I was at the airport with some time on my hands and decided to buy a book of Sudoku puzzles to keep myself entertained. Shortly thereafter I discovered a little problem with my purchase.
The problem reminded me of why considering how a book will be read is a crucial aspect of planning the page design.
Most people don’t think twice about the margins of a book. It’s just blank space around the text—something to be ignored or perhaps scribbled in. The inside margin is even called the “gutter,” making you think of muddy water running down a street or off a roof, not something to pay attention to as you read.
Yet without appropriate margins, a book can look crowded or unplanned. Paragraphs can be too wide or too narrow and distract the reader. Or, in the case of this particular Sudoku collection, a poorly designed gutter can make it much harder to enjoy your game.
Notice that the puzzle on the left-hand page, or verso, is too close to the gutter. This means that whether the book is folded back or lying flat, it’s not easy to write on the page; the far-right columns tend to disappear into the book’s spine. This makes for a particularly frustrating experience when the book is on a slippery airplane tray table!
Whoever was responsible for the page design of this puzzle book must not have thought about how it would be used. Paperbacks tend to have fairly tight binding, so the text—or in this case the puzzles—close to the spine will get lost in the gutter if it’s too narrow.
If you’re designing a puzzle book, you know exactly how the audience will use it, so you should plan on plenty of gutter. Narrow margins on the outside are appropriate; allow just enough space there for people to pencil in guesses of numbers if they’re finding the puzzle particularly challenging. But make sure Sudoku lovers can enjoy filling in the game on any page!