White space validity in book layout

Peroyomas's picture

Even through is generally accepted that "design follows function", there's an undeniable trend of using too much white space in book layouts. Is useful sometimes, but it can also looks like a cheat to spend less time diagramming text correctly and charge more by using more pages. It seems that most students down here actually don't like to use forced white space when they enter to the college, yet teachers encourage to "lose the fear" to it.

I know that a particular advocate agaisnt it is the cartoonist John Kricfalusi, which has a very neat blog (John K Stuff) with a lot of critique of contemporary art, design and drawing advice. Writer Amid Amidi and him were working on a book of his art for about 3 years, yet has been put on hiatus due to having working with a designer that used a somewhat bland layout with white space and all (Full story and images). While I mostly agree with John K views, it kinds of discourages me that the layout they rejected, or at least what was shown, wasn't really that atrocious and looks like the thing most of my college teachers always approve.

What's your opinion about white space in book layouts, or 'minimalism' in general?

Té Rowan's picture

Why am I suddenly reminded of Monty Python?

Personally, I see big whitespace as a surface for note-taking. And since I rarely if ever take notes on that surface...

In some books, big whitespace is just too distracting. Luckily, the mongo-droolworthy "Aeroplanes over Iceland" has very little whitespace. Sadly, that means I gotta wear a bib so's not to slobber over the pix.

JamesM's picture

Does John K really think the example below (from his blog) is an example of an appropriate amount of white space? I don't. He's certainly entitled to his opinions, but his expertise is in cartooning rather than page layout.

aluminum's picture

John's background is in highly visual and dense cartoons aimed at very specific demographics (kids and stoned adults...both great demographics, btw). I'm sure his opinion is completely valid in that context. But it's obviously not any sort of universal truth.

riccard0's picture

This article is focused on the web, but gives a good overview on the different takes on whitespace:

Peroyomas's picture

@JamesM: I guess it was more an example of "hierarchy" in text. I agree it may be too much info for the page size.

He also has been adamant in the support of the simplicity of some old package designs that featured the product in contrast of newer tacky stuff. Also supports early cases of industrial design, compared to new gadgets.

JamesM's picture

> I guess it was more an example of "hierarchy" in text.

Okay, perhaps so, although taking a quick look at his blog many of the layouts he seems to like look rather cluttered to me. But I'll admit that I like some of those retro layouts in spite of the clutter. :)

By the way, here's a funny parody article that touches on the idea of simplicity and white space. It takes a classic Volkswagen ad and totally destroys it through a series of logical-sounding "improvements".


Steve Tiano's picture

I think that, for years now, the trend has been toward more white space--both via generous margins an increased leading--for more comfortable readability. Remember that the printed book is not just a container, but can be an art object independent of the book's writing and subject.

I can't imagine a professional book designer/page compositor using white space to increase the number of pages ... at least not if he or she intends to work regularly.

Decreased white space makes for a cluttered look and certainly inhibits sense and reading comprehension. Increased white space is only "not valid" when it's so much as to decrease readability. And it takes quite a lot of white space for that.

hrant's picture

> more comfortable readability.

Actually more white doesn't necessarily translate to an actual
increase in reading comfort - and it doesn't have to be extreme
to backfire. Remember what the worst possible thing is when
you're reading: turning the page!

And frankly I have trouble believing that the typical graphic
designer of this age is so concerned with readability... Much
more likely is that he does it to be accepted by his peers.


Steve Tiano's picture

It doesn't? I dunno, but 18+ years of book design suggests otherwise to my eye. And more importantly, to my paying clients' eyes. I must admit to not being such a design snob, that my peers' acceptance is so very important. I mean, I guess--for better or worse--I'm kind of a mercenary and measure my acceptance by paying clients.

hrant's picture

You care about the reader - that's why you frequent Typophile.


charles ellertson's picture

Trend? We're talking books, right? See Blumenthal, Art of the Printed Book 1455-1955. Except for leading, the trend today is to use less white space.

kentlew's picture

> I can't imagine a professional book designer/page compositor using white space to increase the number of pages ... at least not if he or she intends to work regularly.

Depends upon what the publisher has announced for page count and what word count the final manuscript comes in with. There’ve been plenty of times when I’ve had to push a book out. And plenty of times trying to rein it in. All variables are fair game. It’s all a balancing act.

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