Over the weekend I officially started designing/writing the New NewLights Press Manifesto. I say designing/writing because in many cases these days (and this is certainly one of them) both the writing and design happen at the same time, as one essentially undifferentiated process. This tends to be the case with the more concrete/typographic work that I do—books with more straightforward typography tend to be written first, designed later.

I decided to build the design a little differently this time. For the title spread I wanted to make some crazy typographic pattern thing that would simultaneously reference William Morris’s The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1896-8) and Ulises Carrion’s For Fans and Scholars Alike (1987). I decided that I would layout the page spread like Morris, using the medieval system for determining margins based on the page proportions. I enjoyed constructing the first margin schema, so I thought it would be an interesting experiment to do the entire book that way, by basing its composition not on measurement by numbers (my usual method) but by pure geometry—proportional divisions based on the rectangle of the page spread (Fig. 1.09.01).

Fig. 1.09.01 Medieval style margin scheme, based on page proportions.

This system of geometrical division was apparently “discovered” by the 13th Century French architect Villard de Honnecourt. It was reapplied to design later through the research of Jan Tsichold in the 1950’s. (or at least that’s the gist, I’ve got scant actual info, just image captions on photocopied book pages, if anyone has more info, I would love it) The schema is used to systematically divide any rectangle into proportionate pieces. Shown below is the schema applied to the vertical (Fig. 1.09.02) and horizontal dimensions of the page (Fig. 1.09.03).

Fig. 1.09.02
Page/spread divided into ninths by height.

Fig. 1.09.03
Page/spread divided into ninths by width.

Fig. 1.09.04 Height and Width schemas layered on top of one another. Note the synchronicity of the two.

If you layer both the images on top of each other, you can see how they line up (Fig. 1.09.04). I laid them over top of each other for the first time while writing this post. I knew that they were synchronized, but I thought it hinged around the 1/3 division. Apparently not.

According to Tsichold’s research, the division of a page into ninths was the most commonly used. I thought that this was because of the synchronicity of the 1/3 (1/9 in 2D) measurement. I constructed a master grid based of 9x9 per page, 9x18 across the spread. I then used the same schema to subdivide that measurement into ninths. (Fig. 1.09.05)

Fig. 1.09.05 Master grids for determining measurements in the rest of the design.

The gray blocks that you see scattered around these images are my spacing/measuring “material.” Whenever I use arbitrary/visual measurements in digital design I make myself little guide blocks that I cut and paste to make those arbitrary measurements exactly repeatable. A little trick from letterpress printing (where spaces are solid pieces of metal that don’t print) brought to use in the computer.

I had played with this system a little bit in the past—using it to make systems-based, non-representational drawings and collages. But now that I’m beginning to explore and use it for other applications, I am in awe of its elegance and relative simplicity—a simplicity that quickly escalates into a crazy, synchronous complexity.

Fig 1.09.06
Working drawing, trying to figure this damn thing out.

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