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Stefan Sagmeister on Designing the Worldchanging Book
Alex Steffen, 17 Jan 07

One of the things I most enjoyed about editing Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century was working with designer Stefan Sagmeister. Stefan has a really wonderful ability to both bring strongly-felt design vision to a project and yet remain humble and playful enough to be a terrific person with whom to collaborate.

To get a sense of the kind of mind the man possesses, check out this interview exploring the thinking behind his design for Worldchanging:

There is one kind of design-y conceit in there that is probably for "the converted." Which is a trick we used, reversed, last year and we used different this year. When you leave this book lying around, the sun will imprint by changing the color of the book cover. This is actually newsprint.

Exactly, this is like the reverse of the billboard. The billboard in Lisbon, goes dark and the image fades away in the sun. Here, the sun will actually leave its imprints.

What you have here, is a first edition. And...see how the slip case is actually a millimeter too wide. This will probably produce a very diffuse sun image. The production office already changed it, so we'll get the perfect slipcase for the second run and it will be tighter.

And it works quite fast. You let this lie around for a week, and you'll have the imprint in your cover. This is not a selling point of the book obviously. This is something that the "intiated, converted, and really interested" will find out when they own the book. ...

RJH Do you have a favorite project in the book, something that you discovered in the design process?

SS It would be difficult to say. I don't think that I should pick one.

I think that the content is very very worthwhile, in keeping with one of my favorite quotes is from Kathy McCoy. I've quoted her many times, and she says that "design can never rise above its content." In this case, it was very difficult to design a design that would rise to its content.

It's of course very nice that Stefan speaks so highly of the contents of the book, but I quote him here not for the cheap ego-boost but because, more than any other designer I've ever worked with, Stefan showed profound respect for our work as editors and writers, emphasizing access to the ideas and displaying his talent through a number of small, sometimes even subtle, innovative choices. That's rare, and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to work with him.

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I apologize in advance for deviating a bit from the topic of this article, but I am figuring many book fans may choose to read it, and I have a small act of green activism to propose:

You know how you get the opportunity to "Rate your seller" on Amazon and other book sites after you have purchased a used book? I recommend rating them on how green the shipping package was. If they sent you a book wrapped in bubble wrap plus a secondary plastic sheath, all inside of a non-recyclable envelope--- give them a "1"!! Even if the book was clean and on-time.

Let's start making greenness a requirement for a high Amazon rating.

Posted by: Kim on 18 Jan 07

I love the idea of the sun revealing a visual reward as time goes by…

I have a few suggestions for the second edition that I hope you will consider because it can help the use experience of the book rise to the level of the design and its content.

-The tighter slip case will reveal a sharper image, but it will also cause the corner seams to wear and tear more rapidly as you will need more precision to get it in and out (mine are tearing already). A solution may be to recess the short sides a bit…

-The other issue has to do with the overall size and weight of the book. It’s pretty uncomfortable to read in bed or to hold open even on a table. Did you ever consider breaking up the sections into separate thinner books that will all fit into the slip cover? This would make it much more physically comfortable and physiologically approachable and also easier to take on trips. It would also open the great possibility of lending different sections of the book to different people and therefore become even more useful.

I feel that great design communicates with meaning and emotion through a compelling yet appropriate usage experience.

Posted by: Stiven (sustainableday) on 18 Jan 07

My compliments on the book - designwise as well as contentwise.
But there is one thing that should have been a bit better thought over and that is the width of the gutter between the pages. The margins are a bit too small to read the book easily - you have to really force it open to be able to read the end of the lines on the left pages (and to a lesser degree the beginning of the lines on the right pages).
For someone with so much experience in design you would expect a bit more attention to useability instead of nice tricks.

Posted by: Arjan van Woensel on 18 Jan 07

the aforementioned rigidity of binding has since been corrected. I haven't recieved my book via Amazon yet but anxiously await... if it's from Stefan, it's going to be a treasure. He's a swell guy and great inspiration. The fact that you chose him to collaborate with speak volumes.

Posted by: felix sockwell on 18 Jan 07



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