Examples of experimental layout

figbash_acrobat's picture

I am trying to start a zine this summer, and am in the design phase at the moment. I would like to push the envelope a little (or a lot?) with the layout, and so I'm looking for ideas.

The only print example I've seen that is somewhat close to what I'm thinking of is Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves (sample page). Another picture came up in a Google search that is also similar.

Does anyone know of any other books or magazines with layout in a similar vein? Hopefully my little public library will have a few of them.

mrriddle's picture

Seems to me that the reason these types of layouts are rare is that takes far too long to decipher them.

Almost like trying to crack the Da Vinci Code!

speter's picture

Is it a dyslexia zine?

I agree with Daniel that they are not reader friendly.

matteson's picture

Well, I personally agree with Daniel & Steve, but you might want to check out the weekly alterna-news rag New City (in Chicago). Redesigned several years ago, I think by Segura. Features a lot of sideways type, columns with no gutters, etc. Haven't looked at one in a while, but I assume it's the same flavor. New City is also in other US cities, but I don't know if they use the same layout -- I'd expect not.

dan's picture

Zack, I recently got a promo copy of a design magazine where the copy was set in one column across the length of the publication and the pull quotes had minus leading so the copy's asenders and decenders crashed into one another. It was totally unreadable. I didn't subscribe. I couldn't get by the horrible layout to read the content. Keep this in mind. Ask yourself what is most important, reading the content or art for art sake.

figbash_acrobat's picture

I couldn't get by the horrible layout to read the content. Keep this in mind. Ask yourself what is most important, reading the content or art for art sake.

I am trying to keep this in mind =96 the main reason I inquired here was = so that I could see if this sort of idea has ever been done in a way = that doesn't destroy readability. To draw a musical analogy, while I'm = trying to avoid the layout equivalent of Bach or Mozart, I'm equally = trying to avoid atonalism... somewhere around Bart=F3k is where I'm = trying to be. It will probably be a hard balance to find, especially by = someone as inexperienced as I am. Maybe another way of describing what I = have in mind is blurring the line between form and content, rather than = just mixing up the form for the heck of it. Of course putting an idea = like that into actual practice is the hard part.

By linking those two examples I wasn't necesarily saying I think those = are great examples of experimental layout, just the only examples I = could find. A slightly less-offensive example that I forgot about is = Derrida's Glas, which is basically two columns per page, one with = a text on Hegel and the other on Jean Genet. (If I had read it I might = be able to explain why this choice wasn't just for the heck of it = either.) A sample spread is on this page: http://nersp.nerdc.ufl.edu/~mrogal/th5.html


pablohoney77's picture

oooh deconstruction and derrida. good stuff. i have a concept in mind for developing a type that incorporates what i understand about deconstruction. g'luck with yer design, keep us posted on what you figger out how to do what you're trying to accomplish.

dan's picture

Zach, (first sorry for butchering your name) isn't it the ultimate goal in communications to convey a message while not even noticing how its presented? A good example was an article in Photoshop User. Bert Monroy is an unbelievable Super Realist Illustrator, but he's a poor writer and the layout for his multipart article was so bad you couldn't figure out what followed each other. There wasn't a clear cut flow to the paragraphs. I wrote to the editor about this and the next issue his second part of his article the paragraphs were numbered so you could easily follow the instructions.

matteson's picture

Hmmm...if you're into decon, I'm sure you're already aware of the Derrida/Eisenmann books. If not, you might want to check those out. You might also look at Koolhaas'/OMA's S, M, L, XL. I'm thinking particularly the essay about Bigness.

{disclaimer: this post in no way implies that I am a fan of decon and/or Derrida}

jkochis's picture

I loved House of Leaves. I still think it is one of the best literary works I've ever read. I saw Danielewski's name twice in the end credits of the Derrida documentary (www.deridathemovie.com). But I wonder, do you intend to write all the material and layout the entire zine yourself?

A lot can be observed from Danielewski's approach, who spent 10 years writing House of Leaves before he learned how to use the software and typeset it himself. After all, how well would you be able to understand what he's trying to write after it's been broken up by a hired typesetter who sees only the sentences and paragraphs and where they should start and stop? Or whether the footnotes should run down the margins, or the bottom of the page, or inside a box with a blue border which is continued at the same position for 8 right-facing pages with the mirrored version on the left facing pages before coming to an end at solid black box?

I just think it would be too difficult for a zine.

For those of you who haven't read this book, I highly recommend it. You cannot ignore the typesetting

figbash_acrobat's picture

It's too bad he spent all that time making it and set it in Times New Roman.

Jesse -- I plan to write 60-80% of it, probably closer to 80 in the beginning, and do all the layout myself. I only plan to put it out every three to five months, so it shouldn't be too huge a burden. (Famous last words perhaps?)

