Alcuin Awards for Book Design – curious arts

Canada’s only national competition for book design presents the book as a fine work of art in the FAB Gallery until Feb. 14

_MG_2001_picmonkeyedThere are approximately 10,000 books published in Canada every year. What we read is a matter of individual taste, but how that information is presented is a matter of design. Good design transforms information into a readable and aesthetically pleasing publication. Great design – as demonstrated by the 37 winning entries of the The Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada – makes it a work of art.

Winners were selected from 232 publications submitted by 107 publishers across Canada. Sue Colberg, Associate Professor in Design Studies at the University of Alberta, was one of three judges and is curator of the exhibition running at the FAB Gallery until February 14th.

Divided into eight categories, each book is displayed in a distinct fashion. Some are closed, showcasing their exquisite covers and (often overlooked) spines, while others lay open, revealing “visually arresting” interiors perfectly balanced in tone and overall style.

“A well-designed book will have a strong interplay between the structure and hierarchy of the information,” says Colberg. “You will get a feel for the general direction and content of the book, and whether or not it would be something that you would be interested in reading. Without good design, the book might be passed over.”



Black Star (first prize, Limited Editions), was designed by Michael Torosian. “This book is lovingly hand-made,” says Colberg. “The use of the letter press, the linen cover, the inset on the spine with the gold lettering – that’s all high craft.”

Natalie Olsen, a former student of Colberg’s, picked up honourable mention (Prose Fiction) for The Dilettantes.

UAlberta alumna Natalie Olsen picked up an honourable mention.

Colberg is equally impressed by Jeff Khonsary’s design choices for With a Bao A Qu: Reading When Attitudes Become Form. “To have very large text and only a little bit on each page as opposed to a larger page with continuous lines of text – we thought he had considered the content really well, and chosen a text structure that brought that out.”

Vancouver-based children’s book publisher Simply Read Books occupies several spots in the exhibition. Says Colberg, “Lots of children’s books have charming illustrations, but the difference is in the typography and the layout – the image/text relationship. Publishers like Simply Read integrate those things very well.”

Natalie Olsen, a former student of Colberg’s, picked up honourable mention (Prose Fiction) for The Dilettantes. “She showed interest in book design as a student at the University of Alberta,” says Colberg. “She got her foot in the door right out of school. In the publishing business, most designers are freelance, and there’s always enough design work out there.”

“Many people have told me they come to the exhibition and make a list of the books they want to buy,” laughs Colberg. “What’s important is that we’re not just celebrating individual books, but also the book as a cultural object and book design as a cultural activity.”

The Alcuin Society Book Design Awards exhibition travels across Canada to 22 venues, and also goes to the Canadian consulate in Tokyo, and the Leipzig and Frankfurt international book fairs. The show is up in FAB Gallery (1-1 Fine Arts Building, University of Alberta) until February 14. For more information about The Alcuin Society, see their website: . Photos by TJ Jans.

Exhibition title:The Alcuin Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada
Exhibition dates: until February 14, 2014
Venue:FAB Gallery (1-1 Fine Arts Building)
Gallery Hours: Thursday to Friday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday 2 – 5 p.m.
Admission: Free

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