The Accessibility, Hierarchy, and Organisation of a Book
The design process behind the book, The Power of Digital Policy by Kristina Podnar
For the vast majority of companies and brands, digital policies have become an increasingly important issue — particularly following the introduction of the long-dreaded GDPR regulation in Europe. Panic has also been spread by news reports of critical data breaches committed by high-profile companies including Facebook and Linkedin.
Kristina Podnar is a successful digital consultant, who completed her first book, The Power of Digital Policy, in 2018.
She has been involved in digital policy for many years, working as a consultant for diverse companies and organisations around the world. It seemed to her that everybody was searching for answers about digital policy and best practices.
From this, Kristina sensed that the time was right to release a book that could share her vast knowledge and experience with the world.
After some initial email exchanges, Kristina and I organised our first video meeting. During our call, she immediately expressed her appreciation for the design of Smashing Book 6 (to my delight, she owns a copy — and now there she was, enthusiastically waving it in front of me!)
However, Kristina also confessed her hesitation over contacting me about the design of her very first book, because she felt the subject would be quite “boring” for a designer.
I was happy to explain my point of view: that designers and their skills can be very well used on subjects that are difficult to digest, helping to turn them into easily-accessible pieces of information. Digital policy could perhaps be considered one of those subjects!
So from the very beginning, I was glad to learn that Kristina was looking for a designer who could make her book easy and enjoyable to read.
I started by being extremely honest about my level of knowledge about digital policy.
At that point, my exposure to the subject was limited to the GDPR regulation, as I had been forced to add compliant information to my online shop, The Pattern Tales.
But I found Kristina so passionate about her work, and about the digital policy itself, that I didn’t hesitate to ask if she could try explaining digital policy as though she was speaking to a nine year-old!
Kristina immediately gave a simple example, of her son playing in their backyard. She had warned him not to go outside the fence, and found that by imposing this rule, she had created an opportunity for her son to become very creative with whatever he had in his reach, inside the specific limits she had set for him.
I truly loved that metaphor, and I perfectly understood her point.
I immediately began to think how the story about Kristina’s son playing in their backyard could be applied to the book’s visual language.
Inspiration came unexpectedly, from the classic children’s adventure story The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Some of the themes included in The Secret Garden are very close to the subjects Kristina and I discussed during our first meeting:
From these observations, I imagined The Power of Digital Policy as the key to uncovering corporate opportunities to get digital policy right.
The book is every company’s entry point to this mysterious, hard-to-grasp world, and it provides the reader with a valuable and comprehensive map (its processes and resources).
The colour choice was another very important part of the design process.
I challenged myself to use just three colours to avoid the book appearing too playful, losing its strength and credibility in the process.
My choice fell upon two strong colours:
Finally, to balance these two bold colours I added a third, turquoise, to represent the creative side of this austere world.
Based on my initial analysis, I then developed the book’s cover as a wild and unusual garden.
Using the cover as a guide, I developed a series of illustrations for the internal pages, which would represent specific ideas taken from each chapter.
This process can be compared to creating a story-within-a-story, in which specific elements, such as the keyhole and key, were repeated inside the book to create symbols:
I also asked Kristina to indicate which concepts she wanted to represent as infographics, so these could be easy to understand and digest for the reader.
We finished with five different illustrations, one for each chapter, to be used not only in making the book more explanatory, but also to break the monotony of the written pages.
Once the visual language was in place, I started to think about the way the book would be read and referenced by the reader.
Kristina had always referred to her book as a “practical guide”, so it was important for the reader to clearly see how they would navigate it, and find it personally useful — no matter their level of familiarity with digital policy.
I found that I could happily apply my knowledge and expertise in user experience for the web, to a printed product.
The resulting organisation of the book is very neat, but it is not linear!
In fact, there are chapters which are open to everyone, chapters related to the reader’s level of knowledge (beginner, intermediate and expert), and then there are appendices, intended to help the reader dive deep into specific subjects.
I designed a map of the book, to illustrate how the chapters relate to one-another. I then transformed the same sketch into an eye-catching graphic that would be placed at the very beginning of the book, to help the reader understand the big picture even before starting their journey.
While organising the map content, I also began to organise the hierarchy of the single chapters. Typically, this comprised a cover, a content preview, the content itself, and a chapter summary.
Once all the connections between chapters and pages were clearly defined, it was very easy to move into the book’s layout design, in what I refer to as its micro-hierarchy: titles, subtitles, paragraphs, footnotes and callouts.
At this point, I started researching screen-friendly typefaces that would also look graceful in print. In fact, my scope was also to design the epub3 version of the book!
For the headings and footnotes, I opted for very bold and modern typography called Niveau Grotesk, a geometric sans serif typeface influenced by classical nineteenth-century faces, designed by Hannes von Döhren.
I loved the clean, straight construction of the Niveau Grotesk letters, which make the font very legible in smaller sizes and long text, both in print and on screen.
For the paragraph and call-outs, I must confess that I played it ‘safe’ by using a serif typeface that was initially designed for the screen, Merriweather, by Eben Sorkin.
I truly like this medium contrast, semi-condensed typeface, because on many occasions it has proved to be very elegant and gracious when printed. It is also easy to read on screens, thanks to its big x-height, plus large bowls and counters.
After four months of intense work, the book was successfully launched in March 2019.
Kristina and I collaborated on every aspect of the book, and her knowledge was crucial in turning this title into a masterpiece.
When we started, we knew that we were going to do something groundbreaking — and we did. While other books about digital policy exist, I can honestly say that I do not think any of them are as engaging and informative as the one Kristina and I designed together.
By reading The Power of Digital Policy, I hope the reader will be able to experience an inspirational process of transformation and empowerment, one that will truly benefit their company.
The Accessibility, Hierarchy, and Organisation of a Book
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