What are the Features of a Design Binding? 

So what can you expect from a design binding?
Well this is pretty much like saying 'what can you expect from a painting' - there are as many styles and approaches to design binding as there are binders.
Nevertheless, there is one thing in common - quality of craftsmanship and materials. Only the very highest quality work can truly be called a design binding.
The following illustrates a range of elements of design bindings, based on the award winning work of Glenn Malkin.  
The Book Itself 
A design binding would be a wasted exercise if the book inside is of poor quality. In principle just about any book could be bound in this way, but usually the books found in such fine bindings are high quality works, often limited editions and often from private presses. Folio Society books, for example, are readily available and are printed on very good quality paper, often with high quality illustrations. Others from small presses such as The Old Stile Press may be printed on hand made paper and in limited editions of 250 or so. Of course the choice depends very much on the binder and the buyer - commissions are often given based on a particular book.
The Forwarding
Forwarding is essentially the creation of  the book up to the point of applying the external cover design (known as finishing). This is a critical but frequently overlooked aspect of book design. Not only should the text block be secure, of suitable proportions, rounded and backed well, but for a design binding it should have high quaility hand-sewn endbands and effective edge treatment (such as the edge painting shown left). The boards should have an even square around the text block and be of a thickness which is suitable for the book dimensions. Board edges would normally be slightly sculpted. The book should also open and close easily.
For such a quality binding, the endpapers and pastedowns/doublures should be of matching quality. Endpapers may be of hand decorated paper, suede or other material. Doublures would usually be leather though other materials can be effectively utilised. There should be no lumps or bumps on the inside of the boards indicating the turn-ins - it should be totally flat, unless this is an effect used intentionally within the design. The inner hinges would normally be made of thinly pared leather.
The Cover Design
The design of the cover is perhaps the most obvious example of the binder's creativity and artistic/technical skill. There is no real right or wrong in creating a design - that judgement depends more on the observer. As with a painting or piece of modern art, do you like it? Does it speak to you? However, as with those mediums, there is a great deal of skill and technical expertise required to successfully create a high quality piece. Firstly, only the best quaility materials should be used. The best leathers are very expensive so there is a temptation for the amateur to use cheaper leathers. However, the best quality leathers have been tanned and finished in a way which creates rich vibrant colours, great grain effects and a strong, lustrous, lasting finish.
Care should also be taken to look at features such as the endcaps, which should be well formed and protect the endbands.
There are very many basic techniques which may be applied to create a design - onlays, inlays, painting, sculpting and many others are the traditional ones. But there are more specific approaches which have been developed such as lacunose, puckered leather, tudor style, cut-away, exposed sewing, transparent vellum, textured onlay, inlaid wood/metal and countless others. There are then considerations such as the tooling and the titling. Many design bindings incorporate traditional tooling in gold or platinum which requires exceptional patience and skill. The title may or may not be included in the design, depending on the opinions of the designer and the client, and the appropriateness for each design.
The question should be asked however - how does the design reflect the book itself? The design should be sympathetic, enticing, evocative and representative of the pages within in some way. Sometimes the design may need some explanation, but more often than not, even with the most abstract designs, such connections are left for the observer to explore.
Other Considerations
Most design bindings will be presented in a protective box or slip case. This should be of equal quality and be of a design which matches or compliments that of the book. Look for high quality linings such as suede, and ensure that the box opens and closes snugly.
Finally, if you are considering the possibility of buying or commissioning a design binding, you should think about your budget and the timescales you are working to in respect of the work involved in producing books to this standard. Of course every book and every binder will differ, but a good quality design binding will probably take anything from ten to thirty days work depending on the complexity of the techniques involved. Due to the nature of the processes involved, which may include lengthy drying or pressing times, this work time may be spread over several months. Consequently you can typically expect to pay anything from £500 to £3000 or more for a quality design binding. I can of course work within a specific budget if you wish, and would be happy to discuss the options available.
Please contact Glenn at glenn@glennmalkin.com  or on 0797 2648001 to informally discuss your design binding requirements, without obligation.