In 1995, noted and infamous designer David Carson published his volume The End of Print. Consider the gravity of his claim for a minute. The dawn of the printing press is considered one of humanity’s greatest achievements. For someone to proclaim print’s death isn’t the same as proclaiming the death of, say, Tamagotchis, or Pogs.
My earliest dabblings in design and layout were heavily influenced by Carson’s post-modern aesthetic. Later, at university, I discovered modernism and a rational approach to design that has guided my career ever since…
This is why today, when I found out about something called Bibliotheca, my heart started to race a little. You see, two things that I love dearly, will very soon come together in a completely new way, a way that I believe will be really quite significant for anyone who likes to read. I’m referring to this crowd funding project by book designer, Adam Lewis Greene, who has taken on the epic project of designing the Bible as a book, or rather books, that will be published this winter.
“Say what?!” I hear you ask… “Clearly, the Bible is a book.”
Well, yes the Bible is a book but not one designed for reading… (it is often horrendously difficult to read the Bible for any sustained amount of time. Strained eyes anyone?)
Before you tune out and deem me heretical, I can explain exactly what I mean. The Bibles you and I most commonly know and use are multi-functional, reading-reference books, and are ‘designed’ as such, or at least they’re meant to be. However, as Greene explains on his Kickstarter page, sometimes the narrative gets hard to see amid all the extras that we see on the page, extras that were never conceived of at the time of writing. The verse references, headings and notes, while incredibly useful for reference, can be deeply damaging to the reading experience, and the actual absorption of words.
On the other hand, good design, when applied to literary content, is all about serving the words—making them legible, making them readable, gently interpreting their rhythm and form, giving them room to breathe so as not to tire the eyes. I have never yet seen a bible that cherishes this traditional craft of book design… seemingly until now.
Greene has gone to a lot of pain and effort, to plan and produce a fresh version of printed scripture that ebbs and flows like a novel—designed for reading, just like a real story. With space, controlled rhythm, pace and properly proportioned type, these books will be incredibly functional, a joy to read. The added bonus is that the four volumes will be extremely beautiful—worth treasuring—which only seems appropriate given the incomparable value of the words within.
So why am I making a fuss about this?
Well, I love rational design and I love the Bible. I passionately believe that the applied arts associated with the field of visual communication have a role to play in spreading the gospel. To me, Bibliotheca offers a new way to read and absorb the truth of scripture—where artisanal skill and craftsmanship has been used to shape and enhance the reading experience—simple, straightforward, unimpeded reading. I think this will re-present the Bible as a story, for anyone who likes to read.
Of course there will be objections, over translations, over tiny semantic details, over intent and no doubt over some sort of physically-idolatrous-objectification… but this will miss the point. This set of volumes will not easily work in a church setting, nor should they. They won’t facilitate a deep, cross-referenceable study, nor should they. These books will be there to get lost in, to be stashed under the pillow at night or stowed in your rucksack as you get off the bus.
And no, this isn’t some hipsterish trend or gimmick—as analogue craftsmanship, perhaps—but this is also something deeply traditional and rational. This is intentionally modern, where an undeniably beautiful form is derivative of the most basic reading function.
I’m excited because this project speaks of the enduring relationship between man and the printed word and a fresh expression of the desire to have a permanent, tangible, treasured, encapsulation of truth. Despite the proliferation of electronic alternatives and all their fleeting, flexibility—print isn’t dead like Carson suggested, it’s more alive than ever.
Fitting then, that living words should be so suitably contained.