I recently had the opportunity to be one of the judges for the New Mexico Book Association's 2017 Southwest Book Design and Production Competition. Unlike most book contests which evaluate the quality of content, this one is solely focused on the quality of design: the cover art as well as the interior layout and production materials. I'm fairly new to the New Mexico Book Association, so they don't really know me or my company. But I passed around some of the World Weaver Press books at one of their luncheon meetings, and I guess the board members thought they looked pretty well designed.
But here's my confession: I'm a graphic design school dropout. It's true—I took a year of graphic design classes many moons ago, but never finished the program. When I took over WWP and suddenly found myself with the fate of many books' covers and layouts in my hands, I dug out those old textbooks, resurrected those old skills. I discovered that Photoshop was not all that different from the QuarkXPress my classes had used, and that I'm perfectly happy sorting through a thousand different fonts and color tones to find just the right match. I haven't always gotten things quite right, but with each book it gets a little easier, a little more intuitive.
It was a whole lot of fun to hang out with other people who understand book design, and boy, did they. We had conversations like:
"The kerning is off, and it would be better if the chapters started on the recto."
"Yes, but the crimp binding is nice, and Helvetica Thin was a good typeface choice."
"Does it bother you that the lead paragraphs are indented?"
"Not as much as this heavy drop-shadow bothers me."
"It's great paper quality, though."
"True. And the gloss finish really makes those photographs stand out."
That's a dramatic re-enactment, of course, and doesn't reflect any one particular book we looked at. But the two other judges and I definitely did geek out over typography. We criticized, we praised, and we came to a unanimous decision about which book would be the winner for each category.
A couple of weeks later, the NMBA convened at a beautiful Santa Fe home to present the awards to the winners. Sometimes the author was there to accept, but more often it was the publisher or designer. As one of the judges, I helped present the awards, so I could only snap a few pictures, above.
The full list of winners is here. A few of the standouts are listed below.