Seeking Resources for Page-Spread Design

JCSalomon's picture

 I've been trying to design a page spread for a fiction book but I'm not finding many examples worth emulating. Just about every recent book in the library uses equal spacing on all four sides, some pushing the text into the spine or crowding the outside of the page. Sometimes both.
 I've read up on the subject and found references to `canons' and various uses of the golden section, and that modern usage (for good or ill) doesn't much make use of them—but all the reputable sources (e.g., Bringhurst, or the LᴬTᴇX Memoir Class documentation) suggest learning from examples. Of which I can't find any!
 Can folks suggest publishers whose books tend to exemplify good design? I'm looking at hard-cover formats at sizes close to 6×9″. (Jason Dewinetz suggested 5¾×9″ instead.)
 Also, what hints are there in a book that some care was taken with typography? The American edition of the Harry Potter books, for instance, are very proud of their layout and include a colophon describing the font, but the type block is set unusually low on the page and the text—especially in the thicker books—tends toward the spine. The '98 HarperCollins edition of The Silmarillion is comfortably placed on the page, but the text is set and leaded poorly. In cases like these, is the `good' layout more likely deliberate-but-incomplete or accidental? Can I learn from these?

Steve Tiano's picture

Well, since you mention Bringhurst, what about trying some of the page and text area sizes and proportions he mentions? And then set some type—lorem ipsum type, if you like—in those different page samples. Have a look at what you like. My suggestion, however, is not to treat the process like you’re painting the Sistine Chapel. In other words, get on with it and then make some choices.

Another of my favorites, and one I recommend with no hesitation is Designing books: practice and theory, by Jost Hochuli and Robin Kinross.

Ultimately, tho’, you need to set up some pages and see what works with the material. Sure, you can learn by looking at examples of good book design and layout. But it isn’t as if there’s a list of the ten best book designs ever. And if there were such a list, it would be b.s.

There are no absolutes! You can benefit by knowing any rules. Then you apply the ones that work for you and discard the ones that don’t. But you need to know them before you violate them, so that you violate them knwingly and with reason.

Good luck!

Stephen Tiano
Book Designer, Page Compositor and Layout Artist

William Berkson's picture

'Book Typography: A Designer's Manual' by Mitchell & Wightman lays out many issues with illustrative examples. It's a little expensive, but I find it quite good. It covers issues not in Bringhurst. 'A Complete Manual of Typography' by James Felici typesetting issues in depth. Again, overlap with Bringhurst, but additional information also.

JCSalomon's picture

 Trouble is, by inclination and training I’m an engineer. I’m quite willing to experiment with various combinations till I get it ‘right’; I’m just not so comfortable with the notion of that judgement being subjective. ☺
 That said, I’m looking for examples of ‘layout done right’ in recently published fiction so I can learn what the collective design wisdom here considers effective & good-looking.

JCSalomon's picture

 Wow, three recommended books that the Brooklyn Public Library system knows nothing about. More distressingly, the NYPL system doesn't have records of their ISBNs either.

William Berkson's picture

Link for Book Typography.

Link for Complete Manual of Typography. This second one was published by Adobe and should be easy to get a hold of.

kentlew's picture

>Can folks suggest publishers whose books tend to exemplify good design? I’m looking at hard-cover formats at sizes close to 6×9″.

Joel -- it's hard to recommend specific publishers, especially if you're looking for examples in trade fiction. Most large publishers are hit-or-miss (mostly miss, I'm afraid) when it comes to careful typography and layout.

You're more apt for find good examples among smaller publishers where the publishing model and economics are slightly different and where they tend to put more care into individual titles. David R. Godine, Publisher, is one example. Robin Kinross' Hyphen Press, out of the UK, is another example. Mark Batty, Publisher, has some good titles. None of these publish fiction, per se, but you might find some titles in a similar format.

If you can find anything designed by Jerry Kelly, his books are always worth emulating. But he works mostly for publishers of fine books -- Grolier Club and the like.

