Biography in Books

To simplify it into one word, my first impression of this book was “intrigue”. This book stood out to me because it’s something I’ve never seen before. In my experience, books tend to have the same two commonalities: purpose and practicality. Purpose being either to inform or to entertain and regardless of purpose, the typical book is also practical. Irma Boom’s book appears to lack both commonalities. It’s not practical by literary standards and to many, seems aimless. The one practicality it may be associated with is its portability. I found Boom’s Biography in Books to be extremely whimsical and playful just in its size alone. There is little to no weight to it, yet it is a decent thickness. The dimensions of the book are specified as roughly 1.5 inches wide, 1 inch thick, and 2 inches long. For such a compact size, Boom still managed to fit 704 pages worth of information inside.

Initially, I thought of the book as very minimalistic in material. It has a simple paperback slip cover and a glued binding. It wasn’t until I looked at it closely that I began to recognize the attention to detail; the red dyed edges, the high resolution images, and the perfectly sized text (legible but not overwhelmingly large for the page size). Without the paperback slip, she even decided to use a leather-like, textured material for the book’s cover. From these few details, it’s easy to see that Boom was very in-tune to how the book makes the audience feel. In my experience, everything about this book draws on a feeling of weightlessness. It has very little mass and all other physical aspects of the book are light as well. From the faint sound that the pages make while turning them, to the thinness of the paper, Biography in Books is quite elegant in its presentation. 

This image shows the red dyed pages of the book.

As I stated before, the book itself isn’t practical nor monumental in size. If something isn’t designed to be practical, it is expected to be designed in a way that catches the eye, whether it being by flashing lights, bright colors, or scale. Boom uses scale to do just that. Her book reminded me of the videos from the youtube channel “Tiny Kitchen” that began going viral on Twitter sometime last year or so. When originally viewing these videos, I became irrationally upset about the size. It seemed wasteful, in time and resources, and yet, people couldn’t get enough of it… and I found that neither could I. I believe it all boils down to entertainment. Your fascination grows as you start considering questions like: “why would they make something so small?” or “how did they make something so small?” Just like these tiny cooking videos, Boom’s books create a sense of wonder that leaves the audience wanting more. While browsing through this assignment’s list of books, I was immediately intrigued about the reason one might have to make something of this stature.

In addition to the attention to detail, the actual content stood out to me as well. For a book so small, I expected it to have blank filler pages or at most, one simple image per page. Taking away the title of the title of the book I would’ve even guessed it to be for children but this is debunked once you open the cover. Boom made it a point to actively fill her book with useful content. Throughout the pages, the reader can find photographs and blurbs of information about historical works by Boom. She even goes to explain her reasoning behind some of her works and whether or not she views them as a success or failure. For a piece of work that is categorized as graphic design, there is somewhat of a lack of continuity and cohesiveness in the layout of the text. However, it is made clear that she approaches her work with the intentions of having organized chaos.

This image shows the scale of the book.

This book is unlike most because she finds herself challenging the standards of graphic design and striving off of “fearlessness” (Irma Boom Interview). Its comedically small in stature and has a whimsical quality with its mixing of layout and type. It breaks conventional standards of graphic design and that has been a large part of its novelty. Against all odds and some doubts from fellow designers, Boom’s work has gained her many prestigious recognitions (New York Times). Biography of Books is most valued for Boom’s boldness and craft more than anything else. Irma Boom brought her own, experimental approach to the graphic design world and has received many acclaim because of it. Boom has been internationally recognized for her unique works and currently has part of her work displayed at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and an archive of her books held in Special Collections at the University of Amsterdam (Eye Magazine). She has created over 300 books to date and is the youngest recipient of the Gutenberg Prize.

Most graphic designers work from the outside in. Irma decides to take a different approach by focusing on the aesthetic of the book then figuring out type and layout later on (Biography in Books, p. 46). This approach seems to take inspiration from her painting background. The aesthetics become more heavily weighted than the layout and structure of the text. This book also alludes to her own development process and shows her individualistic style as a designer. Boom explains her design process and how her past works began as small models. A tactic she has long used to better oversee her work process and form. She is very deliberate in creating the structure of her books. With Biography of Books specifically she mentions that with every passing year, the book will grow 3 percent in size and also grows in content (Irma Boom Interview). 

The curator of The University of Amsterdam’s Special Collections, Mattieu Lommen, had his part in the introduction of the book where he speaks of Irma’s artistic choices and how they have influenced her designs over the course of her career. Another notable name is the Tetterode Foundry, also known as, Lettergieterij ‘Amsterdam vorheen N. Tetterode. This company may not have necessarily been involved in the book making itself but it definitely served as an inspiration for Boom. Tetterode, a Dutch type foundry, created a book the size of your fingertip that Boom has taken inspiration from. She admires the craft and detail put into such a small piece of work. She also believes it to be an example of culture displayed in design. It was important for Boom to use the opportunity of her book’s creation to show her craft and the Dutch strengths in book binding. In her interview, she mentions the quality of Dutch printing and book binding and how it is better displayed in smaller books (Irma Boom Interview).

Most of her books have the same miniature style so, if not literally a part of a collection, her work still has a sense of unity. For “Biography in Books” specifically, Boom has gone on to create a French version, L’architecture du livre”, and renewed English version, “Architecture of the Book,” in 2013. The English version adds an additional 86 pages and increased 3 percent in size as she explained. 




Boom, Irma, and Mathieu Lommen. Irma Boom – Biography in Books: Books in Reverse Chronological Order, 2010-1986: with Comments Here and There. Bijzondere Collecties, 2010.

“Irma Boom Interview.” YouTube, Louisiana Channel, 5 Nov. 2015,

“Eye Magazine.” Eye Magazine | Feature | Reputations: Irma Boom, 2014,