P5 — Process Documentation
This was it. The final project of a semester full of learning, development, and exploration. Throughout P1-P4, I had gotten to experience all sorts of new design. From posters, to book covers, to graphics, each project had been a stepping stone leading up to the final project. And in many ways, P5 served as a perfect culmination for the semester. Creating a book required so much more patience, repetition, and focus than all of the other tasks combined, and I was immensely excited for this challenge. Here’s how the process went down!
When Suzanne introduced P5, I immediately knew that I wanted to create a photo book/album. This past summer, I visited Taiwan (as I do every summer), and I had the opportunity to go shooting with my aunt, an accomplished photographer herself. I had learned so much in just a short week and a half, and I had so many photos to show for it. However, I didn’t want to post all of them on Instagram (for fear of overwhelming my followers), so I had simply been sitting on the photos for months. But now, I had the opportunity to do something with them.
I’d never made a photo album or book of any kind before. At home, we collect photos in photo books, but those are simply printed photos inserted into slots of pre-made folders. There is not much artistic creativity in their design. Unlike those collections, I wanted my photo book to tell a story.
When I started thinking about different things I could do with my photo book, a few ideas came to mind. Perhaps I could do a photo diary, and chronicle my trip through Taiwan! Or maybe a food journal, focusing on the different delicacies served on the streets. Ultimately, I settled on a “visitor’s guide to Taiwan,” with an emphasis on letting my photos explain all the diverse offerings Taiwan has in store.
My visitor’s guide would have a couple of sections to focus on:
For each of these sections, I curated a set of images that I felt adequately reflected the concept. Some were a bit more straightforward, like “food.” Others, however, required a bit more abstract thinking; for “culture,” I looked for photos that demonstrated what iconic scenes of Taiwan might appear like to a tourist.
After collecting all the photos I wanted, it was time to start formulating my layouts!
For my sketches, I first jotted down my general ideas and what I wanted each spread to contain. When developing my spread layouts, I also tried to think about what I wanted each theme to entail; for instance, for “action,” I wanted my layout to be crowded, bustling, yet tidy — a form of “organized chaos.”
My goal was to come up with as many different ideas and layouts as possible. I had very little prior experience with InDesign, so I wasn’t entirely sure what each of my concepts would look like on a digital screen, so I wanted to give every idea a chance. I played with concepts involving text, color, just the pictures themselves, and even drawings, dynamically moving compositions to find ones that worked. Here’s what my sketches looked like:
After contemplating how to create my visitor’s guide for a while, I decided on doing a book titled “What is Taiwan?” Each of my pages would answer that question with a one word summary (the list of sections given above), as well as a variety of photos to accompany that word. This gave me another consideration to deliberate upon: what kind of typeface should I use to match my overall theme?
Some of the ideas that I liked/wanted to experiment with were the drawings and overlays. However, when Suzanne and Rachel offered their feedback on my concepts in general, they both felt that the photos themselves were already very vivid and detailed, so be careful not to detract from them with other miscellaneous content on each page. With that in mind, I proceeded cautiously. I knew I wanted to give each layout design a chance, so with that, it was time to start implementing them in InDesign!
My first task was determining what book size to create. For some reason, when I thought about my book, I immediately thought of a rectangular page with roughly a 4:3 aspect ratio. I didn’t want it to be perfectly square, because so many of my photos were rectangular, and I didn’t want it to be vertical because I knew that my landscape photos would feel crammed in a vertical space. So, I chose to set my pages up as 50p0 by 37p6 (I actually had no idea it was possible to change the default settings from picas until much much later… whoops!).
When Rachel gave the InDesign demo, one of her primary focuses was explaining how the master grid system worked. Although it was a very neat tool, I personally wanted to utilize variations of grids and layouts across my different pages, so I didn’t really use the master grid much. However, I did try to create unique and dynamic compositions and grids for each individual spread, with most of them being inspired by my initial sketches.
My first attempts at gridding were fairly unsuccessful. I was faced with an internal conflict; I wanted to try using grids, but I also wanted my grids to be dynamic and non-stagnant. This is what my first attempt looked like; needless to say, it was… busy.
