History Book Design: Ken Burns vs. Infographic

From CorporateHistory.net's book "Superior Linen at 60: Stories of Teamwork, Technology, and Trust," designed by Ashley Toth

The graphic design of business history books and timelines tends to follow one of two models. CorporateHistory.net president Marian Calabro calls them the Ken Burns approach and the Infographic approach. Key features of the Ken Burns look (tip of the hat to the documentarian): photos closely aligned to text, cropped as needed but no tampering with flaws; less white space on the page; in general, more History with a capital H. Features of the Infographic look: fewer photos, not always matched up editorially and sometimes altered; more white space; lots more logos, charts, and infographics.

Call them 20th century and 21st century styles, maybe. One is not better than the other. One unintended consequence of the Ken Burns look is what Calabro calls “The Wizard of Oz effect” – the pictures tend to move from black-and-white to color in a chronological narrative. If the company is old enough, sepia may even seep into Chapter One (sorry). Unintended consequences of the Infographic look is that all those symbols and charts can start looking a little generic, and that a truly venerated brand may look like it’s trying too hard to be cool if it goes 100% contemporary.

The core issue, as always: What does the story call for? The question almost always answers itself when you do the research.