It goes without saying that one of the many reasons book design is so popular amongst designers is due to its versatility. It’s a specialty that the Porto-based graphic designer Ana Resende knows well, having executed a myriad of book design projects ranging from books on film, architecture, design and art. “Personally,” she tells us, “making books sounded like a synthesis of what I enjoy the most.” First off, books can be about anything. On one day, Ana can be working with an artist on a compendium of their work. The next, she’s studying the details of cartography mapping a city she only knew by name previously.
Additionally, Ana draws parallels between book design, film and architecture; two mediums she knew much about long before her interest in graphic design. “As in film,” she explains, “it’s all about creating certain visual narratives by using not only words and images but alternative means such as rhythm, sequences and textures.” Alternatively, book design bares a similarity to architecture in its crafting of a physical experience. “You have to ‘build’ an object that has shape, scale, volume, weight and surface. An object to use and keep.”
Ana first graduated with a degree in architecture which led her to work on a research project on the subject combined with film. She was given charge of the publications, her first introduction to the creation of printed matter. She liked it so much she decided to undertake further studies, this time in graphic design and editorial projects – an outlet which largely resembles Ana’s practice to this day but with an emphasis on sophisticated spatial awareness; a product of her previous training in architecture. She describes her gravitation toward graphic design as “not an obvious and premeditated choice, but rather the result of a journey led by experimentation, curiosity and restlessness”.
Enjoying each and every project for the new challenges it brings, Ana attacks her briefs with a consistent methodology or way of thinking shaped also by her architecture education. The physical output tends to vary depending on the process, but in each project, collaboration is key. “I believe I don’t have a strong sense of authorship (at least not premeditatedly)” she says, instead, her work is a result of multiple inputs which enriches both the creative journey and the final piece in turn. Of the importance of collaboration, she says: “It’s fun, you raise the bar and always learn something along the way.”
There are two projects, both completed earlier this year, which exemplify Ana’s evolving creative philosophy. Possible Anatomies – a collaboration with fellow Portuguese designer Filipe Paixão and architecture studio Corpo Atelier – details a catalogue of the latter’s practice, but with a twist. Ana explains the challenges with this brief: “For a long time, they wanted to catalogue their practice which is profoundly based in the production not only of buildings but also of physical objects such as drawings and models. However, they knew by doing so (making a mere catalogue) the very essence of its work would not be properly conveyed in print.” In order to showcase the physicality of Corpo Atelier’s practice, Ana and Filipe set out to create, in Filipe’s words, “a performative and mental process of discovery”.
Despite working intimately on this makeshift catalogue, Ana and Filipe only met once due to the pandemic. Time was a significant factor to consider, as Ana finds it integral in getting to know one’s ideas, expectations and feelings with this kind of highly conceptual yet technical work. With healthy doses of time, eventually, the designers landed on a way to communicate Corpo Atelier’s message while respecting their respective perspectives at the same time. The end result is a book inside a plaster model, a book presented which also acts as question mark.
Corpo Atelier adds: “By making it unavailable, the book is presented as an abstract idea, with no correspondence to the physical reality of the future reader. To actually confirm its existence, the sculpture – here representing both container and content – must be destroyed. Its irreparable loss is required for the book to be discovered. An unavoidable consequence as both objects cannot coexist as integral realities.”
In another unique project, Ana touches on the limited run of books designed by Unbabel, a Portuguese startup developing an AI-powered human translation platform combining Neural Machine Translation with machine learning an crowdsourced model. It celebrates the year 2020, and acts as a starting point to reflect on language. Ana only has one single copy as the limited distribution halted with the pandemic, making it even more precious, but more than this, the designer values the project for its content, design, printing techniques and the fact that its purpose was compromised straight after it was completed.
The project saw Ana and collaborator João Novais design the first issue of a magazine dedicated to literature, visual art and social commentary; offering up an idea of how language evolves alongside society. Compiles of three texts including a non-fiction essay and two short stories, the publication explores the dialogue between humans and nature, how emails can be seen as emotional connections in the digital age, and the evolution of the first extraterrestrial language. In keeping with these themes, the designers considered how to reproduce the experience of an endless space within the limitation of a book. With no spine, allowing the text to flow from one page to another in a legible way, they also wanted the illustrations to appear continuous, similarly to a video timeline. “It had to express complex ideas with simple forms and limited means,” asserts Ana. To top off the experimental process, the collaborators opted to use offset LedUV printing on black paper as an opportunity to test the limits of the printing method; using only four tools – black, white, pink and brightness (varnish) – to add to the puzzle.
“A complex process to build a simple object,” the beautiful outcome is aesthetically considered to match its rigorous conceptual process. And as long as there are new avenues of intrigue for Ana to interrogate, the future of her creative practice remains intact. “The day I know what I will be doing,” she finally goes on to say, “I’ll do my best to change direction.”
Ana Resende in collaboration with João Novais: Future Perfect written by The Royal Studio (Copyright © Ana Resende, 2020)