I’ve About Had It with Book Design

September 2nd, 2010

Okay, I’ve about had it with book design. Or a particular kind of book design. I don’t even know whether to call it bad design or what, but this book I’ve been trying to get into has finally driven me away with a headache and a very tired feeling in my eyes.

At the same time, it is a terrific-looking book with plenty of interesting elements. But taken all together, it gets in the way of reading the book. And I love to read.

Isn’t a book’s design really not supposed to get in the way of the reading? (I mean, I know I write and say all the time that a book’s design should not separate a reader from a book. I’ve always known this—just instinctively at first, and then I knew it—as I learned about making pages and setting type. But really.

I stare right now at the last page I was able to make my way through before it became impossible. My eyes actually began to feel sore as I struggled to focus on the page. And, strangely, it’s not as if the page or the whole book is a total eyesore, exactly. There’s an attractive precision to it. In the upper left corner of this page, a verso, positioned to run vertically is a subhead in, maybe, 36- or 42-point type, some sans serif. (I am not very good at coming up with the names of type on sight, no matter how much I set.)

Under the vertically-oriented subhead is a narrow display column of, perhaps, 7- or 8-point sans serif. Widely-leaded for legibility, it is still a bit small for reading more than just a couple of lines; and there are 31 such narrow lines there.

The main text area is more than 30 picas wide. The text there is set double line-spaced, in about 10- or 11-point boldface sans serif. There’s just way too much sans serif type to be read.

Then there’s a tiny 5- or 6-point sans serif in light blue, lightface sans serif. Tough to read. And if that’s not enough there’s a footnote in tinier sans serif still. I can’t really make it out without my reading glasses, which I don’t ordinarily need unless my eyes are exhausted.

Now, the only defense I can make for this designer—who is big-time famous and doesn’t need defending by little, ol’ me—is that he is also the book’s author. But still.

Entry Filed under: book design,design books

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