What is a Design Binding?
A design binding can best be described of a book presented as a unique work of art. The most visible aspect is the binding itself - the leather or other material which wraps around the book. However, a design binding goes far beyond that, incorporating design and creativity on the inside of the boards, the choice of end papers, the hand made end bands, the decorated edges of the text block and the case or box the book is presented in to name just some elements. Every design binding is unique, often taking hundreds of hours to complete and of course necessitates the very highest level of bookbinding technique and skill to make a book which is both stunningly beautiful as well as practical and readable.
The following are some of the elements you might look out for in a design binding. Since every book is different and different binders work in different ways and with a variety of materials and styles, not all design bindings will have all of the following features and there may be other elements worthy of note.
The design of the main binding - the covering around the boards - should connect with the content of the book. This connection may not always be obvious, but the binder will have taken an aspect of the book, a feeling perhaps, an emotional theme or even a phrase or word from the text which has then been used as inspiration for the binding design. It may also reflect colours picked up from illustrations in the book where appropriate.
The edges of the text block will often be decorated. On some bindings these will be left plain or perhaps just coloured, but in any case the edges will be perfectly smooth and probably burnished or polished. Decoration used should compliment the binding, not clash or compete with it. Edges may also be tooled with gold or coloured foils, or perhaps enhanced with a polished graphite finish.
End bands were originally introduced on books to help protect the spine of the binding when books were removed from the shelf. More recently they have become mainly decorative artifacts. On a design binding, end bands should be hand sewn, usually in silk thread, and sewn securely to the text block becoming an integral part of the book structure. The colours and size of the end bands should be appropriate to the book and binding.
The covering on the inside of the boards is known as a doublure. This may be leather, cloth, paper or other material and may be plain or decorative. There should be no lumps or unevenness on the inside of the board and it should merge cleanly with the joint which would normally be leather. The end paper, which faces the doublure, may be decorative or plain and could be paper or some other material like suede.
A design binding is a valuable as well as beautiful object and as such it requires the protection of a box or case of some kind. Typically this will be a drop-back or clam-shell type box often covered with book cloth and with some element of decoration and/or titling. Books may sometimes be presented in a tailor-made wooden box, often suede lined and perhaps with decorative features incorporated.
A design binding is a beautiful thing and deserves to be associated with a beautiful book. Often the books chosen for this type of binding will be special in their own right - a limited or signed edition perhaps and often quite valuable. Often it will be a private press book, maybe printed using traditional rather than digital techniques and with specially commissioned illustrations. Competition books are often set by the organisers, but even then are good quality editions by publishers such as the Folio Society.