Report design — case study

Designing the report “Social sciences and humanities in Poland” was an exciting, but also demanding and complex task. Taking it as an example, I would like to reveal the ins and outs of my publication design process.

Report desing - case study - book cover

Design task

The project “Humanities have a future” was carried out by the Jesuit University Ignatianum in Krakow as a part of the DIALOG programme, held by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. It was a multi-channel media campaign promoting social sciences and humanities, or SSH (NSH in Polish), as a source of social creativity and innovation. The last element of the project was a report on the condition of SSH and its promotion model. I was responsible for shaping the visual form of the report, creatively responding to the objectives of the project.

Assumptions

The introductory phase was the analysis of the report’s structure and key message, which was to become the guiding principle for the project’s aesthetics. The message turned out to be the fight against the harmful stereotypes accumulated around SSH, discouraging young people from pursuing their humanistic passions. Modern humanism does not have to be impractical and detached from reality. On the contrary, it is increasingly focused on cooperation with business and new technologies. It can be described as an attitude of critical openness to the ever-faster-changing world. Therefore, I decided that the graphic form of the report should boldly break the well-established conventions of nobleness and superficial traditionalism, often found in scientific publications, and boldly draw stylistic inspiration from modernity and technology.

The second type of analysis, carried out in parallel with the semantic inquiry, was the structural analysis. A good understanding of the content structure is necessary for an effective typographic design. In this case, it was definitely the key stage of the work, because the report consisted of two completely distinct parts, edited by two different teams. It was imperative to design a structure that would accommodate both the first, more narrative part, and the second one, originally conceived as a slideshow presentation.

The selection of materials and printing techniques is typically closely related to the publication’s budget and the client’s priorities. In the case of this project, the client was primarily interested in using color in the book block. The small circulation of the publication, in turn, meant that digital printing was the most economical option. The consequence of such circumstances was the use of satin paper in the book block. This paper, with its smooth, non-shiny surface, allows for precise rendering of details and vibrant colors. It is also highly durable, making it well-suited for textbook-like publications.

Typographic design

Work on a typographic design can be divided into two stages. The first one is a translation of the above conclusions into macrotypographic means so that the formal choices contribute to the best possible implementation of the publication’s objectives. The second stage is reaching the optimal readability of the text by selecting appropriate microtypographic means. At the heart of a macrotypographic puzzle usually lies the format of the publication. Looking for the right proportions, I considered the need to display and clearly present a large number of tables and graphs, on the one hand, and a desire to smuggle a reference to the ancient and mathematical sources of humanities on the other. Hence, I mainly considered wide format proportions and decided to base the construction on the regular pentagon, peculiar qualities of which sparked the curiosity of classical Greek philosophers.

Site proportions: rotated pentagon, 1: 1.051 (~ 9: 9.5)

Large degree of structural differentiation of the report’s content (various charts, tables and diagrams, as well as their advantage over the main text) favored the use of wide margins and thus a vast amount of white space. It is worth noting that with the appropriate placement of the 5:6,5 ratio column in a format based on a rotated pentagon, the resulting margins may have a 1:2:3 ratio, resulting in a very harmonious construction.

Column proportions: 1:1.3 (~ 5: 6.5)
Margins ratio 1:2:3

Typeface, or typefaces, used in the publication are one of the main factors determining its visual character. Bearing in mind the above-described assumptions, the microtypographic issues (which will be discussed later) I decided to use Work Sans — a contemporary interpretation of crude grotesques designed in the late nineteenth century. This way, I wanted to create an unambiguous visual reference to early modernity. Because Work Sans does not have italics or a slanted version, I decided to solve this problem just like it was done in old days and combine the main font with italics belonging to another font family, in this case PT Sans Italic.

Having resolved all the macrotypographic issues, I could get on with the typographic detail, that is, content organization at its most basic level: choosing the right leading and size of body text, running headers, footnotes, and headings.

Two minutes of reading left

Style of diagrams

Another issue, particularly important for this publication, was the development of a distinctive, consistent, legible and visually attractive form of diagrams. To give the publication a slightly technical yet ambiguous expression, I combined geometric inspirations with fractal forms, and industrial information boards.

Cover

When making these kinds of decisions, I often take into consideration how the book design is going to correspond with the idea for the cover. I usually strive to preserve some kind of unobvious relationship between what’s inside and outside. This time I proposed two options. The first one was an illustration depicting a humanist’s dream workplace filled with 3D charts and objects forming a network of humanistic references. The second one was an extension of book’s typographic design, a composition of three letters N, S, and H (Polish abbreviation for social sciences and humanities), based on negative space. The client strongly preferred the minimalist, typographic approach as the illustration concept seemed too literal for them.

Typesetting

Having solved all the design problems, I could start the typesetting. At this stage, I pay special attention to microtypographic issues affecting the readability of the text. I try to use all the available methods to obtain a uniform gray column and make the lecture as pleasant and smooth as possible.

Summary

I am very happy that you lasted to this place. If you are curious about the rejected illustrative cover or you feel like giving me some feedback, please write to xd@dziadkowiec.design, I will be happy to know your opinion and discuss my design choices.

Client:
Jesuit University Ignatianum

Year:
2018

Range of work:
Art direction
Report design
Typesetting
Prepress

Project Manager:
Marcin K. Zwierżdżyński

...
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