If you want to stay focused on fiction, then you'll find your best models if you look further back to the period from about mid 1940s to late 1950s. That was the heyday of American book publishing, in my opinion. At that time, most of the major houses were putting out decent designs -- Alfred A. Knopf and Random House are just two examples.

-- K.

JCSalomon's picture

 William, thanks for the links. Now I know for certain that neither of the (fairly large, I thought) library systems in NYC have the books. I've got a weakness for reading books I've bought with my tax dollars before I buy a personal copy. ☺
 And thanks, Kent; that's the sort of pointer I was hoping to get—if somewhat discouraging as to the quality of recent publications.
 There's one question I'm still hoping to get an answer to:
☞How can I tell if the typography in a book is deliberate or accidental?☜
`Good' or `bad' I can judge for myself (a little bit, anyway); but how can I learn to recognize `intelligent design'?

Steve Tiano's picture

Joel, I am admittedly a dinosaur and haven’t lived in Brooklyn in more years than I care to admit. But I seem to remember that it was possible to request books be ordered by special request that my two branches way back when, Grand Army Plaza and the Prospect branch on 9th St. and 6th Ave., didn’t have.

JCSalomon's picture

 There isn't a single copy of any of the books (other than Bringhurst) in the entire BPL system. Or in the NYPL system. I've searched online by ISBN in both catalogs and turned up nothing.

William Berkson's picture

Joel, you could ask the NY Public Library to buy copies; they might just do it, especially for the Felici book.

I just checked the on-line catalog of the library of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn; they have three copies of the Felici book. I don't know, but there's a good chance you can walk in and read it on open shelves--not check it out of course, unless you are student or faculty. If it's a book you want to own you could then buy it.

mondoB's picture

The simplest way to look for ideas is just to browse a good, cool bookstore...small or academic presses often have the finest cutting-edge book designs, and the cover is usually as cool as the inside. And bring a small inches/pica ruler with you.

For type, until you learn otherwise, use Janson and Sabon, with oldstyle figures. Those are the two finest book text faces, have been used with phenomenal success for decades, and now look better than ever, regardless of subject matter. But the really fun part comes in matching period and thematic subjects to type faces. For instance, a book about mid-19th century social history is best told via ITC Bodoni Twelve with oldstyle figures. And a Renaissance art book could use Slimbach's new Arno Pro from Adobe, a cross between Palatino and Requiem, but with all the bells and whistles. Never use less than four points leading; German publishers tend toward 6 pts.

If you use Quark 7, formatting mirror-image facing pages, with complementary gutters etc, is a snap. Inside gutters should never be less than 3/4" wide, but the top, bottom and outside gutters are easier to figure. Just measure the layouts that seem right to you.

kentlew's picture

> ☞How can I tell if the typography in a book is deliberate or accidental?☜

Joel -- I'm afraid I don't understand your question. The typography in a book is always deliberate, in that someone had to decide to put it there. That person may or may not have had training, and may or may not have good taste (or taste that coincides with one's own), etc. But books don't happen accidentally.

If by "deliberate" you mean "given extensive thought to," then I would say that if the typography is "good," someone gave it some thought; if it is not good, then it doesn't really matter, deliberate or not. Good typography is hardly ever accidental.

-- K.

charles ellertson's picture

Trouble is, by inclination and training I’m an engineer. I’m quite willing to experiment with various combinations till I get it ‘right’; I’m just not so comfortable with the notion of that judgement being subjective.

This is a hard notion for an engineer.

But aesthetics, while not an engineering parameter, are also not entirely subjective. Example: Back in the 1970s, I was involved with a group doing "experimental" art. And I came to the conclusion this was an oxymoron. Art gets its appeal by being a cultural phenomena, appealing to a shared aesthetic. This can change -- but usually slowly and in incremental steps. Consider atonal music; at first for the few, and as more pieces became available, the audience widened, and discussions about "good" and "bad" became possible.

