The Non-Designer’s Design Book
Book Review

The Non-Designer’s Design Book
by Robin Williams

Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-321-19385-7
191 pages
Price: US $19.99 US, CN $30.99

When I started my wedding and event videography business, I quickly noticed my marketing material looked liked ransom notes compared to the professional brochures, newsletters, websites, and business forms that I received from other businesses. But I couldn’t afford to pay professional designers to lay out the material I needed. And even if I could afford them, I realized that as a videographer, I needed to know something about effective elements of design for my multimedia work.

So to get up to speed, I read the first edition of The Non-Designer’s Design Book, by Robin Williams. Now in its second edition, this extremely easy to read primer is a must for anyone who has to produce newsletters, brochures, flyers, DVD covers, home pages, iPhoto books, scrapbook pages and other design projects. Even if you have the bucks for professionals to do the work for you or you use professional templates like the ones provided in Apple’s Pages, Williams’s book provides the insight for what to look for in good design and typographic principles.

First off, if you’re serious about learning design basics, I strongly encourage you to read this book from cover to cover. Williams, who also has written a set of very accessible books on Tiger and Mac usage, explains the four principles of design: proximity, alignment, repetition, and contrast.

Now this is not academic jargon, so don’t think you’re in for boring, overly detailed instructions. You can easily work through this book in a weekend and apply the principals immediately to your current and past layouts. Even if you’re producing a simple resume, Williams’s principles will make you shine.

Pick up any well-designed magazine or brochure you’ve received in the mailbox. Notice how one or two colors contrast with one other, as in the in the MyMac logo design or homepage. How would it look if the entire page was designed using only one font type or even if all the text were capitalized–such as in many of the fliers I get from my daughter’s school? Using contrast in design means using bolder typeface for headlines contrasted with smaller and readable typeface for subheads and texts. Notice also how colors contrast–bold white headings in a red banner, with, perhaps one letter of the text in black.

Pick up a well-designed restaurant menu and notice how repetition is used to organize information. You may notice how bullets or recurring icons are used for visual appeal and to help read through the material.

And then there’s the alignment principle. Elements on a page should have visual connection. MyMac’s two column homepage is an example. One side for its features list and the other for its list of blog posts. The white and blue color contrast between the columns is also used to build the alignment and unify it with the rest of the page.

Similar to alignment is the principle of proximity whereby items relating to one another are grouped together. A well-designed business card would show this principle whereby logistical information is grouped apart from the name and title.

Williams provides numerous everyday examples to suggest how to apply each principle in your projects. She doesn’t explain how to use design software, but the design principles can be easily applied using AppleWorks, Pages, Photoshop Elements, or even iDVD. You basically just need to know how to use font styles and layers in these and other similar programs to apply the principles.

Each chapter of the book ends with a neat little quiz and a review that both test and reinforce your understanding of each principle.

The second half of the book includes tips and tricks for specific projects like business cards, postcards, page design, and newspaper ads. What you learn in this book can also be applied to web page design, but Williams has co-authored a similar book on that subject that goes into greater detail.

Finally, Williams’s section on categories of type will help you organize and use your OS X Font Book. She explains the differences between and the uses for Oldstyle, Modern, Slab serif, Sans serif, Script, and Decorative font styles. Entire books have been written on typography–and again Williams has written one on the subject–but this introduction is the most non-professionals will need.

As she says, her The Non-Designer’s Design Book does not replace four years of design school, but her book is to basic and intermediate design layout to what Elements of Style is to good writing and grammar usage. It should sit and be accessed right along side your Pages or InDesign manual. Rating: 5 out of 5


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