Tag Archives: books

The changing face of book design

Publishing in the UK is developing rapidly and so it is vital that our workforce develops too. As digital innovation continues to drive growth and as publishers gain access to increasing amounts of data, the skills required are changing and new job functions and departments are springing up across all forms of publishing.

(snippet from The London Book Fair website)



Modern book design dates back to the early 1890s and William Morris’s Kelmscott Press. The books were expensive but beautiful. Morris designed his own typefaces, made his own paper and printed the books by hand. They were designed to be read slowly, to be appreciated and treasured, making an implicit statement about the ideal relationships between reader, text and author.

A century later and the next invention to change the design world so dramatically was the Macintosh computer. Introduced in 1983 it was the first mass market computer specifically made with the creative person in mind. With its graphical user interface, integrated graphics software (MacWrite & MacPaint) and postscript fonts they allowed a designer to not only typeset copy but to lay out pages ready for print, marking the end of Exacto knives, hot wax and galley type. HL Studios was there from these early beginnings and is proud to be amongst the first UK studios to use them as standard.

As the internet evolved from the early 1990’s increased speed and bandwidth has given designers a whole new media platform to create for. The bulk of a professional designer’s work is now either for the web or application UI elements, all of which will be viewed and experienced through a variety of media devices giving designers ever more creative opportunities.

For the millions of people browsing bookshops and websites today in search of the perfect read and the years of research into design and emotional response, the age old adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’ has never been so irrelevant!


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Posted by on May 15, 2014 in design news


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McDonald’s to become UK’s largest book distributor

McDonald’s is set to replace Happy Meals toys with educational books


The campaign launched this week with a five week nationwide giveaway and will continue until the end of next year, by which time a total of 15 million fiction and non-fiction books will have been given out. The move will make them the UK’s largest children’s book distributor.

The first set of books offered are short non-fiction works by Dorling Kindersley, who are well known for their lavishly illustrated picture books. One book will be included with each children’s Happy Meal, which traditionally include plastic toys promoting films and TV shows. They will also give away additional vouchers for the books which can be redeemed at WH Smith.

The giveaway was apparently inspired by research from the National Literary Trust which revealed that just 50 per cent of children say they enjoy reading a lot.

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Posted by on January 11, 2013 in duck tales


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Is it time for an overhaul of GCSEs?

GCSEs have been in the headlines over the past few weeks as a row over whether candidates were too harshly graded in their English GCSE continues. The fiasco has refocused the spotlight on what the future holds for the qualification.

GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) were first sat in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1988, replacing O-levels and CSEs. This summer – for the first time in the qualifications’ 24 year history – there was a fall in the proportion of GCSEs awarded an A*-C grade. There was also a fall in the proportion of pupils receiving the top A* and A grades.

Earlier this year, Education Secretary Michael Gove said England’s exam system needed to be changed to restore rigour. The Chief Inspector of Schools in England, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has called for an an overhaul of the GCSE examination system but others are not so sure.

The BBC News website asked some key opinion-formers in the world of education what they think is the best way forward for assessment at age 16.

Two-tier system?

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, says a debate needs to be had about the purpose of post-16 assessment before any changes are made.

GCSE has been a very successful qualification catering for a very wide range of pupils. But the many recent changes to it – exemplified by the current problems with the GCSE English exam – show we need a full review of how any qualification at 16 operates.

The first thing to do is to ask what is wrong with GCSEs and then look at the options to replace it – if we need more rigour, do we need a new qualification or do we just need tighter criteria?

The biggest issue is that there has not been a debate about what the curriculum should look like for these young people, particularly with the raising of the participation age to 18.

We don’t want a return to a two-tier system and so I think any future plans will need to be based on a suite of qualifications catering for the many different pathways that students might want to follow. We don’t want to end up with one qualification that tries to be all things for all people.

Bring back O-levels?

Nick Seaton, secretary of the Campaign for Real Education wants to see a return to rigorous academic exams for the most able and more practical exams for the less gifted.

GCSEs haven’t been very successful since their introduction because it’s impossible to have a single exam to cater for all abilities and there have been problems regarding their veracity.