Most of the typography being recommended here is 1940s British. It is certainly a classic form in the states & UK. But if you go back a century, you can also find a different form (by & large railed against by the 20th century Brits), and *some* of that was good -- especially for 19th century audiences.

21st century typography hasn't matured much. We (well, "they") use a lot of leading. Sometimes this is because the publisher wants a 100-page book to take 200 pages, for marketing reasons. But more & more, designers are embracing the 10/15 book. The problem comes about when the other spacing -- mainly the margins -- aren't considered. Sometimes this is due to the publisher wanting x-number of characters per page & the designer not willing to give up the large leading, sometimes it is just because the designer has no eye -- or, if you prefer, is 100 years ahead of his/her time.

But there are "correct" spatial arrangements that seem to have crossed time periods and many cultures. What is less clear is if the *background* (the paper of the book page, the light & dark on a computer screen) has a common interaction. The book, as a physical object, has clearly delineated background & foreground. The magazine, with so many full-bleeds, is a different object. And the computer web site is different still. Yet all of these will influence what a modern audience is comfortable with; will influence what is "right."

But if you're a 1940s British afficianado, you're probably out of luck in terms of popular novels.


Steve Tiano's picture

The problem comes about when the other spacing — mainly the margins — aren’t considered.

I cannot even conceive of a book designer not considering margins. White space is so important—not only to legibility, but to readability. Although the types I use in a book are probably the first things I think about when planning a book’s design—it is just naturally easy to think about—my text area, and therefore the margins, are next. Who doesn’t consider margins?

Joel, if you're still looking for some inspiration, I've some other books for you to check out—perhaps one or two of these are in the library: Hugh Williamson's Methods of Book Design; this one with a background in metal type, gives a good pre-computer sense of things. Adrian Wilson's The Design of Books, Rich Hendel's On Book Design, and Andrew Haslam's Bookdesign. I realize that you need to make some decisions post-haste, but learning some guidelines will take you a long way toward percolating ideas of your own.

charles ellertson's picture

Steve, I agree with you. But we get in all to many designs with a 5-pica head margin (thats 5 picas to the top of running head). If you take another 2 picas base to base, first text line, that puts the text page over 1-1/4 inches from the top trim. If you have to get a 2,800 character page, you need something like 70 characters per line and 39 lines per page. If your design aesthetic requires 14-point leading, add another 7.5 inches. Doesn't leave much for a foot margin with a 6x9, does it? Even 38 lines leaves a larger optical space at the head of the page than as the foot, esp. if the running head copy is short, or only folios are used.

We also run into a lot of 5-pica (a little over 13/16 inch) or even 5.5 pica gutter margins. The reason is the tight binding of notch-bound books, cloth or paper. I buy this, and sometimes use a 13/16 inch gutter even when I know the book will be Smyth-sewn. As an aside, some of the short-range printers will give the same price for Smyth sewing as for notch binding -- Thomson-Shore for one, in quatites of 2,500 of less.

Anyway, with a 5-pica gutter and a 26-pica text measure, you only get a 5 pica fore edge margin. (All these for 6x9 trim). Sure, optically the gutter is a little less, but it is a long way from classical proportions.

The point is, it doesn't take too much to destroy the margins with the new, lotta-lead fashion going around.

We've had books come in with a text page designed with 15- or 16-point leading. Decent margins. The catch is that you can expect to set only 2,000 characters per page -- this with a manuscript that has a total character count about 1,250,000. Thats 625 pages. When I have to do an estimate on some of those, the publisher frequently makes the designer get more characters per page. Invariably, the first place they go is the margins.

One big problem I think, and I've said it before, is that designers print their layouts on an 8.5x11 sheet, or spreads on a 11x17 sheet. Then, they don't trim the sheets to final size. All that extra white space can lead even an experienced eye to missing the obvious.

