FMP: Further Research into space books and planetarium app

For this blog post, I want to conclude my research into designs relating to the subject of space and astronomy. I will still need to research in much greater detail into the content I will be including in my final designs. However, should I see something else that catches my attention, then of course I’ll discuss it.

Books:

In a previous blog post, where I analysed some inspiring designs on a space/astronomy theme, I found it was really hard to look at books and comment on them, when I didn’t personally have access to them save for a few screenshots taken from Amazon. Thankfully though, an Australian family member does own a few lovely space books, and was very kind in taking some photos for me, which will form the majority of this blog post.

Universe (ABC Books)

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The covers for the book immediately project an aura of quality and reliability thanks to the use of a simple layout, fantastic imagery and good typesetting. This is perfect for the intended purpose of the book; to be a complete guide to the cosmos.

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The first few pages of the book sees the excellent imagery permeate throughout, making every spread worthy of looking at, even for those pages which do not normally attract attention. The type continues to be well laid out, making for easy reading. The traditional serif typeface, which carries an element of quality and stability in its characteristics works very well for long passages of text in the book as the serifs are designed to make text easier to read.

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As the contents pages reveal, the level of detail contained within the 575 pages of this book is astonishing. I really can’t think of what you might want to know that is not included. Just as well it’s not a handy pocket-sized guide as otherwise my designs could be redundant! Each section is strongly defined and clearly labelled although from a design perspective some of the alignment could be better selected to make use of the space available.

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One of the design queries I know I will spend a lot of time thinking about is the background for text. Images in space feature a lot of black, and this harshly contrasts the white background the text is placed on. With dark text easier to read on a light background, this is something I will really need to consider.

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The page above highlights an aim for the design I will create. There is a lot of text here, which I am not criticising for a book of this format, but for the audience I am appealing to in the type of book I will design, I want the information to be much more instantaneous, hence why I will be building the design around infographics.

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I thought the above spread was very interesting in discussing the three dimensions of the universe. It is very easy when looking up into the night sky to see it as a two-dimensional canvas which spins above our heads, when in reality it is not.

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Above is a very clear diagram of the planets that make up the Solar System, with three main categories; terrestial, ‘gas giant’ and dwarf. Placing the Sun just off to the left gives an conventional idea as to the scale of it compared to the rest of the planets as opposed to the unconventional method seen in the motion infographics design I researched in an earlier blog post.

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The pages about the Sun are packed full of rich imagery and illustrations that help to build up the audience’s knowledge of it. As I have stated before many times, I really think the imagery is a pivotal part of the book, as if you can see what you’re reading about, it will be far more interesting than if you can’t.

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Diagrams feature throughout the book, from simple schematic drawings to illustrate points to larger double page spreads that illustrate important concepts such as the formation of the Universe. They are very easy to follow and understand, which will give the audience the information they want and/or need.

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This beautiful spread has really opened my mind to what form of illustration I could use for the poster I aim to design highlighting the night sky. It takes me back to an original aim of the design to show how the constellations received their names and to show what they look like, with this being an example of how that could be achieved.

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A lot of detail is provided about each one of the 88 constellations, with a fact file showing where it is in the sky, how to view it, and well as information about it such as the named stars within. I have also been kindly provided with an extract from one of the constellations that states why this one received the name it did.

Cetus

“The Arabs perceived the stars of Cetus as a whale – strange as their waters do not normally support whales. The Greeks associated it with the sea-monster of the tale of Perseus and Andromeda. Sixteenth and seventeenth century cartographers such as Plancius and Bayer drew Cetus as a curious and somewhat comical mixture of whale and monster. Plancius and Schiller, the cartographers who devised the ‘Christian’ star-atlas, interpreted it as the whale that swallowed Jonah. This is the likely source for the modern Cetus – Latin for whale.”

Hubble: Imaging Space and Time (National Geographic)

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Interesting design touches are visible in this book, such as on the contents page, where Hubble is set against a pure black background, with the contents kept to a minimum (such as page numbers behind the text) to accentuate the black.

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With regards to typesetting in this book, it is easy enough to see the strict visual hierarchy afforded to this spread, with the different sizing and spacing of elements, justified text, large margins. In general, it works well, but it is hard to judge how effective the justified text is for reading, as it needs to be set up properly to minimise (and hopefully prevent) unequal character and word spacing, as I discovered in my St. Luke’s Church project earlier this year.

