Editing by Design: For Designers, Art Directors, and Editors: The Classic Guide to Winning Readers. By Jan White. New York: Allworth Press, 2003. 256 pp. $20.85 (Paper)
Jan White’s Editing by Design is a valuable resource for all creative facets of the editing and publishing world. In his book, White focuses on marrying the roles of editor and designer by emphasizing their interdependency. Each chapter is separated into two sections: product-making, which is achieved through design, and story-telling, which comes from writing and is emphasized by design. Further, he stresses that it is not enough for the product to be well designed, but that the design must compliment the story in a way that is “revealing to the mind.” Editing by Design is organized logically; it opens with a general introduction to working with a multi-page medium, and becomes much more specific in later chapters, discussing subjects such as the use of font and color.
White holds architectural degrees from Cornell University and Columbia University School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. He also worked as art director for multiple architectural publications. Originally published in 1974, Editing by Design is White’s first book, based on his real world experience working with editors, journalists, art directors, designers, and publishers. It is what he calls a “compilation of observations, exhortations, opinions, warnings, and recommendations.” White’s experience is evident in Editing by Design; allusions to architecture are scattered throughout the book, and his knowledge of design and editing is obvious. The end result is a well-organized and informative guidebook.
Part of what makes Editing by Design so approachable is the fact that White acknowledges the subjectivity of this line of work. He is quick to admit that there is no correct way to make these editorial decisions but asserts that the suggestions contained in his book will prove helpful to designers and editors alike. White introduces many logical points that could easily be overlooked. In the first chapter, “The Multi-Page Medium,” he discusses a publication as a physical object rather than a two-dimensional document. With painstaking detail, White covers everything from how a reader holds a magazine and how the page folds, to which areas of the spread are the most and least valuable. Each of the twenty-seven chapters is written with the same attention to detail and clarity, though it is a surprisingly light read filled with White’s whimsical illustrations and occasional jokes.
While White is undoubtedly a wealth of knowledge in regards to document design, Editing by Design can at times become redundant, particularly in the chapters “Columns and Grids” and “Margins.” White pays these subjects the same amount of attention as the rest in addition to revisiting them in subsequent chapters. Though it may seem repetitive, White’s reintroduction of older elements does help to strengthen their significance in the design process.
Editing by Design is a carefully architected guidebook that could be an invaluable resource for both veterans and amateurs in the world of document design. White’s book outlines the necessary elements for attracting readers to a publication. His book would be of great use to students interested in design or editing, and professionals already in the field.