When I looked at it, I wasn’t really sure how to feel. There were borders, yes, but the borders were inconsistent in size horizontally to vertically, and there really didn’t feel like there was that much negative space. This is where I tried implementing my idea of including drawings/icons for the first time. I cleared out one of the photos in the bottom left, and inserted my own illustration (drawn on the Adobe Illustrator Draw app on my phone).
Well, at least the steamed bun was cute! I still wasn’t sure how I felt about the style and fit of the illustration, so I chose to print out both versions of this spread for the interim crit. With one of my spreads’ first drafts wrapped up, it was time to prepare a second for the interim crit.
For my second spread, I wanted to pick a theme that I knew would look drastically different on a page. When I think of “citylife” in Taiwan, I immediately envision chaotic streets and crowded intersections. Luckily, I knew an exact picture (one of my favorite ones) I had taken this past summer that would fit the bill:
I dug up the photo in Lightroom and transferred it to InDesign, cropping it slightly so that it would fit on an elongated page. Since there was so much happening in this photo, I really wanted to keep the page clean and free of distractions. I also chose not to add any additional photos, and just let this one image speak for itself. My spread thus looked like this:
For my font choices, I originally wanted to test out a font that looked somewhat scripty. I felt like Taiwan was such a hub of rich history and culture, and an artistic, scripture font might be able to convey that essence best. After digging through all of InDesign’s available fonts (ugh), I eventually settled on “Libian TC.”
I didn’t like it very much, as it wasn’t very “pretty” per se, but it definitely had the antique feel I was originally thinking of. But I knew I could count on productive feedback from the rest of the class during the interim crit, so I though oh well — why not give it a shot?
So with that, I brought all three of these spreads (2 Food + 1 Citylife) in for the interim crit!
Unlike the other projects, I really did not feel that confident with my pieces during the interim crit during P5. Because of this, I wanted feedback in a few areas in particular:
- How do you feel about the font I used?
- Are my images too cluttered on the “Food” spread?
- Should I use the version with the drawing or the one without?
I got some really insightful feedback from my peers, and it definitely helped answer some of my questions. Here were some of the general conclusions:
- My font choice was a bit too curly and difficult to read, and the text was a bit small as well. In addition, the archaic-ness of the font didn’t really match the images well. The general recommendation was to try out a sans serif font and see if it worked.
- Although the drawing of the bun helped declutter the “Food” spread a bit (because of the additional white space), the drawing itself didn’t really fit the overall theme of the pictures. My pictures generally reflected realism and daily life in Taiwan, and the cartoony nature of the illustration contrasted with the photos. In particular, Suzanne mentioned that the lines of the bun were a little too bold and loud.
- Overall, the “Food” spread was too cluttered and crammed. I didn’t use enough negative space and gutters, and it was also suggested that I try to make the grid more obvious.
Duly noted — time to make some changes!
Iterations, iterations, and (more) iterations!
Once again, P5 was all about tweaking, revising, adjusting, and iterating. But unlike the projects before it, P5 was essentially multiple projects in one; each spread required its own individualized attention and dedication.
I started off by revising my “Food” and “Citylife” spreads. For the “Food” spread, there were a couple of key points I wanted to focus on: increasing the white space between the images, cleaning up the font and text, and making the grid pattern more obvious.
Some of the changes I made were making the bottom three photos on the left page sequential, and ensuring that the gutters between the images were all equally sized. In addition, I decided to change my font to Avenir. It’s a font that I have ample familiarity with (thanks to P3!), and I figured that the geometric and optically-appealing nature of the typeface would fit my book well. I liked this spread more, but weirdly, it felt rather stagnant to me. Food is supposed to be fun and playful; how could I make my spread more interesting, spunky, and quirky? All of sudden, I had an idea on how to combine the square-shaped images in a way that was visually unique…
A-ha! Placing the images all in a row allowed for the negative space to really play a role in my spread, and it certainly made for more engaging spread design. My last two tasks were determining the text placement, and the order of the photos. I chose to align the two parts of the phrase above the 3/4 mark on each page (going out from the center), and I staggered the text on the top and bottom to make it more balanced. I didn’t want to leave too much white space on either side, and the text helped counteract that. Regarding the order of the images, Suzanne gave the fantastic suggestion of ordering the photos by color — in essence, creating a gradient from dark to light with the colors of the pictures. After playing around with the sequence and with specific colors and lightings in Lightroom, I wound up with the final version of this spread:
“Citylife” required a bit less tweaking, as most people liked the way the image spanned across the whole spread. The main things I had to change were the font and the alignment of the image. I ended up having to change the size of my book a little bit so that it would be able to print on tabloid, so I had to recalibrate the wide image so that it still was centered and fit on the page. There is a lightpost right in the middle of the photo, so I tried to align that with the center of the spread.