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A really descriptive page above, that details the main events in the timeline of the Hubble Space Telescope so far, as well as some of its best/most famous photographs along the way.

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The imagery is astonishing, with a small piece of text at the bottom and side of the right page stating the name and how far away it is. This is a really clever way of providing information to the audience while barely taking away from the image. I also think the image directly above with the placement of a thought-provoking quote can lead to a greater interaction and context between the image and the audience.

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Seeing the above spread reminds me that I should consider having these chapter pages to break chapters in, as these can be a chance to give imagery room to dominate with minimal type.

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While showing a stunning image is enough to attract the attention of most in a very successful manner, with the most famous images there is not much new to see. However, here, it is very interesting to see a close-up image next to the main image, which in this case, brings the interest back to life, as it offers the chance to see new areas of the image that could not be seen in such detail before.

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The three images above of conventional pages in the book (with both imagery and text) are well laid out, with good margins, large-scale images that bleed off the page, and type that is legible and in suitable column widths. One negative point I would make is that by incorporating the captions into the body copy, it means that it is not as visible as it should be, I think it would be better to have beside the image so it draws more attention to what the image shows.

Orbit: NASA Astronauts Photograph the Earth
(National Geographic)

Another National Geographic book, designed very similarly to the Hubble one above, so I see no point in repeating my comments save for the fact this book obviously features amazing images. One point I would state is that I think it would be better if the images bled off the page instead of being trapped in a distracting thick border.

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Astronomy 2010 Australia

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A different type of book to the others examined so far in this blog post, this is much more of a guide designed to be used out and about, especially being classed a yearbook, in this case, 2010. The main focus here is the content, not the design.

From reading the blurb, I think it is really encouraging how it states you don’t need a telescope to enjoy the night sky, as this is what I would like to get across to the audience, that it can be enjoyed with the naked eye, and without any expensive equipment.

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Being a yearbook for Australia specifically, this allows the book to go into far greater detail about the upcoming events of the year, as is visible in the above images. This book really has a strong niche, which makes it very interesting as most guidebooks have to be broader in focus because they are designed to be permanent, hence why they can discuss things monthly, but never to the same level of detail.

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The diagrams throughout are really impressive due to excellent legibility and simplicity, it is very easy to work out what they are about and what they are stating. This ease of understanding is what I would like to build into my designs.

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The above page makes some very interesting points, especially in the section A Matter of Distance. I think it will be important to remind the audience how just because two stars share equal magnitude in the sky, does not mean they are the same brightness, if they are both at different distances away.


Planetarium App

There are many planetarium style apps out there, and most are pretty much the same from what I’ve seen, but I thought I would analyse the Neave extension available on Google Chrome that I use if there’s something in particular I want to investigate. I thought it would make an interesting contrast being an interactive digital media format.

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The first thing to note is how simple it is to use. A simple toolbar at the bottom allows the time and date, as well as the location to be set. There are also options to see the sky in daylight or in darkness and whether to see the constellations pointed out or not. Clicking and dragging on the map moves you around the sky manually. Hovering over the stars reveals basic information about them.

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I found it very useful one evening this winter, where I wanted to see what planet I could see out of the window, near Orion, as despite living down low surrounded by trees, I always get a great view out to Orion in the South during the winter. With binoculars, it’s possible to pick out a faint red glow from Betelgeuse.

The view of the screenshots is roughly the right view, but the wrong date. The map allowed me to quickly pick out that it was Jupiter I could see, which was interesting as I had previously assumed it would have been Venus due to its low magnitude (high brightness.)

Conclusion:

This unexpected research has allowed me to build a much greater understanding of books produced about this subject and also helps to clarify some thoughts about the book and poster I am to produce.

I have also seen how a planetarium app can be much more intuitive than printed star charts as the level of interactivity minimises the time taken to set it up, maximising the time to enjoy the view.

What to include?

This is probably the biggest question for me in relation to content. While I have already discussed what content will make up the book in a previous blog post, I now will need to seriously think about the detail I will go into. The Universe book is 575 pages long and contains astonishing levels of detail, not something I am aiming to replicate! I will discuss what approach I will take in my next blog post.

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