We would very much like to bring back O-levels in this country. International GCSEs are very popular overseas, so why not give schools here the chance to use them? Society needs all sorts of people, some academic and some practical, so we should build on everyone’s strengths and abilities. By a single system of exams, you narrow everyone’s choice and try and make everyone the same which seems ridiculous.

We do need to have some form to assessment at 16 as it is a key stage in youngsters’ lives when they need to have mastered the general, before specialising in things.

Too many Lego blocks?

Dr Kevin Stannard, director of learning at the Girls Day School Trust, believes GCSEs could be slimmed down to allow pupils to cover more subjects.

GCSEs are far too assessment driven, the hoops are too obvious and encourage teaching to the test. They are too chunky and require a certain number of recommended hours, so schools can only fit a limited number into the curriculum.

What if GCSEs weren’t all the same size? What if they were smaller and we could do more? Like Lego bricks, you can only build so many, and they don’t all have to be the same size. We shouldn’t regard GCSEs as a given.

We need to ask why our pupils aren’t doing a broad and balanced curriculum up to the age of 16, before they go on to specialise. It’s because there isn’t enough time in the day – if you want to do geography, you have to do geography GCSE and it takes up a certain number of periods.

At present, most curriculum time is given over to examinable subjects, and the time slots are indivisible, representing a standard GCSE-sized chunk in each case. This inevitably means that pupils have to make invidious choices between subjects, since they can’t do everything. If we reduced the number of slots, pupils could study to a similar depth but in fewer topics.

Also, why do we have a battery of tests at an age when most people haven’t finished school? We would probably find we do want to do some testing at age 16, but it’s not the exam we have currently – they’re too intrusive and too limiting.

Assess flexibly?

Bill Watkin, operational director at the Specialists Schools and Academies Trust, believes more flexible assessment would improve the current GCSE model.

Are GCSEs intended to measure a child’s capabilities at the end of his compulsory schooling? If so, and with children expected to stay in education beyond 16, is this the right time to have exams at all? Perhaps we should do away altogether with 16+ exams.

But we do not need to return to a two-tier exam. We need to improve the one we have. Children develop at different rates and different ages. They need to be free to step up or step down to suit their abilities as they develop. They cannot do this if there are two entirely different and mutually exclusive courses.

We do need to consider the different subject content, learning styles, home environments and contextual characteristics of students when designing assessment methodologies. Sometimes modular is good; sometimes coursework is good; sometimes teacher assessment is good; sometimes rote learning and terminal exams are good.

But we should not confuse the issue: flexible assessment design and rigorous standards are perfectly compatible. We do not have to revert to one assessment model in order to preserve rigour and high standards, particularly an assessment model that does not reflect the techniques and aptitudes of 21st century schooling.

Learning by doing?

Lord Baker, Chairman of the Edge Foundation, proposes a programme of studies for 14 to 18-year-olds where academic and hands-on subjects are combined.

It’s vital that schools and colleges provide education which develops practical skills and personal qualities as well as subject knowledge. This has to include opportunities to learn by doing.

This isn’t about the skills needed for a particular job. It’s about understanding how maths and English – and many other school subjects – are used at work and in adult life.

And not just that: it’s also about teamwork, solving problems and communicating with other people. Exams have to be capable of recognising all these talents.

The vast majority of young people now stay in education or training until they are 18. We don’t need a school-leaving certificate for 16-year-olds.

Instead, we need a general test at 14 to check student progress and help guide subject choices.

After that, students should combine academic and hands-on subjects and earn credits towards a high school diploma at 18.

Whatever the Government decision is on the reform of examinations, it looks like a busy time for re-prints in the publishing sector is on the cards!

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Posted by on September 14, 2012 in duck tales


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Outsourced support for educational publishers


As our society’s educational needs multiply, there’s a never-ending stream of demands to create and develop new courses, to help with education and training of ever more students. In addition to the demand from schools and colleges for educational material, there is now a growing demand for adult education. As the pace of change accelerates, there is an increasing realisation that people need to improve their skills all the way through their careers, taking account of changes in their profession, or planning a complete change as their old industry moves into its twilight years.

