Texts on Designing Texts

Catherine M Wood, "Old books", n.d. Public domain.

When I first started creating RPG content, I was absolutely not equipped with the practical knowledge necessary to make aesthetically pleasing products. Full stop.

As I began acquiring and reading books about graphic design, I realized that those I found most interesting and helpful may hold the same value for others in the indie TTRPG space.

This list focuses almost exclusively on full-length printed books, several of which were recommended by Guilherme Gontijo in this thread. For books that have been updated and revised (and may be again), my entries include the edition that I’ve reviewed.

As with all my bibliographies, this one is woefully incomplete, but I’ll update it with more resources as often as possible.

General Resources

The Annotated Archive of Game Design Resources compiled by Goblin Archives. An absolutely sprawling directory of free digital resources on a range of topics relevant to game designers. It covers licensing, funding, printing, and every single other aspect of creating games and content from start to finish. The relevant sections on layout and typography include informational and practical resources. A real treasure trove of content that I expect will continue to grow and expand.

Indie Publishing by Ellen Lupton (ed.). A very general resource that covers a lot of ground. The book discusses indie publishing environment and the design and production processes with more detailed looks at various documents (including zines). Not a comprehensive or deep resource, but still a pretty good overview of many relevant topics.

Interaction of Color (50th anniversary edition) by Josef Albers. An extremely interesting discussion of how color inherently cheats perception and how artists can exploit that capacity to various effects. Throughout, the exposition references a portfolio of examples that illustrate the concepts and principles. (For those interested in the biology and physiology behind the ideas, the work of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela are extremely relevant; the most accessible starting point is probably The Tree of Knowledge.)

The Design of Everyday Things (revised & expanded edition) by Don Norman. Broadly focused on user-centered design and industrial design. This book doesn’t have the targeted relevance of other entries in this list, but discussions of general design principles and procedures that emphasize fitness for use make excellent food for thought.

Design & Layout

The Non-Designer’s Design Book (4th edition) by Robin Williams. As the title indicates, an excellent starting point for those with no formal training in graphic design. Begins with the principles of proximity, alignment, repetition, and contrast before moving on to major sections on color and typography. Along the way, the book presents examples of good and bad designs and exercises for the reader to practice what they’ve learned. Extremely readable and non-technical.

Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Müller-Brockman. A manifesto and instructional guide to using grids as underlying structures for layouts. It also includes useful guides to paper size and various elements of typography, but it overwhelmingly focuses on using grids to organize the presentation of documents. The text is presented in both English and German, and it includes many helpful illustrations and examples.

Making and Breaking the Grid by Timothy Samara. A useful companion to Grid Systems that examines the use of normalized grids as well as tactics for deviating from them in meaningful and expressive ways. It provides a useful historical overview, but the book’s real substance is its broad showcases and concise analysis of many unique and interesting examples.

Typography

Thinking with Type (2nd edition) by Ellen Lupton. A brilliant book in terms of content and presentation. Divided into three major sections, it begins at the level of typography and individual letters before zooming out to assemblages of letters into cohesive texts and then to the level of those texts’ visual presentations on grids. Absolutely filled with a range of interesting and inspiring examples.

The Elements of Typographic Style (20th anniversary edition/4th edition, v4.3) by Robert Bringhurst. Virtually everything that you could ever want to know about typography. This book covers so many topics, and includes so much practical advice, that I can’t begin to summarize it all. Besides the core content, it also includes multiple appendices that include glossaries and directories of designers and foundries.


Do you know of a good resource that belongs on this page? Please let me know!

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