Next week I am on a panel discussing designing picture books. I was asked to find some props to bring along to make the discussion more interesting. I looked around the studio to see what there was. Well, not much. Do people want to see blank dummies and stock samples? I could take a few paper-engineered dummies that I've worked with, that's exciting: they move. Even when they haven't been printed they move. Or a dummy with a gatefold. That's certainly more interesting than a blank page without a gatefold. Or my colourful Pantone colour books? I have quite a few I could show.
Really, when it comes to designing picture books it's all about not getting in the way of telling the story. It's 90 percent about getting a storyboard (a way of breaking the story up across, say, 32pp) that delivers the story well, and 10 percent about the practicalities of preparing the files for print, using the page layout programs and editing images when required, the repro, colour correction and printing. Of course typography is a part of it too. But if the storyboard doesn't do it's job well, the rest is just icing.
Then, there's the issue of whether one is designing a book for another illustrator, or doing one's own book. If it's the former, then the storyboarding of the text may be all taken care of by that illustrator. Or, they may have no idea how to do it, and the designer has a lot of input. Or maybe the illustrator just has no interest in printing and leaves all that side of it up to the designer so he can concentrate on the storyboarding and imagine the illustrations he wants to make. Everyone works differently, and the publisher and designer can decide how much input is necessary.
When I make my own picture books, I don't work with a designer. The various stages of making the book are homogenised and there is no real order. It all happens automatically and simultaneously. It crosses over into the writing of the text too, because that's just how it is. I make instant decisions about type, print, format etc. as i work on my storyboard, without discussing with another designer. The storyboard influences the text too. Again, the storyboard drives the whole show.
Ultimately, I think the 'design' should just be there, working away for the reader, without getting in their face. The mise en scéne is the storyboarded text, the typography, the choice of font, the choice of paper, the type of print, the lamination, the lack of lamination: everything you see, what you pay for. And all this is done in conjunction with the illustrator, publisher, and the author. It's a joint effort.
Thankfully, what you don't see is the working out, the thinking, the mistakes, the attempts, the good-idea-at-the-times. I think this might be what people are interested in too, after the fact, like in panel discussions. But sometimes I think these are best left behind somewhere. Like director's cuts, or DVD extras.
So, aside from some messy storyboard stages (there are are lots of them here), I think the best props to take will be the Pantone books. They're so bright and colourful.