What exactly goes into phrase book design?
It’s not exactly a secret that I also blog at Women Learning Thai. And as a designer, design does tend to sneak into my posts.
For instance, in Thai Language Phrase Books: A Mega Review, I found myself critiquing the book designs.
In preparation for that post, I approached the project as if I’d been hired by a client to scout out what arrangements worked best for phrase books, then report back. In detail.
First, I surrounded myself with every type of phrase book imaginable. Then, I culled out the cacca. Next, I immersed myself in all things phrase books by reading each from cover to cover, all the while keeping my design mind open.
Not exactly a surprise was how effective some of the one and two colour versions were. What did surprise me was how a leader in the phrase book business, The Rough Guide, could make a disaster of a colour choice.
In the first sections of The Rough Guide there are 16 pages of light blue with knock out white copy. Have you ever tried to read white copy on a light blue background? Printed on thin paper? You got it, it is pretty much impossible to read in good light, let alone bad.
And when you think about the situations for reading phrase books – dimly lit restaurants, street corners at dusk, at the back of a bus – then it should be obvious to everyone involved that phrase book design needs to be super legible.
But, designers being what they are, sometimes the urge to create something different (insert ‘pretty‘) gets ahead of us and we lose our way. Either that, or someone needs to smack their printer and/or the person responsible for the print check up the side of the head with a paddle. Hard.
Living in the country, I also brought my own Thai culture and language experiences into the mix: what was left out, what didn’t belong, as well as what I found new.
So the other surprise was a seeming lack of a Thailand focus. And here I’m not taking about actual design as in pixels, I’m talking about their target audience.
Perhaps, as a cost savings, some of the larger phrase book producers took the cookie cutter approach by using the same phrases for each country?
Well, I can’t talk about all countries, but I can tell you that it does not work for Thailand. For starters, Thailand does not have ski slopes, or avalanches or ice skating.
What it does have is a rich, embedded culture that comes out in their phrases. Yes, there is another beef coming up…
In Thailand, a common greeting is ‘have you eaten rice yet’ which translates to ‘have you eaten yet’ but really means, ‘how are you doing?’ or ‘what’s hanging?’ or ‘yo mamma!’
And did I find this very common Thai phrase in all of the Thai phrase books? No.
Deep sigh… But, instead of continuing on with a full-blown rant, I’ll leave this rant at that.
The (badly timed) series on Thai phrase books:
- Travelling with Thai Phrase Books
- Using Thai Phrase Books
- Thai Language Phrase Books: A Mega Review
- When They Can’t Speak Thai
- Thai Phrase Books with a Twist
- and one other (still to be determined).
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