Archive for January, 2010

What I Know About Columns, Part 3

Add comment January 31st, 2010

I think that a three-column layout is really sort of a book design specialty. The one- and two-column set-ups are a lot more usual. The more limited three-column layout seems to work primarily in two kinds of books: textbooks using two even columns plus a third, narrower column for display items, such as subheads appearing to extend into the margin past the body text area, footnotes, or captions; and coffee table books of photo-essays.

I recently completed a modified version of the latter. Although not as large as the traditional, oversized coffee table book, this one featured a three-column grid that allowed photographs to run in quite a few different ways, occupying parts of, all of, and bleeding off, the page.

The same caveat as with two-column layouts—setting type so as not to make dense, dark pages—holds. Three columns make for two gutters, however, thus presenting another variable amount of white space to figure into this equation, along with the margins.

This kind of page layout works particularly well with a landscape page orientation—that is, a page that is wider than it is tall. The book I worked on recently that used this kind of format is on pages in a barely landscape orientation of 9.25 inches by 8.75 inches. The two gutters measure 16 points each and the text columns are about 13p10 each. The margins are generous but not overly so. For the leading I also went generous, 15 points for 11-point type. For alignment I went with something suited to narrow columns, ragged right, instead of fully justified, text.

And that winds up the usual options for the number of columns in a book design, unless you’re going to go some novelty arrangement with more than three columns.

“Introducing the iPad”

3 comments January 27th, 2010

Today we take a break, an interlude, and a breather from the third and final piece of What I Have Learned About Columns while I bring you the text of an email I have sent Apple Computer.

Dear Apple, Inc.:

I started doing book production work on my first Macintosh, a IIx, 17 years ago. Six Macs later, thanks to those machines and the Internet, I am a marginally famous book designer–Google “Stephen Tiano” and see. Check out both my website and my blog.

What I’m interested in are any guidelines you may have for creating eBooks for the iPad. I realize there are such, indeed, a whole SDK for app developers, but I’m not talking about creating apps. I’ve noodled some with Adobe’s epub software. But I noticed its graphic capabilities were lacking. I assume that is no longer tue, if the iPad and it’s incredible graphic capabilities are to be used to th max. So, much the same way Apple established its Human Interface Guidelines for software developers, I assume there must be some set of rules for correctly creating eBooks for the iPad.

I understand you have your agreements with some “heavy hitter” traditional book publishers. But you may or may not have noticed–I sure have the last two or three years–print publishing is in, to be kind, a state of flux. To be more to the point, it has reached a state of chaos. In this two- or three-year period, I have begun to work with more and more self-publishing author. In fact, self-publishing books seems to be the notable area of print publishing that is growing and expanding in a big way.

As I said, I have played some with creating eBooks, but my initial efforts did not satisfy me as an artist-book designer. But the iPad has me returning for another, enthusiastic look-see. I am preparing to make a pitch to self-publishing clients that Kindle/Amazon and Google are yesterday’s eBook news. Henceforth my advice to self-publishing book authors interested in publishing eBook editions is that the iPad and Apple are the market-makers here.

Has Apple given any thought to the growing segment of self-publishing book authors? Do you have any information on standards for eBooks on the iPad that you are willing to share with a professional book designer?

Thank you.


Stephen Tiano
Book Designer, Page Compositor & Layout Artist

tel. & fax: (631)284-3842 / cell: (631)764-2487
iChat screen name:
Skype: stephentianobookdesigner


I just received the following automated reply:

Message Subject: Other
Follow-Up: xxxxxxxx

That is all.

What I Know About Columns, Part II

3 comments January 25th, 2010

Because one column of text works so well, we should consider two columns, no?

Maybe. But not so fast.

An ideal two-column setup is two columns of 17 to 19 picas, with a gutter of about 18 to 24 points between them. Such a layout works particularly well with books that contain stretches of text punctuated by display items such as equations, scientific formulas, art and such. The arrangement can also work for a coffee table book filled with photos—with way wide margins all the way around and art bleeding off the pages. But more than this must be considered. White space is again critical.

Whatever the size of the page, if the rule for one-column layouts calls for generous leading, for two-column it becomes even more important. I’ll tell you why …

Narrow columns have a way of making the type on the page appear denser and the whole page look dark. The color of a page can make or break the reading experience. So dense, dark pages are verboten—unless you just want to take a shot at breaking that rule to use a dark page as an image in its own right. (But I warn against making a habit of such play.)

