Book Design Made Simple is best known for giving step-by-step instructions on how to use InDesign to design and typeset a book. But it also spells out important book design basics that will make it all look good, such as in this section on the principles of good book design.
Book design basics
Three basic principles of good design are:
REPEAT ELEMENTS • RULE OF THREE • WHITE SPACE
Books look professional when they have a consistent and cohesive look throughout. An easy way to accomplish this is to choose a few elements and repeat them throughout your book. Here are some options to consider:
- alignment Choose one method of alignment and stick to it throughout your whole book. If you like to center things, then center everything (except your main text, of course). Or, if you prefer aligning things to the left or to the outside margins, then make that your rule and follow it throughout your book.
- typefaces Choose a typeface for your main text and use that same typeface throughout your book. Try using italics or caps (large or small) as a repeating theme in your chapter openings, headings, running heads, and folios. You may want to use a second typeface for some things, such as titles and/or headings. It’s fine to use two typefaces in the same book, as long as they look nice together. Try to avoid using more than two typefaces.
- graphic elements Repeating a graphic element throughout your book can be very effective. Something as simple as bullet points can be used in your chapter opening (say, a bullet point on either side of the chapter number), as well as in running heads/feet (see the bottom of this page), and perhaps as a simple paragraph divider as well (three bullet points separated by en spaces). There are lots of graphic elements available in every typeface, such as: ~ * >> } and —. Some typefaces come with ornaments. As long as the same element is repeated (and not too loudly or too often), it can enhance your design.
Rule of three
Visual elements look best in groups of three. If a page has too many visual elements, they compete with each other and the reader doesn’t know where to look first.
The three visual elements on a regular page of text are the folio, the running head, and the text block. On a chapter opening page, they are the chapter opening, the text block, and the drop folio.
Notice that the chapter opening in the image on page 144 [shown above] includes a number of visual elements: the chapter number spelled out, fancy brackets, and the chapter title. Although comprised of different elements, your chapter opening should function as one cohesive visual unit rather than a number of separate ones.
Don’t be tempted to use every book design element you’ve ever seen. If you want to start each chapter with a drop cap, fine. If you want to start each chapter with an image or a graphic element, fine. But don’t use absolutely everything at the same time. Keep it simple.
You’ve already learned that generous margins add valuable white space to pages, giving the main text block some breathing room and allowing thumb space for your readers.
The same goes for your chapter openings. Be generous with white space. The chapter opening occupies the top portion of the page, and its length will depend on how many elements are in your chapter opening. Novels often just include a chapter number or title, whereas some nonfiction books may include a chapter number, chapter title, opening quote with attribution, and so on.
Be aware that the amount of white space in your chapter opening will affect your page count.
Now that we think about it, the fourth rule in our list of book design basics should be: Keep it simple.
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