Designing a Family Cookbook

Printed Copy of “Thúy’s Family Cookbook 2020”

Last fall my eleven year-old daughter Thúy got the idea to solicit favorite recipes from family members and collect them into a family cookbook that she would gift at Christmas. She’s always been interested in cooking, and has great appreciation for the variety of food that she’s eaten throughout her young life from all over: Vietnam, France, Texas, Illinois and a random selection of cuisine enthusiasms that we’ve picked up as New Yorkers.

I was struck by the wide-eyed curiosity of the idea, and quickly offered to help her turn it into reality. Partly this was because I’m always eager to encourage her enterprising spirit, but I also saw the chance to put my design skills to use making something concrete and relevant to my family—and to Thúy, particularly.

Once she had all of the recipes collected and the copy ready (with invaluable editorial assistance from my wife), Thúy and I sat down with InDesign and basically designed it together. I handled the mechanical work of typesetting and layout, but she selected the various typefaces and effectively art directed the look and feel of the thing. Along the way I showed her the fundamentals of book design: chapter headers and sub-headers, page folios and how to make a table of contents. It was a blast talking about these fairly esoteric topics with my eleven year-old daughter and to have it come alive for her, demystifying the act of what it takes to create a “real” book.

Table of Contents from “Thuy’s Family Cookbook 2020”
Recipe Page from “Thúy’s Family Cookbook 2020”

For the cover, Thúy used a black Sharpie marker to draw a host of foods, ingredients and kitchen utensils on paper. We scanned those into Illustrator, converted them to paths, added color and then composed them together with the display type. The design is, stylistically, probably something that I never would have arrived at on my own. But I do adore it and of course it was a joy to discover the composition with her, as collaborators.

Drawings for “Thuy’s Family Cookbook"

From the start, the whole book was designed to match the standard printing sizes over at Lulu, where you can print on-demand for relatively cheap. Our book was 6 x 9-inches, twenty-eight pages in length, with black and white interiors and a color hardcover with a matte finish. The printing cost for each came to about US$9 each. That’s a very reasonable price point for Christmas gifts, but Lulu was so inundated for the holidays that we had to pay for express shipping in order to get the copies out in time, raising the per unit cost to just under $15. Lesson learned for next year, when we plan to update the cookbook with new recipes and possibly color photos.

The whole project was well worth the effort and cost though, not just for the obvious sentimental value to our family, but also for the experience of having created an utterly unique gift that, well, you can’t order on Amazon. But for me it was even more meaningful because it allowed me to do what I love with someone I love. When we got the book in the mail from Lulu and held it in our hands, that was a good day to be a designer.