Inside a Book, Part 2: Design Considerations

The most effective book design is based on a solid understanding of the book’s genre and audience combined with careful use of design fundamentals like type, negative space, and graphical elements.

Clearly defining a book’s audience (see Inside a Book, Part 1) provides useful information for the creation of the book design. Things like format (softcover, hardcover, e-book), trim size, type choices, and even margins are linked to who is reading the book and how they are reading it.

Cover of Under the Bridge Backwards

The front cover of Barbara Roy’s memoir, featuring a watercolor the author commissioned from Minnesota artist Edie Abnet. The typeface is Franklin Gothic.

In the case of Barbara Roy’s book, Under the Bridge Backwards: My Marriage, My Family, and Alzheimer’s, genre and audience were both considerations in creating the cover and page designs. Trio and Barbara agreed it should be a trade paperback—that is, 6 inches by 9 inches in trim size, a common format for books in the memoir category. An e-book format was also planned, since e-books are popular in a range of genres, including memoir.

For the cover, Barbara commissioned watercolor paintings from a local artist whose work she admired. The artist, Edie Abnet, created three paintings, and Trio assisted Barbara in choosing one for the cover. The vibrant colors along with the depiction of the story behind the title (a boat being swept under a bridge over the St. Croix River) helped determine which painting was chosen.

The second choice for the cover was the work that portrayed Barbara and her husband as figures within a more collage-like design involving the bridge, river, and boat. That work became the black-and-white frontispiece, facing the title page.

Frontispiece and title page of Under the Bridge Backwards

The title spread includes a frontispiece, a black-and-white version of a watercolor illustration by Edie Abnet, who also created the book’s cover art.

In choosing the type for the cover, Trio considered the need to balance the colorful, detailed watercolor image and the textual elements. She found Franklin Gothic, a clean sans-serif type with a contemporary feel, held its own when overprinting the cover art.

The page design was created once the cover was finalized. The layout needed to incorporate a manuscript of about seventy thousand words and eighteen photographs with captions. It also needed to appeal to the book’s core audiences.

In creating the design Trio considered that some of the audience would be reading this book in pieces, snatching moments away from caregiving. Moreover, many readers would be feeling anxious or worried as they read a story that gave them insights into their loved ones’ situation, while others could be grieving, as they recalled their own experience as caregivers or someone who lost a family member to dementia.

Hence the page design needed to be open and reader-friendly, with adequate leading (space between lines of text) and margins, as well as breathing room around photos and captions.

chapter opener spread

A sample chapter opener from Barbara Roy’s memoir.

The chapter openers echo the cover design in two different ways: the display face is the same as the cover type (Franklin Gothic), and the dingbat under the chapter number is a line drawing of a bridge similar in design to the one featured on the cover.

Barbara Roy’s book provides a good example of how close collaboration with the author and a clear identification of the book’s audiences and themes lead to a successful, effective design.

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