Basic design principles overview for book design.
- Writing the manuscript in Microsoft ® Word ® is preferable.
- Have someone else proofread the manuscript and captions.
- Images must be 300 ppi or larger, and at the approximate size they will be when printed in the book, or larger.
- Create an “original” folder for all images. Duplicate the folder.
- Use the duplicate folder for the book. Rename each to identify placement or organize images in chapter folders.
- Have the manuscript and images in hand before beginning the design. Do not start without everything.
- Most designers have a passion for typography. There are basic design principles to understand. The goal is a professional book design.
- Select typography and basic page layout. Work in one chapter until choices are final.
Basic design principles overview
Search for “principles of design” in a search engine. According to various sources, there are anywhere from four to eleven principles of design. Views differ on page construction and typography.
- Typography, page layout, and color form the foundation of good design.
- The design depends on the audience, subject matter, and style.
- Page layout including the elements of alignment, balance, contrast, hierarchy, repetition, and white space are all part of a cohesive design.
The following general overview of subjects lays the foundation upon which book design and page layout are built. Study these basic design principles.
Understanding these subjects elevates the book designer’s skills and enhances their ability to turn out well-designed books. Not only does the understanding of fundamentals translate to more pride in one’s work, but it also means that the designer can charge more for better design capabilities.
Well-designed books capture the reader’s attention. There is an infinite number of ways to layout a book. Plan the layout early in the design process, as one would create an itinerary for a trip. Start with the structure of the book, considering the overall feel, typeface, and plan where the images are to be placed.
Design one basic page first. Modify it or create versions of the basic page for specific needs.
Graphic designers often use contrast as a principle in typography. However, one can certainly use just one font for all text and headlines. Simply expand the tracking of the body text font for headlines and change them to uppercase. While acceptable, this provides little contrast. But, that is the point. The use of contrast is the designer’s decision.
A book design utilizing typography alone can be very striking. Sometimes less really is more. Train your eye by studying a variety of well-designed books.
The color palette is an exciting and sometimes frustrating subject when designing a book. Know how to choose color, and how to use the InDesign Swatches palette.
The understanding of color reproduction on press is necessary to know what to expect on the printed page. That means learning about color on press when printing in process color or solid, spot inks. RGB will only sometimes match the CMYK screen build. Know what is possible, so there are no surprises. See Chapter 8, Printing on Press, for more on color.
The book’s potential audience, its subject matter, and overall style are three major factors in determining the design of a book and using basic design principles. Studying audience interests and demographics, the book’s subject matter, and examining the proposed style of a book will lead a designer to decisions that determine the final design.
Who will buy the book? How and where will it be sold? It is helpful to write a paragraph about the book buyer to determine demographics and interests.
Define the demographic which may include age, gender, marital status, income, education, employment, interests, and hobbies. What categories will the book be listed in on Amazon ® ? Who will the target market be on Facebook ® ? This exercise will help with the Amazon author page, social media, and keyword and keyword phrase choices for better SEO.
Always consider the content and subject matter of a book to be designed. Many self-publishers are writing books that fit into a short list of book types. See Chapter 4, Getting Started for features of these different book types.
In future posts and in my book, Book Design: Simple & Professional, we will go over the set-ups for each type: coffee table books, cookbooks, novels, photography and art books, picture books, board books, reference books. There are many other types of books and subjects that fall into a book type on the short list.
A coffee table book on flower arranging is in a completely different style than an automotive reference manual. The layout, typography, and color scheme play into the book design style. Feel free to use luscious photography, stylized headlines, and create interesting graphics.
Style can mean elegance, grunge, romance, or a myriad of possibilities. Most of us appreciate a beautiful book or a well-thought out reference guide. An example might be a reference book. But if your audience does not care if a book is beautiful, then give them organized, functional design with easy to read content. Follow basic design principles to achieve a professional look, no matter the book style.
A book designer uses information to make layout decisions to use smart basic design principles. There are certain foundation concepts that make sense to follow. The rest is guidance that is picked up from a multitude of information gathered over the years.
A designer may tend to over design. Walk away from the book and return to it the next day. Then remove the unnecessary elements. If stalled in the design process, go back to the necessary foundation subjects that inspires.
It should be understood to never copy or plagiarize, but design is your own creation. Putting a new twist on a retro style becomes a new design. Blend your own ideas into the process while maintaining structure in the page and with the typography and essential use of white space.
A clean design is managed by using alignment. Graphic elements as well as type should be aligned using a grid. A grid may or may not be in place underlying the type. But aligning type creates a unified look. See the front cover of Nancy Starkman’s book as an example of type that is aligned. This is basic design principles at work. Also see Chapter 4, Getting Started, for more about grids.
Balance is the arrangement graphic elements, type, color, and white space. Distribute graphic elements symmetrically or asymmetrically. Symmetrical balance is used on one side of the design. Asymmetrical balance is adding elements differently, but they still look balanced. A grid is helpful. Establish styles and adhere to them throughout the book.
The most important message needs to be the dominant element on the page. What do you want the reader to see first? Establish styles for headlines and subheads. Getting creative, it could also mean starting a chapter with a large colorful quote in script.
All books should use a headline larger than the text, perhaps in bold or all uppercase letters. Then create a slightly smaller subhead, possibly in a semi-bold or italic font. A third subhead may be smaller, but still serves as a headline for a paragraph. Three headlines or subheads is all you need. If adding any more subheads, evaluate whether it is really needed. If you have a tendency to over design, try to simplify design elements.
Imagine large type overlaying a full bleed photograph. That is contrast.Small type is best for captions, but not for headlines unless making a special design statement.
Another way to add contrast is an exceptionally large headline or quote that contrasts in size against smaller body text.
Once the book’s typefaces, paragraph and headline styles, and color are established, the rule of repetition should be followed. Use the same logo or icons, same color, same typography, and the same feel to create the brand.
Branding is not just a logo or stylized book title. It is the repetition in the overall book style and all materials used to market a book, service, product, or company. Branding includes the repetition of chosen elements on the website, print materials, landing pages, memes, social media, and
advertisements. Establish the brand and repeat the elements everywhere. Repetition helps to establish or support the brand, book design, and basic design principles.
Be careful that many new styles are not created when a set of basic styles will provide a unified look. Simplicity is a characteristic of all well-designed books and it can be accomplished by repeating the same elements instead of constantly creating new bits of design.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked and abused aspects of good design is the use, or rather non-use, of white space.
Good use of white space draws the reader’s attention to the elements on the page, whether they are well-formed paragraphs or an image. Avoid the temptation to fill up every little bit of white space. Narrow page margins with oversized type could make the reader uncomfortable.
A page with one small element and mostly white will attract more attention than a crowded page of text with skimpy margins. White space is dramatic! Do not be afraid to use it. Practice basic design principles or get a book design quote!