BTW, I set a lot of the books Rich Hendel designs, at least for UNC and Yale. He doesn't make those kind of mistakes. He has just retired as Design & Production Manager from the University of North Carolina Press, but will continue freelance designing. I though his book wonderful, but I'm biased. It does deal more with how designers work than with "rules," which is a plus, but may not be what Joel wants.

Dan Gayle's picture

One thing that I've learned is that it helps to remember one of the *practical* reasons for the bottom and leading margins. You gotta leave space for your fingers!

As an engineer, you could certainly use the mathematical page layouts presented by Bringhurst and others. It's simply a matter of figuring out what they actually mean, and going for it.

(Of course, compensating for the binding, which you simply won't be able to fix until you have something physical in your hands to evaluate.)

Dan Gayle's picture

You could also look up Tchichold's work with Penguin. There's lots written about that. (Of course, that's going back to min-century Britain again.)

Steve Tiano's picture

Please, not Tschichold. Too pedantic. Too rigid. But Bringhurst is the best, giving a whole slew of page sizes and proportions to plug numbers into. So you can experiment with and look closely at an infinite number of possibilities. If I don’t immediately picture what way I want to go, I still experiment like that, even after 15 years at this work.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Steve, you made me choke. Tschichold is too pedantic in comparison with Bringhurst?

Steve Tiano's picture

Absolutely. In my estimation. Tschichold reads rigid and humorless. And everything I’ve read about him suggests he was that way. No questions allowed when he spoke, for instance. Bringhurst, aside from all the useful info, is a very fine writer. I actually found his prose an enjoyable read, irrespective of what he was saying.

Miss Tiffany's picture

I'll give you Bringhurst being a fine writer. I guess I have a deep-seeded knee-jerk reaction and let it fly.

will powers's picture

Gosh, this is the sort of topic I like to weigh in on, but I'm a bit late to the party, and a lot of good advice has been given already. But here are a few things:

** Let me second looking at Rich Hendel's "On Book Design." Its value is that it shows designs by several designers and allows them to discuss their ideas; it is not one writer's opinions.

** Let me second the notion of trimming sample pages to the finished size of the book. Then go a step further and glue them up to form a dummy. This is the best way for you and your client to see how the book will look. It may even be worthwhile to move the text blocks closer in toward the bind, to see how the binding method will affect the look of the book. This will only be approximate.

** Take a look at books published by Jack Shoemaker over the past 30 years at his various imprints: North Point (before it was bought by FSG), Shoemaker & Hoard, and Counterpoint. Especially books designed by David Bullen. There is a lof of good typography there.

But most importantly, keep in mind that in the current publishing world, design is, perhaps unfortunately, constrained by many factors, and thus design has to incorporate compromise. To wit:
** Publishers will at times want short mss blown out to 200 pages so they feel they are giving readers value for their money.
** The same publisher in the same week will ask that a massive ms get its type shoved into a very tight layout with a high character-per-page count. This in order not to scare off readers who may be intimidated by a thick tome. Or perhaps because the book, while worthy of publication, may have only a small audience (some American publishers still publish that sort of book).
** Publishers may be thwarted by their own aging eyes or by the aging eyes of readers. People who read books do often complain that type is too small, and some of these complaints make their way into design briefs. Commercial and advertising designers are often hit with "make the logo bigger." Book designers are often told to "make the text type larger."

No book I design fully meets any set of other folks' criteria, not Bringhurst, not Tschichold, nor Felici, not Hendel, not Williamson. But each book is designed to solve a particular set of needs set forth by a publisher. At times I do things I'd rather not. Book designers like to think of ourselves as servants of readers. We also must serve the masters who pay us. But we need not capitulate at every turn. We do ourselves and those paymasters good service when we show them good design and then attempt to explain our work to them.

I am afraid there's no easy way to come up with good book designs other than by designing lots of them. And by making lots of mistakes. And by making lots of compromises. And by having a lot of fun in the process.

