Graphic Design and Publishing

Orginally posted at

by Kevin Barrett Kane


My name is Kevin Barrett Kane and I am the new Director of Production and Graphic Design at FG Press. Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of blog posts about design and how it relates to the publication process.

Whether you are visiting this page as an author, a designer, or just out of interest, it is important to remember that design forms a critical backbone to a contemporary human society; the form and function of design are what coordinates information and aesthetics with the human experience. The somewhat unfortunate reality of this experience is this: that homo-sapiens are most adept (or at least, most in-tune) with the sensory function of vision. What most contemporary design offers us is the exploitation of trending images, forms, and styles that is mimetic of our seemingly communal aesthetic tendencies in relation to sight. Over the next few posts, I will attempt to outline the form and function of two-dimensional design and seek to challenge the aforementioned “tendencies” that are foundational to contemporary design.

Here at FG Press, we began with a model based on inquiry by asking ourselves: “Would it be possible to reevaluate an antiquated publishing model, and if so, how would we reexamine a system that is already hundreds of years traveled down a flawed road?” As a designer, I am similarly curious. To me, design is about a dedication to precision and context, and should not rely on trends or tropes. Trends and tropes are perpetuated by the public, and so ultimately, a reevaluation of design requires an adaption in the viewer, just as a change in publishing requires an adaption in the reader. Such an adaption has requisites in the viewer that are as follows:

- the viewer should have a basic understanding of the principles of design: among others, these are Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity (CRAP, for short). I will delve into these later.

- the viewer should always be critical, especially of designers or firms with a reputation. No good ever came from the words “I like.”

- the viewer should always consider himself/herself a designer rather than a viewer. Every time you send an email in a certain font, pick out a greeting card for your significant other, rearrange your living room, organize your sock drawer, or put a book on the shelf, you are a designer. There is little difference between those of us who make a profession out of the organization of information and those of you who do it with most routines in your daily life.

But before I dive into more of the formalities of design and why you should get excited about them, I’ll tell you a little more about myself, and how I became interested in graphic design. Though I never had much of an extrinsic interest in the study of design and, indeed, many of my pursuits were far out-of-line with the common education of a graphic designer, there are many lessons I can examine retrospectively from these various stages of my life that led me to an interest in my current professional career.

My interest in graphic design really began as an obsession over functionality. Racing as a professional cyclist from 2008 until mid-2012, I recognized that functionality is most obvious when there is a lack of it. The most elegant of functional design depends upon a sort of soundlessness, both literally and figuratively. What many designers have called “simplicity” is basically the nature of design when it is most unnoticeable—that is, when a design aligns itself seamlessly with its function. Of course, much of design is about pushing against those boundaries of what is purely functional and what is purely aesthetic, but in the world of cycling and in any sport that relies on a mechanical system, the most important aspects of a design can be likened to the phrase “children should be seen and not heard.”

In my undergrad, I studied a variety of different topics that I later found to be crucial to my work as designer. As an English major emphasizing in poetry and a Studio Art major emphasizing in printmaking, I realized that linguistic communication is most engaging when it is simplified in both form and content. In this modern technological world we live in, there is neither the time nor space for wordiness or frivolous information. Despite what art or poetry may do in excess as a method of provocation or disruption, the function (in other words, the concept) of a work should be succinct.

It was while studying printmaking that I really began to hone my skills as a designer. The way I like to describe printmaking is “everything you can do with the Adobe Creative Suite, just by hand.” In a Fine Art practice that prides itself in the production of perfect editions, I learned potentially the most valuable lesson about design:




There is no excuse for “close enough” with today’s design technologies. As a designer, it is imperative to remember that all the amazing capabilities you enjoy through the programs used for design were once all done with pinpoint precision by hand. Once, letter glyphs were carved out of lead and typeset into a printing chase. What now takes only a few seconds—to layout and print a page of text—once took a printing apprentice hours to complete, using handmade materials that took hundreds of years to perfect. With a history of this kind in mind, I do not believe the idea of “perfection” in regards to the principles of design to be an unattainable quality, especially when working with tools as powerful as Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. When there are ways to change the kerning of your type to a tenth of a point, there is not excuse for the “close enough” approach. We’re not using Microsoft Word here. Want some proof that designers actually care about perfection? Check out this article about the recent changes made to the Google logo.

My current practices as a designer are founded on my past education and current experiences in the worlds of art and poetry. When I sit down to design a logo or typeset a book, I always start with a drafting pencil and a piece of paper. No matter how powerful the programs, I am of the belief that no technology will ever replace the precision and gracefulness of drawing. In my undergrad, when I wanted to learn more about type, I sat down at my light table and traced letterforms. To this day, I can think of no better practice for the aspiring designer than to trace, emulate, and reform the canonized glyphs of past masters. From Claude Garamond to Tobias Frere-Jones, it is important as a designer to not only know your history, but to make an honest attempt to understand it. Understanding design is not only about form and function, however. The history of design has a co-dependent relationship with critical theory from the academia of Fine Art, Art History, Literary Theory, Language Philosophy, and Linguistics. As an aspiring designer, it is important to read more than you design. A great place to begin your research is online, but a comprehensive history of graphic design can be found in most library’s art/art history sections. I highly recommend the book Thinking with Typeby Ellen Lupton. It is a sort of Encyclopedia of knowledge about how language functions in the typographical form.

Over the next couple weeks, I will be discussing in detail some of the guidelines and methods I follow when designing. In my next post, I will overview the principles of design, CRAP (Contrast, Repitition, Alignment, and Proximity), in order to provide a framework from which to critique and develop graphic design.