A Booklet as a Time Capsule

Since I was in middle school, I have enjoyed designing booklets for different purposes. Design of a booklet (small book – A5 or similar size) involves collating all the graphics and texts, laying them out on pages, selecting stocks and materials, printing them out and binding pages – each design decision you make reflects how you wish a reader to feel. It is like a time capsule: something you can look back on years later and ponder what you were thinking and enjoying at that moment in time.

Different purposes, different approaches, different considerations

One of the earliest printed booklets I made was through Blurb. When I was in year 7, I found out about the service, and I decided to put together a square booklet using photos from the year (2011, the first year of overseas study). Since then, I had made booklets in the same square format until 2016, when I was in year 12. Each booklet captures my thoughts and creative works of that year, and flicking them through now makes me feel the same way as when I’m looking through family albums. I began it by using Blurb BookSmart, then shifted to Adobe Indesign. Naturally, I became comfortable designing on it, but due to the nature of the service, I had a little idea of how printing, binding and selecting stocks can reflect my design intent (especially in the early years – the cheapest, the best!).

In year 10, I made recipe booklets as part of the Year 10 Personal Project, focusing on the cultural and traditional understanding of Japanese cuisine. I made three copies and bound them using three different binding methods: perfect binding, saddle stitch and side wire binding. It was the first time being more conscious of the layouts, colours, typefaces, printing and binding. Especially, it taught me that different binding methods require appropriate file setups (e.g. need to consider variations of page widths for saddle stitch). This project ignited my interest in the art of bookbinding.

During my undergraduate study, I produced a number of A5 booklets documenting design exploration and experiments. It became a record of the design process that was as important to me as the final outcomes themselves. Compared to an A4 portfolio, the A5 booklet better helps me trace my thinking process and thus reflect on the project, in smaller steps of design decisions; I’d ask myself, what was the pivotal moment in the design process? How did going back to hand drawing/ moving onto digital modelling help me at that particular point? Could I have done more physical models? Was there a sequence of methods that worked effectively and smoothly?

For my recent booklet design, I aimed to design every aspect of it, starting with properly setting up an InDesign file according to the printer’s specifications (3mm bleed, 3mm offset for registration marks). It involved:

  • Selecting separate typefaces for English / Japanese texts
  • Designing page number symbols (series of dots)
  • Setting and applying master layouts for images and text pages
  • Setting up letterpress & blind letterpress pdf file
  • Selecting pantone colour for letterpress (dark blue / indigo)
  • Checking typeface point sizes and locations (ensuring the minimum thickness)
  • Selecting bookbinding thread
  • Selecting paper stock for internal pages, endpaper and covers
  • Choosing binding method

I produced this booklet for my architectural manifesto (from one of my Master of Architecture subjects) titled Architecture of Empathy. The design decisions were made to be in harmony with the contents of my manifesto – subtle, tactile, and simple that it fits in everyday life. After producing it, I felt that it signified the purpose and meaning of its own existence more strongly than past projects – after all, the design considerations that went into creating this booklet were more extensive. However, I’m sure this booklet would appear half-baked in a few years, just like how I see other past projects. In this sense, booklets do not only tell future self the memories of the past, but also my competency as a designer, inviting me to see how far I’ve come and how far I can go ahead.

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