which time you may also introduce it, Second, you’ll take it into the growth stage, during which time competitors will emerge. The product then reaches maturity—the stage when it faces competition, market saturation, commoditization, and possibly begins to go out of fashion as well. See Figure 3.

Graphic illustrating role between book design and product life cycle

To counter these trends, you can use design to

• Repackage the book’s content to make it more visually appealing and up to date.
• Take the book’s content into new forms (diversification)
• Reconfigure the product layers
• Re-brand it
• Design it for new markets
• Co-brand it with different products

Each of these tactics involves design that can be part of a long-term advanced design strategy.

Practical application

On a number of occasions self-publishing authors have come to me with large tomes and ask me about design ideas. Often very good material, but in a few cases, these huge books would make a better series than a single publication. This is something that needs to start with developmental editing. The author started out with the assumption that everything needed to be told in one book, and so, for perhaps one purchase fee, they would give a life’s work away in a form too cumbersome to attract buyers or readers.

A more effective alternative may, in fact, be two, three, or more books generated from the same material. The more technical it is, the more it will need to be developed and shaped into a digestible presentation. It may, for example, require developmental editing to parse out the contents of each chapter into special design elements, such as chapter objections, case studying, key terms and definitions, summaries, etc.


Graphic illustrating product management