The New Big Book of Layouts

**** Oct292010

I had to buy this book, so I thought I might as well post a review of it here. The New Big Book of Layouts is a collection of layouts from billboards to cards, and from print catalogs to websites.

High quality work, and good variety

This book is nicely laid out and edited, containing generally high quality design examples from all over the world. It’s heartening to know that good design is happening (and presumably being sought after and paid for) in all kinds places you’ve never heard of like Ljubljana, Solvenia, and Deerfield Beach, Florida. It’s also nice to see cases where something that could have been quite mundane or even ugly was turned into a beautiful object, such as the work by Foundry for a company called “ATB Investor Services” on page 149. (Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have carried the aesthetic over to their website).

Too little context

Though obviously space is limited in such a book, I think some of these works suffer from lack of context. There are several “In-Depth Looks” throughout the book that describe projects in more detail — from the client’s needs to the design process — but the large majority of the pieces list only the design company and location, the individuals involved, and the client. I would prefer to see more accompanying information even if it means sacrificing quantity.

Print fares better than the web

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the print examples in the book appear much more striking than the websites. This is due to a number of factors:

  • You can’t take a sexy photograph of a website the way you can an invitation, for example. You know the ones: all shallow depth-of-field and delicate shadows.
  • The designs are inconsistently presented — some with drop shadows behind the images, some not; some with browser chrome visible, some not; and some, quite oddly, superimposed on a desktop monitor but full-screen, with no chrome.
  • Part of a web design is its function. You can’t show a nice hover effect, or a slideshow, or the helpful hints on a contact form on a printed page.

Most importantly though, the quality is just not as high as the print design sections. I see nothing particularly special about the American Hiking Society website, for example. It seems to get the job done, and I’m sure it presents a lot of useful information, but the design is utilitarian at best (cramped, with a few too many shades of green).

It probably doesn’t occur to most web designers to submit their work to a print publication, when there are so many online showcases. Therefore, it’s up to the publishers to seek out the best web work.

Do we need a book?

The question is, do we need this type of book at all? It is lovely to have a physical thing to thumb through and read and gaze at. And of course, it is extremely gratifying to see one’s own work in a book. But, wouldn’t it be sweet to be able to search these 750-some works by color, design company, country, language, or any tag imaginable? And then throw in all the examples from the first volume and every volume to come? You can only do that on the web.

If a publisher can figure out a way to make money from such a website, and give it the same caché as a printed volume, that should be the future.

Check it out

Can you spot the Nora Brown designs?

Respond to this review

Author(s)Erin Mays, Katie Jain, Joel Anderson
PublisherCollins Design

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