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A Q&A with Adam Spencer's Maths 101 book designer Regine Abos

12 Jan 2022 | Regine Abos

Adam Spencer’s Maths 101 is a book for anyone who wants to truly understand primary school mathematics. Written by comedian and maths whizz, Adam Spencer, this is a book for parents to use and to share with their children to answer those curly maths questions that have become rusty over the years. But though we may all be familiar with our maths textbooks of yonder years, the look, feel and voice of this maths book is very different. Cue Regine Abos, the awesome designer who took on the task of designing a maths book that communicates as much as it explains, speaking to a befuddled audience specifically to help them help others. 

Designing with numbers is no easy task.
 
Wielding Adam Spencer’s wit and humour and her passion for data representation, Regine dove into the task to break down and rebuild problems and equations using the power of design. We interviewed Regine to find out more about the experience and its challenges. Read the Q&A below.

Q&A with Regine Abos

How did you prepare for this project? Did it require extra research or were you able to pull from past design experiences?

Like any design project I work on, I always do my own research. I look up an author and watch them and/or listen to them speak if there are videos of them available online. This process gives me a really good sense of the author's personality. I think tone of voice and author intention are integral things to capture in a design and aren't often always apparent in the design brief. Luckily there was a mountain of videos of Adam on YouTube so they helped me get to know him as a mathematician, comedian and parent.  

How important was Adam’s humour in the inspiration for this book’s design and how did you work to incorporate it?

Adam and I share the same "dad humour" so it felt natural to me to translate his words into imagery and graphic elements. As far as I'm concerned, humour and playfulness are essential parts of storytelling and teaching, especially when it's a subject that most people find quite intimidating like maths and numbers. I teach a university class around designing with data (graphs, charts and diagrams can be deathly boring!) so I brought my own experience as a lecturer and visual communicator in designing this book: the content needed to look simple but not simplistic and the tone needed to be knowledgeable but approachable.

What was the biggest challenge when working on this book and the balance between its visual and textual elements?

Setting a design that could accommodate lots of formulas, images and text was definitely the big challenge for this book. As a publication designer, I need to constantly check that reading flow and content navigation are unimpeded and it's often difficult to do that with a lot of different elements. Readers also tend to gravitate towards graphic elements first, so I needed to make sure that the visuals supported the text and didn't just contribute to visual noise.


The maths in this book is for primary school-aged children but the reader is their parents. How did this dual audience impact your approach to the design and space for engagement? 

Designing any artefact for an audience where the end-user is different to the decision-maker is always tricky. But the bottom line in this case was that the design had to work primarily for parents – they need to understand the concepts and then play the role of teachers themselves. So while I made sure playful and child-like elements were incorporated in the design, it was essential that both the text and visual elements worked together to speak to the parents. Information hierarchy and image-text balance were crucial in making the book both informative and engaging to the adults.

About Regine Abos

Regine is an award-winning designer with nearly twenty years experience as a designer and art director in publishing both in Australia and overseas. Her areas of interest lie in book and information design, having worked extensively with publishers such as Hardie Grant, Oxford University Press, Macmillan, Black Inc and UNICEF. She was an executive committee member of the Australian Book Designers Association and currently serves on the Education Committee of the Data Visualisation Society. Reg also lectures in data representation, her other big passion. She teaches at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology into both undergraduate and post-graduate programmes. She works with industrial design teams on visualising their research, making highly technical data more accessible to various stakeholders. She is also currently researching how playful physical representations of data can help reduce consumer food waste.  

Adam Spencer's Maths 101 is available now in all good bookstores and online. Click here for your preferred online retailer