Google Design turns to print for SPAN 2015 talks

Google Design’s first SPAN event in the UK took place in London yesterday, featuring a series of talks, panel discussions and workshops. Far from honing in solely on digital, much of the work discussed was grounded in the physical world – with a SPAN book produced to emphasise this important connection

From Justin McGuirk’s talk on how the notions of public and private space have shifted over the centuries, to a live walk-through of ustwo’s first VR game and presentations from Yes Studio, Colophon Foundry and Moniker’s Luna Maurer, SPAN was an attempt to bring design and tech together and celebrate the work produced by that unique community.

As part of the pack that attendees were given after the conference – and also at the New York event which happened in October – Google Design gave out copies of a book that was designed to reflect on the themes the programmed elements of SPAN had examined.

This, it seemed to me, was the regular conference deal in reverse: usually, printed matter is handed out before the first speaker takes to the stage – and very often it’s simply a list of biographies, a few thumbnails of work etc.

But here, quite cleverly, Google Design provided something that both reflected back upon the day itself (rather than introduce what was coming up) and made a proper printed book in the process. The contents referenced the topics up for discussion at both the New York and London events, with a few extra things thrown in, too.

The cover of SPAN features a plastic sleeve blind-embossed with Google system icons. It is, say Google Design, reminiscent of "pocket protectors, product manuals, and, of course, computer screens". The book is printed entirely in black and white, except for bursts of gradated colour on the inside of the book’s French-folded pages. These also give a subtle hue to each section of the book
The cover of SPAN features a plastic sleeve blind-embossed with Google system icons. It is, say Google Design, reminiscent of “pocket protectors, product manuals, and, of course, computer screens”. The book is printed entirely in black and white, except for bursts of gradated colour on the inside of the book’s French-folded pages. These also give a subtle hue to each section of the book

It’s also another indication that Google Design, while a vital part of one of the biggest digital brands in the world, looks to the fundamentals of print for design inspiration and guidance.

SPAN – the printed book – with its French folds, unfussy and highly readable layout echoes the principles laid down in the company’s Material Design guidelines.

Two-column layout set in Roboto. The folio is set in Roboto Mono and, say Google, provides a consistent, visual anchor for the varied content
Two-column layout set in Roboto. The folio is set in Roboto Mono and, say Google, provides a consistent, visual anchor for the varied content

These guidelines make a point of showing how physicality, space, grids and rules are all important parts of Google Design’s approach to digital tools, software innovation and user experience. (There’s an interesting video here featuring several members of the Design team talking through the links with book design and the company’s resulting experiments.)

Material Design, as Amber Bravo and Rob Giampietro write on the Google Design blog “is built around the principles of classic typography and grid systems – ideas that started with print design –and, of course, paper“. Furthermore, a book can provide the space for elucidating on topics which can’t be covered in their entirety in a 40-minute talk.

And the subjects themselves are wide – while David Fornari introduces a reprint of a 1962 issue of Almanacco featuring ‘programmed art’ created by IBM and Olivetti machine, the text that follows is a beautifully-illustrated Q&A interview with stone carver, Nick Benson.

The icons used throughout the SPAN visual identity were all derived from Google Design's open-source system icons
The icons used throughout the SPAN visual identity were all derived from Google Design’s open-source system icons

“A lot of what motivated us to select our speakers was writing they had done or work they had shared in an earlier form,” write Bravo and Giampietro. “We culled this large body of previously published work, and added new commissions and designs, finding the right balance between long-form, short-form, visual, and conceptual submissions.”

Some of the pieces have been adapted to fit the context of this book, while a selection of Luna Maurer’s Conditional Design exercises – drawing a line on a piece of paper continuously for an hour and a half, for example – “punctuate the book’s sections, offering playful and interactive moments apart from the more readerly texts.”

For longer texts, a single column layout set in Stanley is used. The serif is based on Stanley Morison’s Times New Roman
For longer texts, a single column layout set in Stanley is used. The serif is based on Stanley Morison’s Times New Roman

As with the Google Design site the typeface Roboto and Roboto Mono features heavily in the book – Roboto is used for shorter, informal articles, while Mono is employed for headlines as well as the headers at the top of each page (folios, etc). Stanley, designed by Ludovic Balland at Optimo Type Foundry, is used for the longer pieces – based on Times New Roman it is named after its designer, Stanley Morison.

“Unlike a typical book grid with pages reflected over the spine,” write Bravo and Giampietro, “we used a transposed grid, which is more like a stapled packet, or even a collection of webpages with a consistent header.”

While the book is, at least for now, a limited edition, its contents can be accessed online via Google Design’s Medium page, here. As with the aim of SPAN itself, it seems Google Design are already more than adept at bringing print and digital together as one. Long may their pursuit in both areas continue.

For more details on SPAN London, visit design.google.com.

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