Reading Flow in Book Design and Layout

What makes your favorite book your favorite? Most answers focused on content will include positive story elements related to characters, language, etc. These effective books and our interactions with them rely on the communication of a story, experience, or information through the “text” of the inside, the interior design. Along with the contents of a book, it is important that readers shape meaning, glean information, or immerse themselves in a text. If the text and interior elements do not have a familiar and clear structure separating different chapters or ingredients from steps, the product runs afoul of difficulty and confusion and invites criticism. By orienting the text to fit the market, reader, and content in the clearest way possible, books are memorable because of the choices made through interior design.

The goal in designing most text layouts and book interiors is to provide the reader with an experience of clarity and ease. I say most to make room for all the examples, found in the wild, of intentional and joyous disorientation created through poor design. Readers recognize instantly the familiar format of any genre; American readers expect the sultry painting on a romance novel or striking mountain valley on a guidebook’s cover. Moving beyond the cover, expected standards for the interior design continue, providing a reading experience that will provide clear and effective delivery of the book’s contents. In the western world readers move from left to right down a page, with some variation allowed for the contents of the book. The addition of pictures, illustrations, iconography, quotes, and other components must be taken into consideration alongside the main text.

For these layouts, the orientation of the elements in service to the movement of the reader’s eye is illustrated to demonstrate the flow of text and image as intended. To a design aiming to express information clearly alongside its central text, these structural layouts are crucial.

Haslam, Andrew. Bookdesign. New York: Abrams, 2006.

These choices are not higher or lower on the list of priorities for a designer than any other, though certain genres will place more or less of their weight on their presentation. The choices made through the inclusion or exclusion of specific textual elements can carry a significant weight when using a nonfiction guide for cooking, hiking, or crafting. Using a cookbook with too-small text and a difficult font is an exercise in frustration, so connecting a hierarchy to fit components such as ingredients, instructions, and illustrations is essential to effective design. Alternately, a higher stakes guidebook on mountaineering or first aid can do far more than ruin your quiche if the interior does not communicate clearly. Disclaimers are a crucial component when drafting a manuscript for any guidebook and should be just as clear as the rest.

Decisions concerning these elements are not solely ruled by nonfiction demands, of course. Using a series of images to tell stories through comics provides numerous diagrammatic and unique layouts. The choice made in the example below, to tell the story nearly free of lettering, using only the iconography of scents and wordless interaction, provides a seamless reading experience spelled out in icons. It is easy to read, and the depth of experience the dog finds as he traces a murder is clear. Also the reading sequence of left to right and down is more vertically spaced as in most comics layouts.

Fraction, Matt, David Aja, Francesco Francavilla, Steve Lieber, Jesse Hamm, Annie Wu, Matt Hollingsworth, and Chris Eliopoulos. Hawkeye. New York: Marvel Enterprises, 2013.

Using the right interior design for the manuscript is important for the function of any book, and strong interior design is an effective blending of the function and style shared by elements throughout the manuscript.

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