Narrow columns pose some problems. Justified lines, for instance, can result in wide word-spacing or, worse, letter-spacing. One way around this is to run the text in each column ragged right. Another option is smaller letterforms. Smaller can mean smaller point size, as well as letterforms that are condensed or having smaller x-height. But, again, this can raise the issue of a page with dark, dense color.

Two-column text presents the chance not merely to be a typesetter so much as a typographer. Every size matters: page, margin, gutter, type, individual characters, and leading.

Next time: the three-column page

What I Know About Columns, Part I

3 comments January 23rd, 2010

Goes back to the structure of a page, what the text area looks like in relation to the size and proportion of the sheet of paper the page gets printed on.

I know … sounds like I just launched into another surefire cure for insomnia. But when knowing this stuff matters, well, hell, it matters.

First, I want to say once more in this space that my knowledge of all things typographical comes to me in two distinct ways: from my study—i.e., reading—and from my own work at solving the issue of how to put large amounts of words on many printed pages. Although I continue to read anything new about book design and typography that I get my hands on, my foundation remains these three books:

  • Bringhurst’sThe Elements of Typographic Style
  • Hochuli and Kinross’s Designing books: practice and theory
  • Hendel’s On Book Design

And, again, I add on to everything I have read and every layout I have ever doped out or followed (when supplied a template by a client) with each new working out of the issues each new project presents. But over time a rough “order to the universe” revealed itself and, for me, it goes as follows.

One-column is the ticket for fiction and straight text without any kind of art. Non-fiction, especially textbooks, with display material—equations and scientific formulae, for instance—are also particularly suited for the one-column page. 65 to 68 characters, studies show, are about the maximum number for readers’ best comprehension. And about 26 to 30 picas work best for line measure. So the trick is, then, to work out the size of a particular typeface that gives you those 65 to 68 characters on the line length you decide to go with.

Ample white space—margins—also helps readability. Leading, the space added on to type size to give the measure from one baseline of type to the next, also affects white space and readability. I remember reading some time ago that the using larger amounts of leading was trending. And so I began to experiment. I had originally earned that adding 20% to the type size was the rule of thumb for figuring out what leading to use. So, for example, 10 point type would be set on 12 point leading, and 11 point type on 13.2 points.

The piece I read that spoke of this new trend made fun of it, saying something to the effect that book designers then were falling all over themselves to use larger and larger amounts of leading. Truth is, of course, a limit should only be based on how things look on the page. And you realize that limit by seeing when enough is enough and the type just looks badly set. Myself, I’ve recently used 10/14 and 11/15 with results that I like a lot.

Not every typeface you work with will look good in the size and leading combination that suits another typeface. That is why one-size-fits-all templates are not the economical panacea that some book design mills claim.

Next time: the two-column page

What Happened to 2009’s Goals?

3 comments January 4th, 2010

I am not a fan of going off-topic when blogging. I think I keep to it fairly often—book design and page layout, that is—although I don’t blog as often, in general, as I would like. But I also head off into the topic of working as a freelancer fairly regularly. And one of the things I have written about in this space is my goals for the year ahead.

It seems reasonable, then, to take a look back to the goals I set for 2009, because setting goals is only half the story. The other half, of course, is whether those goals are met. So here we go …

To stay as busy as I am currently. To surpass that, in fact, and work on a minimum of 18 paying projects this year.

I worked on 9 paying projects last year, exactly half the number I had wanted. The economy certainly influenced that, although I always wonder whether there is a new kind of client I can seek out or some new way to reach potential clients. To this point I have successfully used twice-yearly email to potential clients and one or two promotional postcards during the year.

As well, over the last two years I have worked with an increasing number of self-publishing authors. This may be the new wave, self-publishing, as it loses the stigma of being called, snidely, vanity publishing. I have even read that some established, best-selling authors are expected to veer into self-publishing to earn a greater share of the proceeds and keep greater control over the design and production of their books.

To surpass 2008’s income by 25%.

In a word: nuh-uh. In fact, not surprisingly, I was actually down. But my earnings decreased by less than 20%, which I consider a small victory, given how badly the economy did as a whole.

To blog a minimum of once weekly from this point on.

Another goal not quite met. But, as much as I want to continue to offer my readers regular and timely looks into the freelance life, I am less concerned with quantity when it comes to blogging than with having something real to say. I still hope to write here regularly, at least once a week, about book design and production, as well as freelancing.

I also started a page on Facebook for answering questions on the nuts and bolts of book design and oroduction.

