The So-called Lookalike

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The So-called Lookalike

Dear designer,

My name is Manetta and I am writing you in the middle of a design process and collaboration with Possible Bodies. Together we are turning the Volumetric Regimes research into a book. It will be published by Open Humanities Press (OHP) as part of the DATA browser series for which a layout template has been designed a few years ago.[1]

I realize now that I waited as long as I could, but today I could not postpone this part of the process any longer: we need to figure out how to work with this template. The series editors insisted that we could take the design of the book into our own hands, as long as we would “follow the template”. They did not specify what this would mean exactly, but made clear that it was important for them that we honored the original design. However, the way the DATA browser books were produced so far is quite different from the way I work, so we need to find a way to produce this layout otherwise, from scratch.

First, a little bit about myself. My design and research practice is shaped by (and shapes)[2] free software, tool making and collective work. This practically translates into layouts being generated by scripts, books being rendered out of webpages and editorial workflows being transformed into collaborative environments. Working in this way allows me to stay with the complexities of technology, learn about the implications of layout software and approach the profession of design as an embedded networked practice.

For Possible Bodies it was important to take design decisions and tools into account as part of the content of the book, and to extend the conditions of openness provided by OHP, by not only making it possible for readers to download the PDF, but to also enable them to learn about and reuse the editing, production and design process itself.[3]

So today the strange game of sticking to our commitment to make this book look just like the other books in the series starts. But where to start? The InDesign files that were used for the other books in this series cannot be opened with any of our free software tools. Besides not being able to open these files, also the iterative workflow we have set up to collaborate as a designer with the editors on the design and the editing, does not match.

We’re working with a self-hosted MediaWiki platform, a wiki in short, that we as editors and designer can use to edit and structure the materials. From this wiki, we download and reformat everything into a single webpage, which becomes the main document that will be styled and turned into a layout using CSS3 paged media standards. We use the Javascript library Paged.js to paginate this layout in the browser and render it as a PDF. The designer and editors both have access to this rendering process, which allows us to approach the editing and design as one continuous process.

Paged.js is one of the tools that are available for making publications using web-to-print technologies. What is special about Paged.js, is their position within the environment that the project is part of and depending on, by being in close conversation with the W3C consortium. The W3C is the international organization for web standards, such as HTML5 and CSS3, that decides which features will be supported by modern browsers and which won't. I’ll end there, but the range of people, tools and environments that co-shape this design practice is much larger. The networks of networks of people working with similar attitudes and sensibilities are actually indispensable for making this design practice possible and viable. And who knows what will happen afterwards, once the material[4] and documented code[5] is published online and available for re-use, thanks to the CC4r (Collective Conditions For Reuse) license.[6] So besides the impossibility of trying to link up with a different and (by now for me) quite alien set of tools and ways of working, I am wondering how to reconnect your template and aesthetics to the way this book is being made?

Also the face on the cover of Volumetric Regimes is made in a different way as the others in the series. We decided to use Multi Remix made by Winnie Soon and Geoff Cox in which the face is not constructed out of typographic characters,[7] but instead made out of variable geometric shapes using the Javascript library p5.js. Multi Remix is a code exercise in the textbook Aesthetic Programming,[8], where it is contextualized with a note on the face as a static technological symbolic object and “imperial machine”: “The face is part of a surface that promotes sameness and ultimately rejects variations.”[9]

We found a slab serif font that aligned with the one in your template and we figured out how to replicate the layout’s dynamics and overall structuration. But many questions still haunt us: How could this book actually ever pass as a lookalike of the so-called Stuart Bailey template, while the template, as a design device in a general sense, prescribes an agile gesture of implementation for yet another bundle of content? What agency do design-interventions have once a template is set? How to design this book as part of a trans*feminist responsibility with the world-making praxis that design implies, shoulder to shoulder with the many companions that worked on editing (and hence caring for) this volume?

Of course these questions open up more questions, like, for example, the consideration of situated design, the implications of declutching content from form, the assumptions of optimisation, agility and efficacy as editorial values... and so forth.

I decided to write you a letter as a way to reflect on this strangeness, and hopefully along the way I managed to describe how this book is radically different from the other books in the series. This is not a complaint, quite the contrary. It is a way of making space to imagine different kinds of embedded networked design practices and to better understand how different ways of working are shaped by (and shape) different realities. As much as this is a letter to you, it is most of all a fan-letter to variability, transitioning, situated techno-creativity and multi-centered transformation; an attempt to bring in another kind of (surely crooked, interrupted, knotted and yet to be known) lineage or genealogy of worlding through design practices.

– Manetta Berends


  1. “Design,” DATA browser series, accessed October 20, 2021,
  2. Inspired by the motto of the Libre Graphics Research Unit, “TOOLS SHAPE PRACTICE SHAPE TOOLS”,
  3. “Without wanting to suggest that FLOSS itself produces the conditions for non-hegemonic imaginations, we are convinced that its persistent commitment to transformation can facilitate radical experiments, and trans*feminist technical prototyping.” Possible Bodies, “Volumetric Regimes: Material cultures of quantified presence,” in this book.
  4. The Volumetric Regimes wiki is an ongoing workspace for a book in the making and can be found at:
  5. The code that has been used to produce this book can be found at:
  6. “The authored work released under the CC4r was never yours to begin with. The CC4r considers authorship to be part of a collective cultural effort and rejects authorship as ownership derived from individual genius. This means to recognize that it is situated in social and historical conditions and that there may be reasons to refrain from release and re-use,” accessed October 20, 2021,
  7. The generated faces on the covers of the other books in the DATA browser series are taken from the iOS software app Multi, made by David Reinfurt.
  8. Multi Remix appears in the chapter “Variable Geometry,” in Aesthetic Programming, which is “exploring the technical as well as cultural imaginaries of programming from its insides.” Winnie Soon, Geoff Cox, Aesthetic Programming (London: Open Humanities Press, 2021),
  9. “In A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari conceive of the face as ‘overcoded’, imposed upon us universally, resonating with some of the comments we made earlier in this chapter about Unicode. Their main point is that the face — what they called the ‘facial machine’ — is tied to a specific Western history of ideas (e.g. the face of Jesus Christ). This, in turn, situates the origins of the face with white ethnicity (despite Jesus’s birthplace) and what they call ‘facialization’ (the imposition onto the subject of the face) has been spread by white Europeans, and thus provides a way to understand racial prejudice: ‘Racism operates by the determination of degrees of deviance to the White man’s face… The face is thus understood as an ‘imperial machine’, subsuming language and other semiotic systems. The face is part of a surface that promotes sameness and ultimately rejects variations.” Soon and Cox, Aesthetic Programming.