Unit’s TD 63-73 – what goes into a new edition?

Unit Editions’ book on the work of Dutch studio Total Design first came out in 2011 and has just been republished in an expanded and redesigned edition. But how do small publishers decide which books are worth revisiting? We talk to Unit co-founder Adrian Shaughnessy about balancing risk and reward and the importance of listening to your audience

Unit Editions‘ 22nd release is a new and expanded version of a book it first published five years ago. When it originally came out in April 2011, TD 63-73: Total Design – a detailed history of the working life of the legendary Dutch studio – sold out quickly. Since then, fans of both Unit’s books and the office where Wim Crouwel, Ben Bos and Benno Wissing worked, have voiced requests for a reprint.

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Now, back by popular demand as they say, TD 63-73 is available in a new hardback edition, featuring an updated text by Bos which extends the focus beyond 1973, in addition to a host of new images from his archives. The book – now 520 pages; its first outing it was 320 – is not your average second edition. And it’s not strictly a reprint either, rather a new book altogether.

So, in Unit’s case, what considerations go into deciding which of its back catalogue to revisit, rework and republish? Below, Adrian Shaughnessy sheds light on some of the decisions a small publisher has to make; from how the company reacts to audience demand to how, as designers, the chance to revisit a book is a chance to revisit the entire package.

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Creative Review: To date, what books have you gone back to and republished? And what does it take, both from your audience and from within Unit, to get a reprint off the ground?

Adrian Shaughnessy: We have never done a straight reprint. Only our books on Herb Lubalin and Total Design have been ‘republished’. But these were not straight reprints. The Lubalin book was republished as a ‘compact edition‘ after the large format ‘deluxe’ version sold out. We did this because the deluxe version was too pricey for some people – and because we were bombarded with requests to make it available again.

The thing to bear in mind with our publishing model is that we only ever print small quantities of each title – 2,000 is our normal print run. This is because we are still a micro publisher and we could not withstand a big flop. The thought of printing 10,000 copies of our books is always tempting – but what happens if they don’t sell? With our current model, we pretty much can guarantee to sell every copy we print, and raise enough money to fund the next title.

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CR: A reprint eats into your production schedule when you could, of course, be putting out a new title. So what considerations do you have to take into account if you’re going to go ahead with a reprint?

AS: Boredom plays a part. It just feels lazy to order a straight reprint. All our books require hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours of work, and as we always have new titles in the pipeline, we don’t have the resources or time to devote to existing titles.

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CR: How did the TD 63-73 reprint come about? I’ve noticed people have made requests on Twitter and Facebook for a new edition since 2012, for example.

AS: The original TD 63-73 book sold out very quickly. It was the book that made us realise that we could produce books that designers wanted. Since it sold out we’ve had a steady stream of requests to reprint it.

Also, on our website we trialed an online survey to gauge the level of interest in a reprint, and the response was amazing. Over a thousand people said they’d be interested in seeing the book back in print. In the meantime, the book’s author Ben Bos got in touch to say he had some new material – textual and pictorial. So it because apparent that rather than the easy option of ordering a straight reprint, we needed to upgrade the book.

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CR: TD 63-73 is an expanded edition – is a new edition always going to offer more than the original? What’s added in here? Why not just republish the same book again?

AS: Ben had enough new content to make an expanded edition possible. Plus, we felt that there were certain design elements that could be improved.

For example, we’ve always been fanatical about showing work as large as possible. We have a rule – if we are reproducing a piece of work that contains text, we think that that text should be readable – even if it’s 5pt in the original. This philosophy creates masses of extra work – everything is reshot and retouched to look as truthful to the original as possible. But we know that our audience appreciates this.

So the TD book has larger images and shows more detail. Plus, Ben has added some wonderful extra text that adds to the story of TD.

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CR: Why do you think this book was so popular with your audience?

AS: As graphic design’s past becomes more valued (thanks to blogs and the many new design history books that have appeared in the last few years), the importance of TD as one of Europe’s first multidisciplinary groups has grown in stature.

And of course, any design group that contained Wim Crouwel, Benno Wissing and Ben Bos, cannot be ignored. Another attraction is that Ben was part of TD from the start, so it’s an insider’s account. You get a ringside seat to the traumas and triumphs of this brilliant group.

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CR: When designing a new edition, do you look at the whole book again, or focus on designing new sections which are then added into the existing layout?

AS: We look at everything. Designers should never become publishers – Tony [Brook] and I cannot resist the temptation to improve. But it’s not only the design we look at – we revisit the format, paper stock and finishing – even the box we mail it out in. The new enhanced edition of TD comes with a heavy-duty slipcase, and we’ve used foil blocked lettering. Designers, eh?

CR: Unit’s most popular books naturally attract requests for new editions – Manuals 1 and Herb Lubalin being two examples. Can you tell me anymore about the potential Manuals 1 reprint at this stage?

AS: We are currently running a poll to see what interest there is in reprinting Manuals 1. Along with the Lubalin ‘deluxe’ edition, it has been our fastest selling title to date. In nearly sold out its entire print run as soon as we made it available for pre-order. The success of this book has amazed us.

There are still a few copies of Manuals 2 available, so we wont take a decision about what to do until both editions are sold out. But you can bet we wont do a straight reprint. That much is definite.

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CR: Finally, which book do you receive the most requests to reprint, that you haven’t gone back to yet?

AS: Our first Supergraphics book gets a lot of requests, but all the sold out titles have interest. I’m dreading selling out of our Ken Garland title. There are only a handful of copies left and I don’t want that book to be unavailable.

In truth, we are up to our necks in new titles. We’ve almost reached the point of needing a ‘back catalogue’ team just to work on older and out of print titles. But I don’t want us to turn into EMI, so the Unit Editions ‘heritage’ imprint its unlikely.

TD 63-73: Total Design and its pioneering role in graphic design (Expanded Edition) is published by Unit Editions (£65) and is available to order from uniteditions.com. All images shown are of the new, expanded edition.

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