Designer + Chernobyl = ?

Hyun Seo
Hyun Seo
Apr 22 · 10 min read
A fridge magnet I bought in Chernobyl… Fun fact, there’s a phase that Ukraine is going through right now to retain Ukrainian spelling for words when using the Roman alphabet. Kiev = Kyiv, Chernobyl = Chornobyl.

The experience & process…

Painting: Ho Joung Seo, Chernobyl City Sign Illustration: Colin Laflin, Others: Me

Finalizing the book…

After the book was written (much easier said than done), I collaborated with an additional designer to finalize the layout. This was a painstaking back and forth process that started with handing the roughly formatted manuscript off to the designer. Then, I received a copy back and had to request changes to the layout. The designer and I exchanged about 12 iterations(!) until we were both happy with the end product.

Production was done in Guangzhou, China. Import handled by a logistics company from CN to US. Final Amazon warehouse delivery by UPS. Separate shipment to me sent via DHL.
tak… held by a ChNPP administrator in the firefighter memorial.

Lessons learned…

  • Ask friends for help or hire professionals, if you can. Writing a book seems like a solitary endeavor, but it’s actually very collaborative. Surrounding yourself with others will enrich your vision and teach you valuable management skills. This project helped me learn to manage time, money, and emotional investment.
  • When writing your first draft, get every idea on the page — no matter how dumb or bad some may seem. The rough draft is for exploring all of your options. The later drafts are for editing and perfecting them.
  • Do research! User research helped my writing improve and helped me identify the jokes that were too obscure. Competitive research helped me fine tune the book by taking out sections and information that other similar books had already covered.
  • Have a clear goal and intent with your book. Having these set in stone will help, especially if you’re working with editors, co-writers, designers, et cetera. Think about all the questions that are asked when starting a tech project: What is the value? What will it teach? Who is it for? What experience will it provide?

Some extra pointers if you are self-publishing…

  • Inspect your proof copies carefully. Check how the book is cut, how it’s glued, and how it’s colored. My digital proofs were vastly different than my final offset copies. Work with a printer that can easily make adjustments based on what you want.
  • If you’re planning to ship straight to Amazon’s warehouses, make sure you keep approximately 100 books for yourself. You never know if a museum or local bookstore(s) will want your work! In my case, both reached out to me after I’d shipped most of my copies to Amazon. It was a huge logistical headache that could’ve been easily avoided.
  • There will always be mistakes, and you will always notice them more than anyone else will. It happens to every writer, even the famous ones. See Neil Gaiman’s first law: “Picking up your first copy of a book you wrote, if there’s one typo, it will be on the page that your new book falls open to the first time you pick it up.” Don’t worry about them!
  • Don’t overlook marketing. Use Instagram, sponsored Amazon listings, press releases, and a good, old-fashioned website. Reaching out for marketing purposes lead me to connect with interesting people created new opportunities for the book. Of course, you can also nag your friends, coworkers, and family. (Family especially!)
  • Think strategically about your release date. When you’re self-publishing, you have much more flexibility than other authors. I got incredibly lucky by finishing the book before the disaster’s anniversary on April 26th. There’s also a big-budget HBO miniseries about the disaster premiering in May. Even if you have to wait a longer than you’d like, it might be worth it to time your book’s release with a bigger news story or pop culture event.
  • The truth about self-publishing is that it likely won’t make you much money, especially if you pay for printing and shipping out of pocket. That being said, price your book to make it accessible. You wrote the book to share with others, so try to make it so as many people as possible can read it. You’ll probably lose money, but in my experience money always comes around when you do good work.

Thank you…

The plug…

Please check out tak… on Amazon or in person at BookPeople in Austin, Texas. And hey, if you’re ever in Ukraine, go see the book at the Chernobyl Library.

About me…

Design at IBM

Stories from the practice of design at IBM

Hyun Seo

Written by

Hyun Seo

Designer, developer, author, and person.

Design at IBM

Stories from the practice of design at IBM