Books are all about stories, but what are the core principles of book design? Good examples of book design always start with a clear narrative. This usually starts with the overall format and book cover design. The designer’s role is to make sure that the reader experiences the story in an optimum way, without being distracted by anything else.
The key to a well-designed book is its ‘DNA’. This DNA consists of four features: hierarchy, grid, scale and tone of voice. A book designer will communicate a story without drawing attention to the design itself. To achieve this, a solid understanding of typography, layout and production techniques is essential.
There are many areas formats of book design, from traditional hardback novels and short stories to less conventional structures such as loose-leaf, Japanese-bound and singer-sewn.
Recent examples of book design work include the Max McCance annual, Halley Stevensons brand guidelines and Heath Diamonds product manual.
The core principles of book design are not just about how it looks, but also how it works. The designer is responsible for making sure the reader enjoys every page and doesn’t get distracted by anything else.
A book designer must consider the following aspects during a design project:
These key factors ensure that the book reads smoothly from start to finish.
In its simplest terms, a book’s cover is its shop window. A good example of book design will always be clear and introduce you to the topic without having to work too hard. Many principles of poster design are applied to book cover design as it is essential to express an idea or theme quickly to potential readers. The designer spends a lot of time getting this right because the front cover has to convey everything that can be found inside. It needs to give the reader an idea of what kind of content they are about to discover. The font size, design and colour of the book cover has to instantly convey a message about the type of book it is.
Book design is a diverse discipline of print design with an infinite number of formats. This can span from tightly controlled novels to more loosely defined artists books. All books, however, share some common features. Their explicit purpose is to communicate information and the type of book being designed determines how this content will be presented. A textbook requires a different approach to that of an annual report or editorial magazine.
The main format options for book design are the following:
While these are the most common base formats of book design, size, material choice, layout, binding and other alterations can dramatically change the look and feel of a book design.
The general look and feel of a book design will help readers understand the content. It is also important to set the right tone from the beginning. The phrase, ‘never judge a book by its cover’ is an important one as people do tend to categorise and choose items based on first impressions. That is why it is important to carefully design for the optimal first impression.
The use of different types of binding can change the look and feel of a book design. The choice of format has to be balanced against the budget and available material. Over the years these formats have changed considerably and now include:
The type of binding used will affect how a book opens, which will influence whether it is read through from front to back or opened randomly. It can also affect how it is stored. Some book designs will use a combination of different binding types to add variety and texture to the design.
A good designer knows that there are no hard and fast rules about how a book should be designed, other than the need for it to convey its message clearly and elegantly.
Hierarchy is the most important principle to consider when designing a book. A hierarchy lists all of the elements of a book, ranging from largest to smallest. The hierarchy will then be used as a structure for arranging information
A typical book design hierarchy might include:
After the hierarchy is established, it can be used to communicate important components of the book.
Another area of book design includes the layout and structure for each page. This covers the hierarchy of elements such as headings, body copy (main volume of text), quotations and ‘page furniture’ like folio marks, page numbers, chapter headings and more. All of these elements have essential roles to play, however, it is the job of an editorial or book designer to organise these into a coherent system that is both useful and visually appealing. A well-designed book will use space efficiently and have a set of rules that clearly defines how this information is structured.
The tone of a text can be represented through the use of typography, with large serifs on one page indicating a serious or formal tone, for example. Other design elements such as image use and layout also play an important role
For long-form materials such as books, legibility is essential as it bridges the gap between content and reader. A typographer will ensure that all text is laid out, using high contrast colour schemes and a minimum of clutter. Typographic elements should be spaced appropriately using metrics like leading, kerning and tracking. Appropriate sizing is also essential, particularly when typesetting a novel or long passage of text as readers can quickly tire of badly typeset books.
The choice of materials can have a big impact on how a reader interacts with a book. The choice of paper stock for internal pages can make the difference between someone putting a book down or finishing it. Just as each occasion needs its appropriate outfit, so a book needs to be dressed for the occasion. Paper choice is just as important as cover design. A good book designer knows that the choice of materials and finishes on covers, paper and inlays will have a big impact on how well a book design is received.
When choosing a paper grade, make sure that it is appropriate to the subject matter and complementing the overall design. Using a high-quality material will produce a high-quality finished result, however, using an inappropriate stock will be detrimental to the design.
Cover materials such as high-quality book cloth will also have an impact on how a book is received. Cover materials should always be appropriate for the intended use and look of a book, however, there are many options available to designers that can add texture or interest.
Print finishes are also an essential part of creating a book that is pleasing to the eye and inviting to read. They can add value by complementing an existing design, giving it a premium feel or they can be used to show off the quality and texture of paper stock. Embossing, spot UV (or varnish), foil stamping are just some of the options available, and the right finish can make a difference to how well a book is received.
If your business would benefit from a fresh approach to print design and production, please get in touch and we will be happy to advise on the best route forward. We recommend that a strong brand identity is defined to ensure all printed materials are unique, consistent and effective.