Here’s how it worked. I delivered a manuscript to the folks at Ooligan Press. They delivered a book to you. One of the key people in that metamorphosis was Brandon Freels, the interior designer for Blue Thread.
Now that the book is published, I asked Brandon to talk about his experience. Listen up!
What was entailed in designing the interior of Blue Thread? What was the most difficult part? The most enjoyable?
Designing the interior really means making choices. It’s about picking margins, fonts, sizes, and just about everything that’s inside the book, and hoping they all gel. Books that have such a variety of formatting – newspaper quotes, bible quotes, letters, signs – can often provide a challenge for designers. That was really the most difficult part of working on Blue Thread, getting all the pieces to work together and still maintaining certain design standards, like avoiding widows and orphans. It was a test, but I feel I learned a lot.
The most enjoyable part of designing the book was making a design decision and having it work. As you know, Ruth, the Advanced Reader Copy of Blue Thread has margins and headers I wasn’t comfortable with. The header was really too masculine, and I knew it didn’t fit the content of the book. Fixing the header and getting it right was really the best part of designing the whole book. It made everything work, and when I finally saw the book in print I was like, “Whoa!” I was so happy!
What advice would you give to anyone interested in book design?
First, you have to listen to people. When I got assigned Blue Thread I had never really looked at a YA book. I got a lot of good advice from my classmates in the Design department who knew more about the genre. It also helped to get feedback from you, Ruth, while going through the process. I don’t think the book would look as good as I feel it does if it wasn’t for the feedback I received.
I also think it’s important to know one’s place. Beatrice Warde had this idea that the design of a text should be invisible and not distract from the text. I agree with this. I’m against adding unnecessary flare to a design. I think that only feeds the designer’s ego, and doesn’t really help the readability of the book. And besides, what looks cool and creative today can easily look tacky tomorrow.
Why did you join Ooligan Press?
When I was in high school back in the early 90s I learned how to use PageMaker in my journalism and yearbook classes, but after graduation I wasn’t really sure how to pursue an education in that field. I went to college and studied Art History, but on the side I was really interested in small press publishing and zines. I often did volunteer work designing chapbooks for Kevin Sampsell’s Future Tense Books, and was involved with local writers and misfits. I was a very self-taught designer, and I’m kind of embarrassed when I look back on those chapbooks—lots of mistakes.
At some point I could no longer volunteer at Future Tense, and Kevin started getting interns from Ooligan to do the work I had previously done. This was my first knowledge of Portland State’s publishing program. After years of working awful jobs I was overqualified for, I finally started thinking about a career doing something I loved. I thought about getting a Masters in Art History, or about studying Graphic Design. I even thought about Film Studies. But Ooligan looked like the most promising program when it came to starting a career, and book design was something I already knew I enjoyed.
Assuming you have no other constraints besides having to earn your keep, where and what would your first job be after Ooligan? Why?
Oh man. I would love to design books for Semiotext(e), Last Gasp, MIT Press, Autonomedia, Verso, City Lights. Publishers like that. I tend to read a lot of subversive and intellectual books, a lot of translations. I would love to be a part of producing those books. Also, having grown up in Milwaukie, Oregon, I wouldn’t mind working for Dark Horse. On the other hand, bigger places like Grove Press, Knopf, or Harper Perennial, have their appeal as well. I don’t know. There are so many places!
Thanks, Brandon. Keep in touch.