Digital Protoypes

I spent a lot time working with digital protoypes to work out the main design for book. Illustrator was powerful and useful tool for me to quickly iterate through a bunch of ideas in terms of layout and form. I'm going to now try and take you through some of my digital prototypes to try and illustrate my thought process.

When the idea for the book first came up in a conversation with Justin, the idea centered on a board book with typefaces set in their own typeface. The main idea was to introduce infants to typography in a fun and colorful way.  I imagined a book where each page or even the whole two-page spread was just the name of the typeface in a large bold letters.

This example is an illustrator file I created as a protoype. I was thinking about how to make the book interesting to infants. Should I have it run off the page? Which colors were exciting? Was there a way to connect the color to the typeface in some way?  This idea would have worked with my then 4-month old daughter, although I probably would have stuck to black and white.  She liked her board books not to be too busy and was mainly concerned with examining high contrast objects and turning the pages.

This brings me to user-centric design as it applies to board books. I found that watching my daughter and the other children and the daycare play with board books was instructive in terms of framing my design problem. It may seem obvious, but I was surprised by the variety of ways the children at the daycare interacted with books and which different things interested them. I also spent some time benchmarking board books, looking at other board books I liked and what aspects I liked about them.  One big decision these two activities helped me with was the aspect ratio. I found that the children really liked turning the pages and were excited by the physical motion. Eric Carle's books (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Busy Spider, etc.) were especially popular.  His books are immediately recognizable, not only for the his disctinctive art style, but also for their long, thin landscape aspect ratio which is not really used by other board books.  Most board books are pretty square.  I tried out different sizes both in illustrator and by cutting out pieces of paper.  In the end, I chose a book size of 4" x 6".

Another question I tried to answer with early protoypes was which fonts to include in the book.  As I was making the book by hand, I didn't want it to have too many pages.  I played around with a bunch of fonts, read a lot of blogs, top ten sans-serif font lists, etc. I picked some of my favorites and started grouping them in different ways.  I was trying to settle on a group that went well together and perhaps had a theme.

One decision I made early on using this protoype was to go with only sans-serif fonts, saving the serif typefaces for a future book. I figured I could then easily expand the collection ( to be fair, I'm biased as Frutiger is my favorite typeface.)  I ended up liking Helvetica, Frutiger, Gill Sans, Futura, Franklin Gothic, and FF Din.  I liked this grouping because I felt it had a variety of forms and included some great names.

The idea kicked around for awhile and in a subsequent conversation, Justin and I batted around the idea of adding more of a story to it.  My now 7-month old daughter was much more interested in the reading out loud part.  After generating some ideas, I finally settled on the idea of a anthropomorphized letter searching for its typeface.  This would allow me to do the repetitive call-and-response my daughter enjoyed and still use all of the typefaces.

I started with black and white and wrote most of the story.  One major change I made during this iteration was to change the typeface of the main character from Frutiger (again, my favorite typeface) to Helvetica. I really thought Helvetica was a somewhat cliche choice but it happens to end in a and that really worked graphically.  I also wanted to move away from the black and white framework. My daughter was interested in color and different colors.  I experimented with a couple different ways of using color (the text, the background, the word bubbles)  before trying vignettes.

Vignettes were something I practiced in an industrial design class I took as a way to ground sketches of products.  I liked the vignettes for this project because they allowed me to add more characteristics to each typeface. Even if my daughter couldn't tell right away that the typefaces were different (and to be honest, many of the sans-serif typefaces are pretty similar), she could see the colors were different and eventually that the shapes were different too.  This is the basic design for the book, and although I've made changes to the vignettes, colors and other small details, the main decisions were all made early on using these digital prototypes.


  1. In the last picture -- I see the letters better in the white than in the one with total color. Is that true for you or is it that I'm old? Also the square of brown seems to enhance the movement of the a hopping along.

    Great idea and great work!