At the same time, the new technologies are creating new opportunities and challenges, making it possible to deliver education remotely and in flexible ways. First Amazon’s Kindle, and then the Apple Ipad, have created new ways to deliver electronic material and coursework. Added together, these issues mean that educational publishers face a significant number of changes in the way they work, and an increasing demand for relevant content to support the burgeoning demand for modern education.

For a start, traditional publishing, which involved crafting books and printed coursework has been overtaken by demands for other media. Gone are simple illustrations, now it is possible to include animation and video, even virtual three dimensional objects with interactivity for students. Online formats are now used for delivering courses over the internet, while tablets require downloadable documents that are legible and work well on each of the individual machine’s formats. Often the design skills that work well to deliver a printed format book do not produce such good results when translated to a new digital format, so that it can be advisable to seek design expertise with more specific experience in this area.

The pace of work has also changed considerably. No longer will businesses place long term contracts, allowing educational publishers to plan their staffing and workload months ahead. Instead, timelines have shortened, and projects will be awarded much nearer to their publication deadline. In these circumstances, it makes sense to plan a more flexible publishing operation; something that has led to the creation of companies such as HL Studios, which can deliver on-demand specialist support to mainstream publishers. The company has a studio of project managers, designers, page layout artists and illustrators enabling the HL Studios team to efficiently handle projects for print or digital, delivering a quick turnaround with great quality control. Using its own software, HL Studios can provide digital books with video, images and activities embedded on a page.

Not only can this arrangement cover the peaks in output that may be required, they also ensure that it is possible to draw on a talented pool of people, many niche specialists, rather than rely on an in-house team that may be missing essential new skills in such areas as the latest digital design. As a result, a growing number of specialist support suppliers have developed their operations to plug into the needs identified by educational publishers, as they meet the needs of developing material that is not only published as a text book, but may at the same time need to be on a CD or DVD, appear as an online course accessed via the internet, or have elements that can be downloaded as an app or readable document for tablet readers.

The pace of change is unlikely to diminish, and one thing is for sure, within the next few years there will be new, ever more interactive formats appearing that will demand creativity and expertise to exploit. This will continue to provide a challenge for educational publishers; if you’re reading this from one of their offices, then why not call HL Studios now to see how we can help you.

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Posted by on August 29, 2012 in design news


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Out of print and backlist titles – How to make revenue

HL Studios book layout team are helping a major UK publisher create revenue from old titles with a smart bit of hardware that we happen to have in our oxfordshire studio.

We are currently taking around 100 books and converting them into e-books with searchable text. 

The smart thing is that the vast majority of these books are printed copies with no digital files available. In some cases the publisher found that they only had one remaining copy in their archives!

By doing a ‘google’ (see google books project) we have helped a publisher gain revenue and also reinforce the copyright for the 2012 launched e-book.

If you have an archive of dusty old books with no electronic files, and feel this is something you think would be of benefit to you, please dont hesitate to contact us.

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Posted by on July 3, 2012 in design news


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Is Kindle-ing a crime for those of us in publishing? (Part deux)

Ok, so the jury is still out on the Kindle. I dont love it. I dont hate it.
Lets have a look through the pros and cons again:

  • Unlike laptop or mobile phone screens, the display screen on a Kindle reduces glare and can be easily read in strong sunlight – Herein lies problem number one, the screen. Yuk. I dont like it. It’s like a 1980’s Apple Mac, grey-green and the text is a bit bitmapped.
  • Regular books do not include a dictionary – I could very easily look in one. Also I dont make notes in my books, I am long from being a student.
  • Hitting someone in the head with a Kindle does not pack the same wallop as it does if you bop them with a good old fashioned hard back book – this one still needs investigating, Im not so sure…
  • A very upsetting con I have noticed, the text has not been very well entered (not sure how this is done, I need to research this). As in spelling mistakes and double  spaces. 
  • On the plus side for Kindle – you can lay on your side when reading a Kindle. Ah no more pins and needles – this is true, and this is the best place to use it. Farewell to one cold arm syndrome.
  • A brilliant Pro, shopping for books on it. This is great. 1 million titles at my fingertips and loads of them are free or under a fiver. I can also ‘preview’ titles and then choose wether or not to buy them. This is my favourite feature, it’s like reading a few pages in the shop first.
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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in design news


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