Pragmatically yours,


JCSalomon's picture

 Regarding Tschichold, I tried a mock-up of his “canon” on 6×9″ and a few similar sizes of paper and it looked way too close to the inner margin. Then I found this book at home, printed in the mid-’60s and a very comfortable read. (My scanner won’t work with Linux, so I’ve got a snapshot instead.)

 This (’81) reprint doesn’t keep every page properly placed, but the page spread shown looks pretty good to me: 3½×5″ type block on 5×7⅓″ paper makes for comfortable margins with room for thumbs, framing the type block nicely. Though charles_e might take issue with the 5pc gutter and the 3pc head margins. (Question on terminology: There are three picas between paper edge and the top of the header, and five between paper edge and the text block; which is the "head margin"?)
 I don’t intend to copy this slavishly, but there are some interesting features I’ve noticed that I didn’t see mentioned in any guides I’ve read. (For example, adjusting the inter-paragraph spacing to avoid widows & orphans, which I think looks better than changing all the leading on the page.) On the other hand, this book is set in a sans-kerning Jannon Garamond (Garamond №3 seems to be how it’s being sold now) 12pt solid (or maybe 11/12; I can’t quite tell); my tastes lean toward 10/12 or thereabouts, and I definitely want a kerned font! (Which typesetting machine was in use circa 1965 that couldn't handle kerned italics?)
 Charles, Will, & al., could you all please post examples of "good" and "bad" page spreads?

kentlew's picture

> which is the “head margin”?

The head margin is the distance from the top trim to the top of the type block (or "type page"). If there is a running head in the design, then the top of that defines the top of the type page (since in metal this would have necessarily been part & parcel of the type block which needed to be locked up).

> (Which typesetting machine was in use circa 1965 that couldn’t handle kerned italics?)

That would have been set in Linotype (although 1965 would have been the tail end of its common use in book setting, I think). The major disadvantage of this otherwise rather amazing technology was that Linotype setting could not accommodate kerned characters. Italics suffered most from this limitation. And designs adapted from previous periods or other technologies usually show more compromise than original designs created with the limitations in mind.

> (For example, adjusting the inter-paragraph spacing to avoid widows & orphans, which I think looks better than changing all the leading on the page.)

Both of these practices are called feathering or carding. I would personally never accept either in a book under my control. There are always other, less disruptive ways to solve widows/orphans. A good typesetter can manage without feathering. In some cases, cooperation from Editorial is required; but again, a good comp can usually come to the copy editor with a perfectly good solution for approval -- or, at least, it used to be that way.

-- K.

Don McCahill's picture

> (For example, adjusting the inter-paragraph spacing to avoid widows & orphans, which I think looks better than changing all the leading on the page.)

I also object to feathering of this type. If there are only 3 paragraphs on a page, you are adding 4 or more points between them, which would look like a blank line to the average eye. (You can safely save or lose a line around a subhead by varying the spacing around these, in many cases).

The traditional way of avoiding widows (when editing is not allowed) is to run pages a line short/long. Both pages on a spread are run either one line longer or shorter than the text block. You occasionally have to go back two or more spreads to avoid the problem. Normally you would never go directly from a long spread to a short spread, or vice versa.

will powers's picture

I fully agree with Kent's & Don's comments about feathering or adding space between paras. I recently did allow 1/4 point feathering of one page, for there really was no other way round it in a very complex ms and the facing page was so odd that no one would notice [except those fanatics who hold pages to the light to check back-up].

But you also need to decide what you will call a widow and what you will call an orphan, and what is unacceptable. There is much difference of opinion among typographers concerning the correct definitions of these words, as well as difference about the acceptability of widows & orphans.

Here are my opinions, for book work.

