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From the Designer’s Desk: Frank Baseman

Our February 2015 edition of From the Designer’s Desk is a lively dispatch from from Frank Baseman, principal at Baseman Design Associates.

1.) Why did you pursue Design, rather than, say, Painting or Architecture or Sculpture?

I dunno, I thought about Architecture for a little while when I was a kid—or at least I thought I did. But I don’t think I really knew what it was about. I didn’t even know what Graphic Design was when I went to college. I went to a rather large college (Penn State) for undergrad because I didn’t know what I wanted to study, and I figured it was big enough to find something interesting. Sure enough, I discovered Graphic Design during a break in a Drawing class. I poked my head in the Graphic Design studios and they were silkscreening posters and music was blaring—it seemed so cool. I went to talk to the Professor (still one of my mentors, Lanny Sommese), signed up for a class and the rest is history. I just completely lucked out that they had a very strong design program at Penn State. I suppose Graphic Design satisfied many of my interests: it was about communication, coming up with ideas and concepts; it was about language and current events. And it’s been a very viable, interesting career ever since (so far!).

2.) Have you ever completed a project and only after the book was printed did the perfect (or, at least, a better) design solution occur to you?


Usually when a project is completed, I’m on to the next one. I don’t really live in regrets. If that happened—if a different design solution occurred to me after the fact, after the project was completed—I guess I would save that idea and see if I could execute it somewhere else down the line. One of the beautiful things—and one of the difficult/frustrating things—about Graphic Design is that rarely is there ever only one (perfect) solution. Rather, there can be a multitude of solutions to a given problem. And somehow, through trial and error (lots of errors), the most appropriate solution to the problem at hand arises, whether out of necessity or desire. So, sometimes—though not too often—one can save an idea, an approach, for use at a later time, for another occasion, for another project.

3.) Is your work on a book project usually more of a slow, progressive effort, or is it moved forward by unpredictable moments of inspiration?

It’s generally moved along by deadlines! No, seriously: sometimes I’m juggling several different projects at various stages of production. Rarely do I have the luxury of tons of time on any given project, and so more often than not the project moves along based on when it needs to get done by. “When does this need to get produced?” “What is your timeframe?” are questions that get asked first. This is usually established right away in my world.

4.) Do you feel that a book’s design can, or even should, play an assertive role in how a reader experiences the book, or do you feel the best book design is a kind of behind-the-scenes art—where the reader isn’t even always aware of the influence of the design?

I suppose it depends on the subject matter, and the kind of book project it is; but, mostly I would say the latter. I think the design of the book should never overpower the subject matter. Only unless that is the intent all along…and the only thing I could think of to make that appropriate might be a monograph by and for a designer.

5.) What is your favorite font?

Too numerous to mention…

No really, I have a lot, and probably like many designers, I tend to go in and out of phases with certain typefaces or type families. In general, I tend to gravitate to the classics: Minion, Garamond, Bodoni, Sabon; but even lately I’ve been using Chaparral on a couple of projects, and have liked Filosofia for a while now. My students know that I have a weakness for just about any “bold, condensed sans serif” like Trade Gothic Condensed, Helvetica Condensed, even Univers Condensed. And I do particularly like a good slab serif now and then like Aachen, Egiziano, Rockwell and Stymie. I tend to be rather old-school about things like this, and generally I would rather try to do something interesting/daring/different with a traditional typeface than to use something trendy.

6.) Do you design books in other genres and categories than art and architecture? If so, what are some primary differences between designing, say, a novel versus a large, glossy book on architecture?

Well, I would think it would be just a lot more fun to design a book on architecture, let’s say, than a novel. Obviously, they are different types of books, and they would call for different treatments. I would think that a novel would need to rely on designing beautiful passages of text and paying attention to the proportions of the pages. While designing a book on architecture would allow for more visual expression; one would need to be concerned with pacing of images and keep a keen eye on the editing of images and usage, almost like curating.

7.) How can an author make a book designer’s job easier?

Sometimes I have worked on projects where there is a fair amount of notes or information about the design; and generally, I think this can be helpful. I would rather know what the author or editor has in mind up front—what their expectations might be at the beginning—rather than finding out once I have pursued a direction that is not going to work. Not a fan of going down a road that leads to nowhere. In addition (obviously), it helps enormously if the information/material is very well organized.

8.) Who are your favorite book designers?

Cheryl Towler-Weese and Phil Unetic are a couple of designers whose work I greatly admire. Generally stunning work; very appropriate to the subject matter; very, very steady work over the arcs of their careers.

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