To somehow make the time to put a real dent in my design-related reading list, which now numbers 7 books to read or finish reading.

This one, and then some, was accomplished. I also found myself reading about social medial, with an eye toward its place in the freelancer’s promotional arsenal. I admit, however, to finding it alarming that a lot of books are written by people about self-publishing, who’s only experience with it is their book(s) about self-publishing. Likewise, as rewarding as I find social media—both in terms of creating new opportunities to find book design projects and to share what I know about making books—I am concerned with how much of what is written concerns itself with pure marketing or, as I call it, the marketing of marketing.

To have my website/blog redesigned, and maybe coordinate my Twitter profile with them.

This was accomplished with flying colors. In this 24/7 world a web presence, I think, is more important than I would ever have thought even just a few short years ago. Between a site, email, and videoconferencing, time and distance are simply not barriers any longer to expanding one’s reach around the world.

To make an investment in some new, original fonts from smaller foundries and individual designers.

Planned purchases are most often the area that surprises disrupt. What I mean to say is that replacing both a long-defunct laptop, as well as a suddenly dead desktop machine, in the same year strains the budget. That’s the kind of unexpected to expect in any small business. Unplanned and unintended needs always crop up. When they are larger purchases and the income stream is slower than expected, however, and still you survive and thrive, the prospects for prosperity when the economic climate stabilizes or improves rise markedly. So I am happy to have gotten my “tool needs” out of the way for awhile.

Come up with 7 more goals.

Never a problem. Last year’s have not gone out of style. And so I aim to work more than ever, which is no burden since I still love making books and communicating with people about the subject. Learning more about what masters of book design have to say on the subject is just as exciting to me as it was ten or fifteen years ago, too, So as long as those interests are in place, I expect to continue to expand my book design and layout practice.

My Top 12 List of Lessons Learned in 2009

2 comments January 1st, 2010

Happy New Year and like that! Here are the top twelve things I learned in 2009 that I thought to include on a list so named.

#12 I always thought a laptop was not “necessary equipment” for me, until I replaced my dead PowerBook with a 17-inch MacBook Pro.

#11 I believed that I did not want an all-in-one, that I needed a tower, that a PowerMac and not an iMac was my work solution—until my G5 PowerMac died and the quickest (read: affordably solution was an iMac).

#10 I was convinced that I wanted a 30-inch Apple Cinema Display and that a two-monitor solution was too geeky for me, until I set up the 24-inch iMac, disposed of the defunct G5 PowerMac, and decided it didn’t make sense to sell the 23-inch Cinema Display I had used with the G5 tower.

#9 Even though a desk may accommodate my two monitor solution and I am not a big, conscious watcher of television, it will occasionally drive me up a wall that the second monitor—the 23-inch Cinema Display on the left side of my desk—blocks my view of the kitchen television from my desk in my home-studio off the kitchen.

#8 I believed I had no use for an iPod until I was gifted one for my birthday in October, after remarking that I wanted one because—using the free TruPhone app and VoIP—the latest iPod Touch would function as a free iPhone.

#7 I thought the free iPhone thing was why I wanted an iPod Touch, until I began listening to music while I ran and especially when I used the stationary bike in paace of running outdoors in the cold.

#6 I was convinced that music and Twitter were more important reasons I need my iPod Touch the same way my wife and I need our cars, until I realized I somehow changed a password to one of my three email accounts, the non-business but all-encompassing, original one with the cable company that is my ISP.

#5 I never dreamed how Mac geeky my wife could become until the  iMac of her own that I got her around April of 2008 opened the door to her becoming a serious photographer who now works in Photoshop, exhibits in shows, became a member of PEN Women, and—essentially—became at least every bit (maybe more so) the artist that I am.

#4 I once again mistakenly assumed that I could reach a place in my freelance career doing book design and layout where promoting myself and actively seeking paying projects would cease to be all-important.

#3 I always figured that an external backup hard drive would prove my ultimately unnecessary fallback, working as part of my superstitious nature had proven what seems like a million times, by being an unnecessary expense since it guaranteed the opposite of what I prepared for, since my flash drive and CD backups provided enough protection until 2009.

#2 A serious downturn in the economy, the resulting contraction of businesses—especially publishers—would crush my efforts to become a serious and (okay, marginally) famous book designer.

#1 You have be somebody for the effort required to hack your website, blog, and Twitter identity to be worth the effort to some piece of shit (if you will kindly excuse my use of the scatological vernacular.


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