Why do you think "it would be too difficult for a zine"? I am not challenging you, I just want to know what you are thinking. Honestly, I've been starting to wonder whether I will have the time (esp. this coming school year) to do anything very grandiose or original, and may just do a conventional, less labor-intensive layout.

figbash_acrobat's picture

if you're into decon, I'm sure you're already aware of the Derrida/Eisenmann books. If not, you might want to check those out. You might also look at Koolhaas'/OMA's S, M, L, XL. I'm thinking particularly the essay about Bigness.

Nathan thank you for your suggestions, here and in your earlier post.

Well, I don't know whether I'm "into" deconstruction; I'm an undergrad philosophy student who didn't read more than 35% of the assigned Derrida readings last semester, whatever that makes me. I thought the holes in the Derrida/Eisenman book was a pretty facile way to "transgress" the reader's expectations -- I would like to find a way to design the zine that will in some way challenge the reader, but not in such a gimmicky way. (Actually, you said books plural: I only know of one. Are there more?)

figbash_acrobat's picture

isn't it the ultimate goal in communications to convey a message while not even noticing how its presented?

No, I don't think there is one single goal, let alone an ultimate goal. Readability, or conveying the message, is one goal, probably the most important one most of the time, but I think you can pursue other goals without necessarily hampering readability too much. Or -- harder to imagine or execute -- "hampering" it in a way that serves a larger purpose. I realize the line between this and the kinds of bad design experiments people have been sharing is a thin one.

Maybe I should spill some of my half-formed beans about this project. I think the two main things I'm trying to get past are: (brace yourself for po-mo scare quotes)

1. The idea of linear, "original" texts that we, designers, simply put onto the page in one form or another that has no effect on what "the text" "says" or "means". That design is purely an interpretive art parasitical on writing.

2. Also, the idea that these texts are simply and only outward expressions of some inner state of the author: that they are self-identical, that they mean one thing and not another, and that the author, if asked, has final say on what the text actually means.

I realize a lot of these ideas are old hat, but it just doesn't seem to me that they have trickled down into affecting the practice of graphic design/typography to a great degree. (Not that I am an expert.) I have had a few humble ideas for how to make intelligent (I hope) use of them, which I will try to post in the morning.

ric's picture

Hey, Zach, believe it or not that first sample page you posted reminded me of the layout of the Talmud (a sample page can be seen here, and another one here). Hardly a brand-new design, but I hope it helps.

jkochis's picture

I think it would be too difficult to invest so much time in a non-linear layout and still adhere consistently throughout the following issues. that's all.

jkochis's picture

don't read this///
sorry my work computer's screwy///don't read this

dan's picture

Jesse did you get an error message? If so its not your computer, its the comedy routine they have at this site. Rather than just posting your message they give you an error message. The message is posted, but to check it out, hit the back button and then go to topics you will see your name as the most recent posting.

jkochis's picture

Some jokes never get old.

figbash_acrobat's picture

Ricardo, thanks for that link -- it would've never occurred to me but you're right.

The Talmud example is perhaps a good segue into one class of the ideas I'm toying with: unusual juxtapositions. I am pretty sure that in the Talmud (someone correct me if I'm wrong) the centermost text is the scriptures (exactly which I'm not sure), surrounded by notes/commentary on it (by some ancient authority?), and then notes/commentary on the first layer of commentary (by some less ancient authority?).

One kind of "unusual juxtaposition" would be to take the Talmud idea pretty literally: first write a "core article," then get someone else (or myself, or myself under pseudonym?) to write running commentary on it, perhaps pro, perhaps con; and then either leave it at that or repeat with a third person. This, I think, would disturb readability hardly at all, especially if the comments were outside of the core article's text box. (Like in the Talmud example.)

Actually, I just remembered, now that I wrote this, a book I read a while ago called The Post-Evangelical. It's basically a controversial book, for evangelicals at least, that argues for a new phase in evangelicalism. For the American edition they got six or eight well-known evangelical (or Christian at least) thinkers to do running commentary in little text boxes peppered throughout. They cover a fairly wide spectrum, so they develop some interesting conflicts of perspective, both with the author and between each other. So that would be a variation: getting a bunch of people to do one level of commentary, instead of concentric levels. (Sample pages are here, click 'excerpt'.)

Another variation on this idea would be to replace the core article with something else, such as public domain material like speeches, or copyright-expired (e.g. Dover) stuff. Yet another variation would be replace the direct commentary with quotes, statistics, sidebars, etc., but instead of choosing material that is directly relevant to, and in agreement with, the core text, as one conventionally does, choosing material that undermines it, or just doesn't seem to even be about the same topic. Like how the two texts in Glas are about different things.

Probably these ideas aren't particularly mind-blowing, but I think if done with some thought, you could get some interesting effects, and without the disruption for the reader (or layout fatigue Jesse is alluding to) that the more radical ideas I have might cause.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Zach -- I'm going to move this to the DESIGN forum where you might receive more/better input.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Thread moved to DESIGN

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