New Direction in Senior Book Design

Communication Design lead faculty Like Dorman. Photo by Chris Dorantes.

Each year, senior Creative Writing and Literature students at Santa Fe University of Art and Design self publish book-length manuscripts as their senior theses. Though the senior reading class is usually held in the spring, since this is SFUAD’s last year of operation, a senior reading class is currently being held in the fall as well in order to accommodate those who are graduating early. The writers learn how to format work using InDesign as well as work with graphic design students on their book covers. This semester, Communication Design lead faculty Luke Dorman and CWL lead faculty Julia Goldberg agreed upon something new in terms of the collaboration process for the senior book designs.

Dorman says this collaboration between creative writing and design students is important on a professional level. “I think it’s a really great project in that, for a lot of students, it can be the first experience working in a sort of designer/client relationship, which is what we do all the time.”

Typically, each student fills out a questionnaire that focuses on themes in their work as well as existing book designs they both like and dislike. This enables the designers to understand the visions the writers have, and offer fresh ideas from a graphic design perspective. Though this will be happening this semester as well, other things have shifted.

The process has become a sort of custom at SFUAD, the current state of the university is vastly different from previous years, particularly when it comes to the student population. Dorman says he wanted to ensure a worthwhile educational experience for his students. Each designer will create a series of book covers that can work as a collection. The writers will then pick, from multiple collections, which book design will be ultimately be used for their final senior book.

“I’ve got seven students in my program and they’ve all done this project before…f I said, ‘you guys are going to do another book cover,’ that’s not helping them grow,” Dorman says. “So this actually fits with a class that I am teaching on visual systems. That’s what lead me to think about creating a visual system that holds the set of books together, and how do we start to build on that kind of thing. That gives my students a brand new experience in the way that they are thinking about designing books. And a new challenge.”

Writers will still have a voice when it comes to the designs and will still communicate with designers in terms of central themes and motifs in their manuscripts. “What I’d like to be able to do is, of course, still get information about each specific book,” Dorman says. “Because we’re working on a set, I want those books to be uniform in some of their visual characteristics, but then to be able to be customized for each individual book as well, so they work together and as individual pieces.”

Though the writers don’t all have to pick covers from the same collection, the opportunity for design students to find connections between each manuscript, and design for broader ideas, is new to the usual process. Now, rather than periodical one-on-one meetings between individual writers and designers, the designers will be thinking with an entire collection in mind, which means the revision process will be different as well.

Luke Dorman is guiding his students to try something new with this semester’s senior book designs. Photo by Chris Dorantes

There were different reactions from writers in the senior reading class, but most say they’re excited about what the design students will produce. “I was kind of disappointed at first. I have some background in book design so I had been really looking forward to working one-on-one with a designer. But now I’m really excited,” says senior CWL student Charlotte Renken. “I can’t wait to see what the class comes up with. The communication design majors are really talented, so whatever they create is going to be really cool and our books are going to look amazing as always.”

This experience will be another opportunity for different SFUAD departments to work together, something many writers are enthusiastic about. “It’s definitely important to collaborate with other departments,” says CWL senior Madeleine Sardina. “Having access to other creative people in different mediums is something we need to take advantage of as students, and I think creative writers especially like to stick to our own, so it’s really awesome to have the chance to work with graphic designers and see our work represented visually like that.”

This is exciting for those who prefer working in multiple mediums as well. “I absolutely love collaborating. I think it’s a really important skill and that the best work isn’t just one genre. My favorite kind of work is writing mixed with visual art,” Renken says. She says she appreciates the many team-driven opportunities SFUAD creates. “I think that’s why projects like Glyph and [Outdoor Vision Fest] are so captivating; you’ve got a lot of people coming together to make something incredible.”

Creative writing students are currently revising their manuscripts and say they’re eager to work on the next steps. “I think with this change in book designing, it’s allowing me to let go of the process a little bit and just see what they come up with. I have every confidence in the designers,” Renken says.