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Design Insight | From the Books of Babes

Surprising Design Insights from Great Children’s Books

I was always an avid reader as a child. I loved books and to this day I can still fondly remember the books that meant the most to me – not just the stories, but the art as well. In some cases, I remember the artwork even more vividly than the stories themselves, such as Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”, or one of my personal favorite authors as a very young child, Tomie dePaola, an Italian children’s author and illustrator I only remember by his art. The same could be said for things like the original artwork for “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”, which has been terrifyingly burned into the back of my brain since I was about 8 or 9. (I haven’t seen the new movie yet, mostly because I refuse to do so unless every light in my house is on.)

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Print Magazine had a really excellent article last month about inspirations and ideas that designers can take from classic or modern children’s picture books. It’s an angle I had never thought of in the way that Jude Stewart presents it. I’m not surprised at all by how my art or illustration style could be impacted by the books I loved as a child (I’m certain I learned to love muted colors and shading from dePaola) but I never thought to turn to the same sources for design inspiration.

Stewart lists three takeaways for modern designers from children’s books:

Subversion – Kids love subversion, but adults do to. We love to slide little secrets into things we create (like every time I sneak a pop culture reference into this newsletter), to bend or break the rules JUST ENOUGH to get attention. The same can be true for our design. It’s the inside-outside-of-the-box thinking that implants ideas in your brain and gets you to engage with the design with an open mind.

Lead With Your MaterialsLead With Your Materials – A different way to describe Stewart’s second point is not to let yourself be limited by production limitations. Print design is often particularly challenged by print methods, paper and substrate versus budget. Rather than settling for a limitation, play into it – let the constraints dictate your design rather than fighting them.

Draw Them Into the ProcessDraw Them Into the Process – Designing for business is often a question of engagement and interactivity. When you can make the reader feel like they are part of the story or process they become a part of the narrative and will engage that much more deeply with your design. The example Stewart gives of “Harold and the Purple Crayon” is perfect, and that experiential aesthetic can be achieved in a variety of different ways, from personalization to AR.

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