Q&A with co-authors Elliot Jay Stocks and Keir Whitaker
Insites: The Book, just released by Viewport Industries, gets up close and personal with some of the biggest names in web design, delving deeply into their lives and work. The interviews explore the designer’s journey through personal stories and make this a truly unique design book.
The book also happens to be the brainchild of two good friends of (mt), Elliot Jay Stocks and Keir Whitaker. It’s been our privilege to have supported them on a number of previous projects. So we were thrilled when they sat down with us to answer some questions about the book, their process, and how this project has changed the way they work.
(mt): How did you decide this was something you needed to do?
Keir Whitaker: The book is based on the series of informal evening events we hosted in summer 2011 called ‘Insites: The Tour’. The idea behind it was to get up close and personal with the big names of the web by chatting to them in an informal setting about their big wins, their lessons learned, and their journeys so far. Sharing technical knowledge is great, but personal stories and journeys are — at least for me — far more interesting.
The actual idea for the book was formulated on one of our many train journeys around the UK during the tour. A couple of months later we put the project together. One of the big things to come out of it was forming our own company, Viewport Industries, as an entity to publish it.
Elliot Jay Stocks: The Insites brand as a whole — the Tour, the Book, and the other stuff we have in the works for next year — is all about people sharing the stories they might tell people over a drink in the pub, but never talk about on a conference stage. Our aim is to uncover all the stuff that really drives people and present those stories in an intimate, friendly fashion.
KW: We recently worked out there have been almost 60 people involved in the process. It’s the biggest project we’ve both been involved in from that respect.
We have certainly learned a lot — primarily how generous people are with their time and how willing they are to share their experiences. Almost everyone we asked to be in the book agreed and found time to talk to us; the majority in person.
It’s an obvious thing to say, but print is so different to the web. We had many conversations about paper, packaging, embossing, shipping and ink — that was all new for me. The little details will always take longer to get right than you think, and that was a big lesson.
EJS: Yeah, we definitely underestimated how long it would all take! I thought I’d have a fairly good idea, having done 8 Faces, but really the scale of this project was far larger than we realised. That’s not a bad thing, though — what we’ve ended up with is something that is far better than what we’d originally imagined.
(mt): What added value do you think multiple author/multiple discipline books offer?
KW: There’s a great mix of people in the book, which was important to us. Hopefully we’ve shown that whether you’re a designer or an entrepreneur, you can learn something from every one of the twenty-one interviewees, regardless of discipline. It’s always nice to have your eyes opened to different approaches and to see things from alternative angles.
(mt): The layout is stunning. What was your inspiration for the style?
EJS: Thanks! The thing I was most conscious of was that we had a big, 256-page book with a lot of text, so how was I going to make it visually interesting as well? I didn’t want readers to flick through it and think it looked like a novel, so I used pull quotes to break up the content and a very obvious style for our questions.Towards the end of the process, we decided to insert the timelines — in which each interviewee names five key dates in their life — and they help to add some further visual interest.
(mt): Did you implement a styleguide for the book?
EJS: Yeah, quite early on I designed the core page templates, although I ended up refining them a lot once we put most of the content in. We’d used the Ultra weight of the Quatro Sans typeface for the Insites logo way back when we did the Tour, and I wanted to revisit that. At the time I put the first templates together, Mark Caneso (the type designer) had just released a whole family of weights for Quatro Slab, so I was keen to make the most of that. Mark hadn’t yet released the full Sans family, though,so I asked him if he could give us ‘beta’ versions to play with, and he very kindly obliged. By the time the design was coming to a close, Mark provided us with the final versions of the Sans family and the whole thing just fell into place. It’s also a little bit of history repeating itself, because Mark had previously given me the beta version of Quatro Slab when I designed the branding for Brooklyn Beta.
(mt): What’s next?
KW: We have a number of projects in the pipeline. We’re looking forward to working on some new digital products based on WordPress as well as launching a weekly lifestyle newsletter called Digest. It celebrates the culture orbiting the web community — from great coffee, to stationery, travel, and much more. We are also running our second Pragmatic Web Design workshop in December in London — the first one was great.
EJS: We’ve also got a few smaller print projects in the works, which I’m pretty excited about. The emphasis is on small, though — I’m not sure I could do another book of this size any time soon!