Since the rest of my spreads were done after the interim crit, my tweaks and iterations were mainly based on my own critiques and thoughts. For the purposes of this process doc, I’ll highlight some of the specific spreads that took extra thought and deliberations.
While not exactly spreads, I still want to point out some of the thoughts that went into picking out photos for my front and back covers. I wanted to use full photos that spanned the whole page, but ideally, I wanted to pick out images that were related to one another. Thinking back, I remembered a photoshoot I took with my aunt in 2017 at 象山, a famous mountain in Taiwan overlooking Taipei 101. We had shot there all day, so I actually had photos of the same setting spanning from day to nightfall. Thus, in order to make my front and back covers continuous, I chose to use two of these images.
As seen, it almost feels as though my book is progressing from sunrise to sunset. For the text choice, I decided to stick with Avenir and depict a simple “What is Taiwan?” in the upper center of the front cover. It was clean, elegant, and did not distract from the images.
For my “Action” spread, I curated a set of images that conveyed fast-paced, hectic city action. In many ways, I wanted this spread to have the same energy as the “Citylife” spread. Because I took so many photos using slower shutter speeds in Taiwan, I had ample pictures that could fit the bill. In particular, I had a set of photos I took from a footbridge overlooking the city that showed the transition from sunset to nightfall. I thought the light trails of the cars were really neat, so I wanted to convey action using this series of photos.
My “Food” spread had been very geometric, so I wanted to take a risk and experiment with staggering photos. I set up the left side of my action page like this:
I quite liked this setup, as the photos staggered downwards, but they still did so in a patterned, geometric manner. It gave my page a good balance of playfulness and symmetry, and it definitely conveyed “action” well to me.
For the right side of the spread, I found two photos that were similarly hectic and action-packed, but they involved people. I had other photos of car light trails, but I didn’t want to overwhelm the page with lights or cars.
When setting them up on the page, I had a few initial ideas. I could continue to stagger photos, place them side-by-side, stack them on top of one another, or even overlap them (I was very iffy on this idea). I decided to stack them, as I didn’t want to incorporate too much staggered chaos on one spread.
But now, I had to decide where to put the text. There was more available white space on the left side of the spread, but I wasn’t sure where I could put the text to make it feel balanced. I knew for a fact that I didn’t want to slant any text, so eventually, I decided against putting any words on the left side. That left the narrow gap between the two horizontal images on the right. Although I was at first hesitant about putting text in such a confined space, I soon realized that the text only added to the hustle-bustle of the spread. The text almost felt like it was part of the crowd, trying to squeeze through to reach its destination.
I liked it! Around this time, I also ended up experimenting with some other text-related ideas. I tried adding small captions to my images, but I ended up removing them — they felt a little too crammed and they didn’t add much to the photos.
In addition, to make the word of interest more prominent, I decided to bold the word “Action.” I ended up doing this with all of my other spreads, as you’ve likely noticed in the previous images.
For my “Views” page, I knew I wanted to take a different approach from the “Action” spread. To me, my photos of the views were all very serene, calming, and detailed, so I didn’t want to clutter my images or create any distractions. So, while my “Action” page utilized staggering, I wanted this spread to be more structured and clean.
My first iteration of “Views” was fairly straightforward. I had two stacks of two images on the left and right columns, and then I placed one photo in the center. However, I decided to place the middle photo slightly above center in order to place text below it. This was a fairly unconventional choice, so I asked Suzanne what she thought of it. She brought up an excellent point that I had completely failed to consider: if I wanted to bind my book with string, having the text centered like I did might cause some of the words to be blocked. In addition, she pointed out that my gutters were not quite even (as shown below), which was distracting to the eye.
