Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Behind the Books: Trends in Nonfiction Design

The design of nonfiction books has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. Of course, fiction design has changed too, but not quite as dramatically (with the notable exception of graphic novels).

When I entered the publishing industry in the early 1990s, books were pasted up. What does that mean?

Exactly what it sounds like. Get out your scissors and rubber cement and go to town. This process was both tedious and time consuming and no one wanted to make changes to the layout unless it was absolutely necessary.

Forget the idea of “playing” with design. It just wasn’t an option. Photos were few and far between and they were more decorative than anything else. They certainly weren't teaching tools that add to the power of the overall presentation.But as computer technology advanced, desktop publishing software came on the scene. And that changed everything. The software was introduced in 1987 and it really caught on around 1992. Most publishers had fully transitioned by 1996.

At the same time, DK Publishing came up with a startling new format, which they exploited in their huge and hugely successful Eyewitness Books series. These titles were first distributed in the U.S. in 1991. And by the end of the 1990s, they had revolutionized children’s nonfiction.
Now designers and art directors really began to have fun. Format and design and art choices were limited only by their imaginations.

Next week, we’ll look at examples of books that make great use of design and art to delight as well as inform. Sometimes they even invite young readers to participate.


  1. Hi Melissa - I attended the Encore 2010 Workshop at Rhode Island College. I wanted to say that I really enjoyed your discussion and your choice of words to describe things in a voice children could understand and relate to.

  2. Thanks, Maeve. I talk about many of the same ideas each week on this blog. So check back from time to time.