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Publications > Dateline Houston > January 2003 > Feature Article


Volume 42, Issue 5

January 2003

Book Review

The Non-Designer's Design Book

by Nimisha Garg, Student, STC Silicon Valley

Published in 1994, The Non-Designer's Design Book , by Robin Williams, explains design and typographic principles for the novice. This book targets people who need to design pages but have no background or formal training in design.

Williams understands that an aspiring designer's goal is to learn how to make pages look better. To this end, she offers four basic principles used in virtually every well-designed page. Just by following the basic principles in this book, the designer can perform work that will look more professional, organized, and interesting. The book contains practical design exercises, optional quizzes, and a bibliography that help the designer understand the basic principles better.

Williams includes real-world examples to enliven the text, and they demostrate that she practices what she preaches. She has taken examples from newspapers, telephone books, invitation cards, and resumes and has redesigned them to increase their visual appeal.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part talks about design principles. The second part focuses on different typefaces. Finally, the third part has exercises and quizzes to test your knowledge. Each chapter has a summary that outlines the main points.

The first part describes the four design principles: Proximity, Alignment, Repetition, and Contrast—PARC.

  • Proximity : Related items should be grouped close together so that they become one visual unit.
  • Alignment : Nothing should be placed on the page arbitrarily. Every element should have some visual connection with another element on the page.
  • Repetition : Visual elements of design, such as color, shape, texture, and line thickness, should be repeated throughout the piece.
  • Contrast : If the elements—for example, type, color, size, shape, and space—are not the same, then make them very different.

The second part focuses on type—specifically the problem of combining multiple typefaces. Williams demonstrates that in page design, as in life, a relationship is established that is concordant, conflicting, or contrasting. Williams says that a conflict should be avoided.

  • Concordant relationships occur when only one type family is used without much variety in style, size, and weight.
  • Conflicting relationships occur when typefaces that are similar in style, size, and weight are combined.
  • Contrasting relationships occur when you combine separate typefaces and elements that are clearly distinct from each other.

The second part also covers six main categories of type which are old style, modern, slab serif, sans serif, script, and decorative. She also describes the attributes by which contrast can be created: size, weight, structure, form, direction, and color.

The third part has a few exercises, answers to quizzes, and a bibliography. The exercises are very practical and come from the real world—like selecting an advertisement from the yellow pages and redesigning it. She advises the reader to start with the focal point when designing or redesigning.

Williams wrote this book in a friendly and nonthreatening manner and offers the reader a solid foundation in the basics of page layout. This book is designed to be read quickly by someone with little or no design experience. Printed material no longer looks the same after reading this book.


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