I made the necessary adjustments:
The gutters were now even, and I spaced out the words, but I personally didn’t like the second change much. The words being shifted out like that felt unnatural (they weren’t quite far apart enough from one another, but they also weren’t close enough to be cohesive — it was a weird middle ground). So, I decided to restructure my spread. I would place the words on both sides of the spread, as opposed to centered in the middle.
Nice! By increasing the size of the center photo, I was able to make it span the whole page and feel more balanced and complete. Correspondingly, I shrunk the side images a bit to fit the grid. But it wasn’t quite complete; I didn’t fully like the center photo. I liked the image itself, yes, but it wasn’t a particularly engaging or stunning photo that immediately draws the eye. So, I tried mixing things up.
I liked the sunset photo, but it seemed a bit dark overall because much of the photo is dominated by the dark walls of the cliff face. As the centerpiece of this spread, I wanted the photo to really jump out, and this one didn’t really cut it for me. So, I made another switch. It actually required a bit of reshuffling, but I ended up taking a photo from my “Nature” spread and swapping it with the sunset photo.
Bingo! I liked this photo a lot, and although it was still a bit on the dark side, there was a lot more light and action happening in the image. It felt like a fitting centerpiece to counteract the other view photos.
The last spread I want to highlight is “People” because it taught me a lot about gridding and text location. Up until this point, I had been (rather unknowingly) fairly confined in the ways I had been implementing text. Most of my text was on the center axis of the page, and even when the words weren’t on the same line, they were usually vertically aligned with one another. For some reason, I hadn’t even considered trying out new placements of text, or potentially justifying them in a different fashion. But when I was working on this spread, Suzanne encouraged me to take new directions and try out new text and image placements.
For my “People” page, I had a couple of photos that I knew I wanted to use. One of them was an image of a merchant at a local jade market looking to sell one of his pieces. I really liked this photo, and I thought the subject and colors were fairly striking, so I decided I wanted to leave it on its own on one side of the spread.
For the left side, I picked out a few photos I wanted to use. There was one of a crowded night market with people bustling everywhere, my aunt strolling through an aisle of exotic Taiwanese goods, and even a picture of my smiling family! When setting them up, I tried to build around the vertical photo (the night market picture). For my other images, I decided to utilize squares in order to set up somewhat of a grid pattern. Here’s what my first iteration of the left side of my spread looked like.
I tried to organize the square photos so that there was a single-person photo on both the top and bottom row, making my setup more balanced. However, as seen here, I still chose to center my text on the page. When I asked Suzanne for her thoughts, she asked me about this choice. Specifically, she made me think about two things:
- Why does the text have to be centered?
- Why not make the square images into a square grid, instead of separating them?
Huh! These were wonderful pieces of feedback, and they really encouraged me to rethink my design mindset. So, after playing around with the text and photo locations a bit, I came up with a design I was much happier with.
This was definitely a more engaging and intriguing image format, and my final spread overall felt balanced, used white space well, and drew the viewer’s eye naturally across the page.
With a newfound sense of design exploration, I took on my other spreads with added gusto. After a few more days of iterating and experimentation, it was time to print, bind, and head to the final crit!
Final Crit + Conclusions
Honestly, I felt really sad when the final crit came about because I knew it was the last time our class would be meeting together to share and discuss our ideas. Over the semester, I’d come to lean on the encouraging support and feedback from each of the students in our CDF course, and I’ve grown so much as a designer because of it. But now, it was time to share our final thoughts on each of our pieces and admire the culmination of our work throughout the year!
Although in this crit we did not individually go around and assess each of the pieces, it was still a great experience getting to watch and learn about the inspirations behind each of my classmates’ books. Every student had such a clear vision when they went about designing their books, and hearing about their thoughts helped me better understand the various facets of the design process. Every designer has their own methodologies, strategies, and tendencies, and I truly believe that design is a field in which various individuals can feed off of each others’ creativity.
I’d like to give one last special thank you to Suzanne and Rachel for their undying support and encouragement throughout this past semester. They’ve taught me so much about the fundamentals of communication design, and it’s helped me establish a clear foundation for all of my future design endeavors. I’m excited to see all that’s ahead!