I had some extra time on my hands yesterday afternoon, thanks to Hurricane Irene. A co-worker and I kicked around Colonial Williamsburg, which, while without power, was able to function much the same. We were given a lengthy demonstration in the book bindery. It took me back a few years.
During my senior year in the Graphic Design program at WVU, I took a one-semester course on letterpress and bookbinding. It wasn’t a required class—I took it because I wanted to learn the physical craft that was so important in the history of design. It gave me a better appreciation for the attention to detail that was required and a better understanding of the digital equivalents that we control now through software. The concepts of kerning and leading, for example, became clearer. I don’t remember today how to assemble folios with a herringbone stitch, but I do have a relatively clear memory of the process we went through to create the cover out of cardboard, linen, marbled paper, and glue. I remember well the difficulty of getting the cover sized correctly. It took a lot of time and patience. It took care. The result was something beautiful that one could be proud of.
Too often, designers find themselves in situations where they can’t invest a lot of time. They’re asked to be more efficient, or to do lower-quality work. They’re told that it doesn’t have to be great, just good enough. It’s drive-thru design.
How much better would software be if we approached it more as the book binder? Then again, who would pay for it?