During my second semester at Langara, I enrolled in a Book Design course taught by the extremely talented Peter Cocking. Our first assignment was to redesign Michael Mina: The Cookbook, a complicated, heavily-illustrated, poorly typeset large-format coffee-table book, into a smaller, well-designed, type-only book.
The first milestone was to take a sample recipe and typeset it with two different approaches. This would encourage us to experiment with different styles of design and also help tackle the most complicated pages first.
As I did not know much about cookbook design, the first step was to research and gain an understanding of the different approaches. Through my research, I found that in the realm of cookbooks, there are three main groupings that all cookbooks fall into; “practical”, “inspirational” and “stunner”.
“Practical” cookbooks are designed for usage while one cooks. They often have clear hierarchies, readable text and use numbers or other means to help guide cooks through the recipes.
“Inspirational” cookbooks are a bit of a mix. While not explicitly designed for usage at the same time as cooking, these books can be used as the source for recipes. Type in these books have a bit more class than the “Practical” ones as they are not meant to be used as a manual, but more of a reference.
Finally, the “stunner” cookbooks are ones never meant to go near the kitchen—instead they rest on coffee tables where they can be appreciated. These books are photo-driven and promote the name of a famous chef or restaurant. Type in these books does not need to be readable or effective as it is unlikely to be read more than once, if at all. Furthermore, the book is not meant to inspire cooking—rather it is to stun the awe-struck reader and push them to visit the restaurant.
As one can tell from the initial description, Michael Mina: The Cookbook belongs in the “stunner” grouping of cookbooks. Thus, I wanted to attempt the other two approaches and create a “Practical” and “Inspirational” version.
The first iteration of each of these designs successfully accomplished their intended purpose, but neither were perfect. While it had strong hierarchy and clear navigation, the “Practical” one felt too cold and removed for a cookbook intended to be used all the time. The “Inspirational” featured a more friendly feel, but ultimately was not successful as the layout did not gel properly. Taking these two imperfect approaches, I picked the best elements of each to produce a final, third version that offered interesting layouts with strong hierarchy and an inviting feel.
In deciding what typeface to use for the design, I wanted to reflect Mina’s style of mixing modern American styles with more classical French cuisine. The typeface that best fit these requirements was Chaparral Pro. Designed in 2000 by Carol Twombly for Adobe, it is a hybrid slab-serif combining modern slabs with historical book lettering to create a readable, friendly appearance. In addition, it is an extremely versatile typeface with multiple masters for text and display sizes and offers a full complement of figures for fractions and text, which are absolutely necessary for laying out recipes.In choosing a display face to pair with Chaparral, I wanted a sans-serif because I felt it would stand out clearly. After experimenting with a number of different typefaces, I chose Euphemia UCAS. With a contemporary, yet friendly feel, it makes the pages feel inviting and encouraging.
My primary aim for the design was to make the hierarchy and layout as clear as possible, as the recipes themselves were extremely convoluted and hard to follow. Page layouts in the recipe sections were a mix of three columns for the ingredients and two for the instructions. This allowed for longer line length for the text and shorter for the ingredients, allowing for better usage of space and making reading the instructions easier. Introduction and titling pages were also based on the grid, but allowed for more dynamic text arrangement.
Through this project, I was forced to apply my knowledge of macro and micro typography to a difficult and sprawling text. While it was a great learning experience, the greatest boon was the chance to work with other talented, passionate designers. In the designs of each of them, I saw new ways to apply and think about typography from which I could take inspiration and learn. Thanks to this opportunity, I felt open to experiment with new concepts and diversify my typographic horizons.