WIDOWS are not acceptable. A widow is defined as a paragraph exit line that is the first line of a text page & that is less than full measure. A full-measure exit line in such position is not a widow, & may be permitted to stand. A short single-line text paragraph is not a widow, wherever it falls. A single-line subhead of any length is not a widow. Widows approximately 75% of measure can be accepted in ragged right settings.

ORPHANS are acceptable. An orphan is the first line of a paragraph falling as the last line of a page or column.

Designers trained for advertising work often have harsher rules about widows and orphans than designers trained for bookwork, for their concerns are often more "aesthetic" than "text-serving."

During my tenure as an advertising type director I was often asked by art directors to kill a short line—a "widow"—that fell in the middle of a column. The only thing I could do was haul in the writer and get text added or killed. For some reason these "widows" were not OK. I never could see that.

Nor would they allow orphans (as described above). I was more willing to accept this than the overly-heated fear of short lines mid-text. But there's absolutely nothing wrong in book work with starting a para on the last line of a page. The indent is not unsightly.


Miss Tiffany's picture

Will have you written a book? This is great stuff. I will start to use your rules as Widows and Orphans have always bothered me but some of your rules eliminate some of my heartache.

. . . And Kent. Kent your stuff is great too. I need to re-read this entire thread.

Dan Gayle's picture

What you DON'T want is to have one of those little buggers turn the page and be the only word at the top of a block of text. That is so tacky and ugly. Or even worse, the second half of a hyphenated word. Yuck.

Florian Hardwig's picture

ORPHANS are acceptable.

I agree. And we don’t call them ‘orphans’ anymore, that’s so pathetic. Now they’re ‘cliffhangers’ . Officially pimped!

kentlew's picture

I have encountered so much contention, disagreement, and confusion about the definitions of widow and orphan that I now try to avoid using the terms altogether. The important thing, as Will outlined, is to understand the three questionable situations and to establish guidelines for what is and what is not acceptable and under what circumstances.

Echoing some of what Will covered (with which I mostly concur):

A) A single last line separated from its paragraph by either page turn, or across the spread, or a jump to the top of the next column. All of these circumstances are almost universally considered persona non grata. I differ from Will in that I generally won't accept any of these even if the last line is nearly full measure. If the last line is truly full measure and will justify as such, then I might conceivably let it pass as a last resort. I will look more leniently on a full line separated across the spread than one across a page turn. In unjustified text, I might let a shorter line pass, but I reserve the right to judge such in context, and I would still try to avoid it.

B) A short final line in a paragraph. There are varying definitions/guidelines regarding what constitutes an unacceptable last line. The one I hear most commonly is "must have at least x letters," where x can vary usually from 5 to 7. I don't subscribe to such a fixed standard. To me, it is relative to the design. My general rule of thumb is that the last line should be at least twice the indent -- the point being that it should provide enough visual weight to the end of the paragraph that the indent of the next not combine to create a queer isthmus.

Longer measures or more elegant designs are less tolerant of shorter last lines, in which case my rule might adjust to require a last line to be at least 1/3 the measure. Narrower columns or more prosaic matter, on the other hand, may admit of looser standards.

A paragraph should never end with the tail of a hyphenated word break, regardless of its length.

C) A single first line of a paragraph standing alone at the bottom of a page or column. I agree that this is acceptable and I will generally let it stand. I do feel that it is not entirely desirable, and if there is an opportunity to avoid it immediately available, I will prefer to eliminate this situation.

-- K.

Don McCahill's picture

> A single first line of a paragraph standing alone at the bottom of a page or column

The one area where this does not work, and probably why it is bundled in with widows as a no-no, is in technical documentation, or other work where there is a blank line before a paragraph. In this situation a lone (orphaned) line looks odd, rather like an additional footer.

