What a privilege it was to score an interview with Leigh Woosey, the person who did the layout for the now-famous Shackleton Expanse Campaign Guide. Let’s jump right in.
How did you get involved with doing the artwork for the Star Trek Adventures game?
I noticed Mõdiphiüs had put out a call for freelance designers through tabletop game networking sites and pages, and so I got in touch and submitted my portfolio with relevant projects. The team was willing to take a chance on me and gave me the Shackleton Expanse layout to see what I could do. Everyone was really supportive and welcoming and made sure I had everything I needed for the project from the get-go.
What is the process like working on the graphic design for STA? How do you make everything fit?
That is an excellent question and touches on some of the core skills of graphic design for books.
The first step is to decide the basic Grid of the document. This is where we decide the basic things like margins, text areas, column width. We also decide on something which is a bit more complicated and fundamental: the Baseline Grid. This is created by looking at the typefaces (or fonts) we want to use and working out what size they need to be in order to be legible to our readers, as well as how much space is needed around them.
That’s the framework within which we can decide things like the appropriate height of images, the space between paragraphs, and how we can utilize size, style, and spacing to distinguish different kinds of information within the book, be it a header or a sub-header or a sidebar containing rules, or the way we present rules to make them easy to understand. That aspect of the book is called the Typographic Hierarchy and can be both daunting and exciting to devise. In order to be legible and logical, the book has to be consistent.
That means that both the grid and the hierarchy have to be rigid enough to make sense at a glance, must have an internal visual harmony and appropriate aesthetic. Importantly, the grid and the rules we set early-on guide the designer in placing all the awesome stories, rules, and artwork on the page. It helps them decide where to break a page, or how to make things flow into a spread to guide the reader.
The Star Trek range was already established and this early work had been done by the very talented team at Mõdiphiüs. There was an excellent set of templates and guides that had been made to match the Star Trek visual universe.
My job was building on those requirements and expanding them with new graphics and making sure that the layout served the best interests of the reader and the intentions of the authors. Mõdiphiüs have a great editorial team and Jim Johnson was especially helpful if, when all else failed, some text had to be trimmed or reworded to get a mission to fit on a page, and was open to discussing new ideas for making the chapters flow neatly.
Often, you need to have discussions about a variety of things, like where to place a sidebar on a page so it makes sense to a reader. You also have to ‘zoom out’ sometimes and check if the layout makes the best sense it can visually, so you might use symmetry, for example, to help the reader easily follow the text across two pages. Each spread tells a story in that sense, and that story should help the reader understand what the author is trying to tell them.
How are color selection, font, art, etc. decided on? Team effort? Does one person make the call?
The styles for those aspects of the book had been decided by the team at Mõdiphiüs early in the development of the Star Trek Adventures range. As you may have heard from other interviewees, CBS also has approval and input, but there was a real urge to make sure that the books kept evolving and accurately reflected the era they were set in. So you’ll see the early books have the purples and warm yellows of the early ‘Okudagram’ panels from The Next Generation sets, while the Delta Quadrant books use the muted golds and blues you can spot in the master-system-display of Voyager. We wanted to continue this trend, so I researched the color schemes used in Star Trek Insurrection, Nemesis, and even the brief shots of the Titan in Lower Decks to refine the look for the campaign supplement. I made a number of options and presented them to the other designers and project managers and we decided together on the one that appears in the final product.
What was great fun about Shackleton is that we could use design styles from two different eras, the original Star Trek and circa the Dominion War and beyond. This gave me the opportunity to research the 1701 bridge design, any on-screen graphics from the 1960s, and also the animated series. This resulted in the graphics for the map of the as-yet-unexplored expanse (pp205) and the Bacchus System (pp96) particularly.
What do you like most about the design? If you could, what would you go back and change?
