As the old saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”.
But it’s inevitable, we do! Good book design goes a long way…it can catch the eye of a curious consumer, serve as a point of discussion or intrigue, stimulate the senses (through touch, visuals, etc.), may ultimately drive sales, and says a lot about the personality of that book and it’s author(s).
Throughout my academic career, I’ve had the opportunity to sift through hundreds of journals and journal articles, particularly in conducting public health systematic reviews. Being a health promoter and researcher, I’ve found myself reading lengthy articles discussing important but (what I consider to be) heavy topics such as social theory and abstract concepts such as empowerment. I tend to have a greater affinity for the biological sciences rather than the social sciences because of my training and the way my mind works, so sometimes this type of reading can be a bit draining albeit stimulating. I think what can contribute to this sense of fatigue may be in part the article’s content, but also the design of the articles themselves. Generally, articles tend to follow the same formula after a while, which can become somewhat repetitious: They lack images (less accommodating to those who best learn from mediums other than text), consist of dense black and white text, and organize the title, abstract, body, and references into standardized sections and columns.
No doubt, there are publishing constraints that make these standard layouts necessary but I wonder what would happen if we (as researchers) had the creative freedom to play with these designs a bit more? While the dominant designs/layouts for journal articles are probably very thoughtfully designed and are important to have for time, efficiency, space, and consistency, I know my senses could benefit from a little more colour, visuals, diversity and vibrancy every now and then.
So with this in mind, I decided to test out some alternative layouts for a journal article that I was a co-author on, “Designing health innovation networks using complexity science and systems thinking: the CoNEKTR model“. I actually do think that the layout of the article is quite elegant in itself, but I wanted to play around with it just for fun and re-imagine it in different ways. The designs I came up with may not be particularly ‘beautiful’ per se, but I just wanted to have fun and see how this might change the way I perceive the article.
The first is the image at the top of this post. This is what I call the movie-poster inspired article layout. In fact, I stumbled upon the poster for the movie Vantage Point (which I have never actually seen) and decided to try this out. Makes a good cover page perhaps? Designing this and the other layouts made me realize how much content is typically included in just the first page of an article! It was a challenge to include it all so I minimized text in all cases.
The next image is below. Thanks to this post I learned how to create transparent text. The background image is a bit fuzzy (my fault) but I wanted to give this version a very clean and earthy look. The original photo can be found on Flickr.
The image below is a bit louder but I have managed to include the full abstract of the article. Thanks to this tip I learned how to create the black highlight for the text.
Finally, there is this layout I came up with. It was originally black and white and then I got bored and added colour. This one was fun to make because I played with a lot of the fonts. Maybe not fully readable or attractive but it’s nice to change it up every now and then.
And last but not least, you can check out a screenshot of the original paper to see what the layout looks like. Like I said before, I actually think it’s quite beautiful and organized nicely. I should also mention that the paper is a pretty fantastic read and I highly recommend it if you’re wondering how design can blend into health promotion practice and participatory engagement 🙂