In bookwork, with no paragraph spacing, the orphan is completely acceptable (until you get an editor who knows a bit less than they think they know).

charles ellertson's picture

I find all these *rules* more like *crutches.* I think Will would allow that Richard Eckersley was one of the better book designers of the last half of the twentieth century. Much of Richard's attention was the look of the page. A few things he tried, and over time, accepted:

1. Carding (feathering, vertical justification) was required in setting his books. He usually used about 13.5 points of lead, and around 38 lines (so 37 line spaces) per page. With carding, the variance would be 37 or 39 lines per page -- with 37, leading would be 13.875, with 39, leading would be 3.145. A "plus" carded page could not face a "minus" carded page.

2. Avoid the first line of a paragraph ending a page. "Avoid" meant just that. If doing so caused a worse problem, go ahead & end the page with a 1st line.

3. No widows, but if a line ran 75% or more of full measure, and you were in a real bad situation, it was allowed. Of course, in a work having a lot of dialog, a single short line was allowed.

When Richard was setting a book himself (always PageMaker), he would vary the measure a bit (for the whole page or spread) to see if he got a better page (well, chapter). Most of us use applications programs where this isn't practical. But I do remember from the days of the Linotron 202 that output could vary as much as 3 points over a 26-pica measure, day to day. If you were making patch corrections (2nd, 3rd proof) and that happened, you centered that long/short correction over the existing type, and it wasn't really noticeable. If the horizontal amplifier go so far off you could notice the different line lengths, you had to reset the correction, using a smaller (larger) specified measure. BTW, the older Linotype VIP was worse than the 202 at holding a constant measure across days.

Anyway, the point is that from Richrd's perspective, the look of the page was paramount, and all his composition rules were keyed to how he wanted the page to look. Others may have a different idea of what constitutes a good page, or even feel that there is something more basic. To say the *rules* require this or that is only to show you don't have much experience and/or don't trust what your experience has shown you.

will powers's picture

I did not speak of "rules." I did speak of what I'd call "good practice." And I have violated my own ideas of good practice quite often. Most of the time with intention. Sometimes by mistake that went un-caught. I have done all the things Charles notes that Richard did.

One has to start out somewhere, especially when someone new to this sort of work asks opinions. I see that Mr Salomon is an engineer, and he has taken an interest in typography, asking advice from those of us who read this forum. So I suggested to him some good practices. I do not know how much leeway is allowed from good practice among engineers, people who deal with very precise specifications. I bet really good engineers know where they can introduce variations safely.

I do not use crutches, and I trust my many years of experience. I also trust my skills and my understanding of the page to tell me when I may deviate from good practice. I also encourage myself to try new things, regardless of how they may vary from my training.

I do regard Richard as an extraordinarily good book designer, and I'm sorry I did not have many occasions to talk about the craft with him. Saying that, I will suggest to anyone who wants to know how to put pages together that they read a very good book on which Richard & Charles collaborated with 4 other skilled typographers.

That book is "Glossary of Typesetting Terms", published in 1994 by U of Chicago Press. This is an essential text. When my copy arrived on a summer day, I took it to the hammock for a quick first look. What happened was that I did not get out of the hammock except once, to pour a good gin-and-tonic. I read the whole damn book through in one sitting, as thrilled as if it were a fine novel. And wrote comments all over the pages. For several years Chicago was selling it in their annual sale for 6 bucks a copy. I would buy ten or twelve copies and on the last day of typography class I'd give them to the students. This is as important a book as Bringhurst (which I have students work with during the semester).



charles ellertson's picture


I wasn't being personal -- I'm well aware you don't need crutches. But book design is more akin to set design for the theater, or perhaps as often said, architecture (I'm less happy with the architecture analogy). I'm sure there are other possibilities as well. But whatever your favorite analogy, it shouldn't be engineering. A volt is a volt, and it shows up as such on a calibrated meter.

The remark was aimed generally. I am puzzled that so many of the people who frequent Typophile feel Bringhurst's book is a kind of bible -- it is, after all, basically mid-20th century British typography -- and yet the same people feel the fonts of the period are dated & should not be used.