I’m really happy to have been part of the group effort The Shackleton Expanse. There is so much love for Star Trek that went into the book and, as someone who grew up watching Trek on BBC2 every Wednesday or Saturday, it’s a big thrill. As a layout designer I might feel most pleased with the character profiles, as these took a lot of wrangling to make the text flow nicely, but I also really enjoyed making the extra graphics such as the Cetacean Ops chain-of-command (pp286) and the Tribble Bio-hazard warning (pp250).
These are not-so-subtle Easter eggs for fans to enjoy, in addition to some more subtle easter eggs hidden here and there. There’s even a hidden Romulan warbird for those who know what to look for. Also, a big thing about the book is that the Expanse is a big open sandbox for players to fill in, and thus there’s no official map. But if players still really want a map they might find an unmarked Astrometrics image on page 84 that could serve their needs…
What would I go back and change? That’s a tough question. Every time a typo or a misplaced bit of text or an unbalanced-looking paragraph makes it through to print, it causes designers to wince. It causes us physical pain. Editors too, I think. In such a large project as Shackleton, there is a degree to which that’s inevitable (there is only ever so much time and so many man-hours before it has to go to print), but if anyone notices an error then I’d want to go back and fix that. There are other things too, ones that only a designer would notice, and I’d be compelled to comb through and find those too.
How did you get started in graphic design? What are some works—besides STA—that you are most proud of?
I got started in graphic design as an extension of being involved in student theatre when I was much, much younger (this was back when Photoshop was just numbers, not CC, not even CS). I developed some technical skills that way and later took a degree because I knew I wanted to have a career in design. There, I learned everything I’d been missing out on, like typography, concept skills, and how to develop a design process. I followed my passion for tabletop games and was lucky enough to get a job in the industry, which led me to build up my portfolio and get more work.
I’m most proud of the work I did for Game Workshop, which made painting more accessible to new hobbyists, and also of consulting for a local charity Autistic Nottingham, who are an excellent organization staffed by thoroughly excellent people.
How long have you been a fan of Star Trek? What was your first exposure to Star Trek?
I’ve been a Star Trek fan for as long as I can remember. I think I saw Wrath of Khan when I was 4 or 5 years old. I remember being amazed at the Genesis Planet CGI and terrified of the Ceti eels. For a long time, the only Star Trek that was on British TV was the TOS movies. It was a big deal when Encounter at Farpoint premiered and brought the TNG era to our screens. I loved the completeness and the verisimilitude of the world they were presenting.
What advice do you have for any artists or designers looking to get into publishing work with role-playing games?
Be nice to everyone, all the time. That’s a cliche, but it’s true. There are such great people in this industry and most will help you if they can. That brings me to the practical advice: Network.- meet people online or in person, show them your work, and let them know how keen you are, and follow up later on.
There’s this paradox that’s tough to crack: if you don’t have a portfolio you can’t get any work, and if you don’t have any work you can’t put anything in your portfolio. This answer to that is to do passion projects and publish them at a small scale. Use that as an opportunity to show how good you can be and how much love and attention you can put into something.
Also (and this is for beginners really): Know your basics really, really well. Kerning, leading, en vs em dashes, measures, and the muller-brockman math behind the grid may sound like the boring parts of a design syllabus, but they are your notes and instruments. Once you are fluent in them, typography should feel more like music than layout work.
Who is your favorite character in Star Trek? Why?
As an autistic person, I was always drawn to Data and Seven of Nine. They were outsiders using their skills to understand the world around them and find a place in it. They also cast light on the double standards of everyday life and then came up with something more efficient or more honest or both.
What are we most likely going to find you doing if you aren’t working on Star Trek Adventures?
Chasing a cat out of my studio.
If you were a starship component, what component would you be?
I’d say Graphic Designers are like Heisenberg Compensators. We take disordered streams of data and arrange them into something that’s so beautiful and well ordered that you’re certain that’s how it was meant to be all along.
If that sounds a little self-important then I’ll happily be a Self-Sealing Stem bolt any day :).