For J. C. Salmon, I believe the point to consider is that, at least historically, the proper element of a book is not a single page, but a spread; two pages. The relationship of the type block to the spread is such that the gutter (between the two pages) should be visually smaller that the outer margins.

Now first of all, you may not agree that the *open* book is the proper thing to view. Certainly other means of presenting text give a different relationship. But even if you accept that traditional perspective, judging that gutter gets pretty difficult given the various binding techniques today. And remember too that most book design today is for a what is called "split production." That means that, say, 2,500 copies will be printed, and 1,000 will be Smythe-sewn with a hard case, and 1,500 will be bound paperback -- either perfect bound, or notch bound. That means compromise. Do you penalize the more expensive Smythe-sewn copies so the cheap paperbacks have a nice gutter, or do you suffer a tight paperback gutter for a pleasant cloth bound book? Or compromise both just a little?

kentlew's picture

I want to second Will's enthusiastic review of the Glossary of Typesetting Terms. The prosaic title may belie its value to a designer. ("A glossary? -- What, are you kidding me?!") Really, it is surprisingly readable. I, too, went pretty much straight through -- albeit not in a single sitting, not in a hammock, and not with summer refreshment. I continue to refer to it now and again, and it's a good resource to have, right alongside Bringhurst.

When learning a craft, I think it's important to try to get inside the "rules" and understand the principles behind them. Charles is right to caution against using them as a crutch. One needs to educate one's eyes and one's mind. Part of this may come initially from following such guidelines, but only by then looking, contemplating, comparing, and understanding.

But over time, rules should recede, and experience will take over.

-- K.

JCSalomon's picture

 When I saw a thread entitled 8½×11″, I thought I'd add a link to this thread—but it's two years old, so I'm linking the other way 'round.

Stephen Coles's picture

Just a note to inform you all that "Glossary of Typesetting Terms" is now available for online reading at Google.

Stephen Coles's picture

I spoke to soon. It's a "book preview", which means some pages are omitted. But you can get a good idea of the contents. Thanks for introducing me to this book, Will and Kent. It's never seen on the lists of typographer's must-haves.

charles ellertson's picture

With all the kind words about the Glossary of Typesetting Terms I got out my copy & reread a little.

I really can’t recommend anyone spending hard-earned dollars on this, at least, if their view is to find something as instructive as the books by Bringhurst, Hendel, etc.

The Glossary came out of an AAUP panel in 1990 about why typesetting seemed to have fallen off in quality in “recent” times. As you may remember, 1990 was just at the beginning of the PostScript era, and most all composition was still done with photocomp machines, some of them “professional” (Linotron 202), some of them less so (the lesser offerings from Compugraphic, A/M, etc.). Part of the problem was the fonts, but the largest problem was the use of the equipment.

So, there were multiple answers to why typesetting quality was diminishing: (1) good shops still turned out excellent comp, but (2) the cost of getting into setting type was much lower with photocomp, so anybody with $30,000 could get into the business, and (3) the unions were at an end, which mean the apprenticeship programs too were gone.

There was a forth factor. Just as apprenticeship had fallen off for compositors, apprenticeship had also fallen off for designers, and to some extent, editors. Some newer designers had trouble expressing what they wanted, and a number of editors had little understanding of the compromises involved in setting type. This lead to an increase of proscriptive rules (don’t do this). As the number of things one couldn’t do increased, the choices a comp had in resolving an awkward situation diminished.

In any case, the Glossary was aimed only at the fourth problem. But the world has changed again. By now (2008), many of the technical terms and procedures of the photocomp era seem out of date. The fonts are different (PostScript, OpenType), the layout programs are different (PageMaker, Quark, InDesign, etc.). In many ways, what is considered good design has changed as well.

The Glossary covered a period of history and the problems of that time. I do think there is still something one can learn from it, but things have changed enough so anyone desiring a quick understanding of what constitutes “good design and composition” would be better served by works either more basic, or more specific to present times.


Charles Ellertson

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