Page geometry

yannisl's picture

The golden fleece of book design has been the typesetting of the typed area in relation to the paper and the spread. Famous typographers such as Jan Tschichold and Rosarivo devised canon's of page construction detailing how to calculate margins and set the typed area.

Having looked at over 100 books as part of some development work I am trying to complete, the most immediate and apparent observation is that most Publishers and obviously their book interior designers currently disregard such rules. My own feeling is that this is mostly done for monetary reasons. The books in my opinion still look very good and maybe is time to let medieval rules fall away.

Here, is my question and I know it will not have any specific answer. What margin proportions and typed area settings do you think make a good modern book. Can you provide statistics from some books you like (paper size, top margin, bottom margin, left margin and right margin).

See also typed area where I posted a bit of a more technical question.

hrant's picture

Even though I'm not a book designer I know this is a bigtime "It Depends" moment. For example have you considered that the dimensions of the book largely determine how its held, and this determines how big certain margins need to be?

The books in my opinion still look very good

But how something appears æsthetically doesn't always strongly correlate to how functional it is.

hhp

yannisl's picture

Hrant thanks for your thoughts. There are numerous factors that affect the design of the page geometry, including the functional ones you mentioned to the apocryphal ones related to golden ratios.

Normally one would start from the font size and the paper size, work out a reasonable length for readability and then apportion the margins unequally to the outer and inner margins. Now this has a lot of inherent variability as readability is somehow vacuous and the number of characters in a line can vary from 55-80. This also brings cost into the equation as well.

The bottom margin traditionally is made longer in order to hold the book at the bottom, although personally I always hold a book from its sides.

Té Rowan's picture

Oh? I thought it was for the lectern or to lay a ruler on to hold the pages down.

oldnick's picture

As the real gives ways to the virtual, the conditions which dictated traditional book design lose their relevance.

Of necessity, actual books are read in two-page spreads and have gutters. Thus, traditional book design employed mirror symmetry and allowance for creep, neither of which need to considered in the design of a one-page-at-a-time ebook. The only real holdover is a larger margin at the bottom of the page, posited on the optical, rather than the geometric center of the page.

Nick Shinn's picture

What Hrant said.
It’s all about the thumbs.
Ergonomically, more margin is required at the side, and even more at the bottom, in order to support the book adequately while being read.
However, that’s a static idealization, whereas in practice the merit of book-reading is that one may fidget, avoiding the unpleasant physical side-effects of catatonic pose. So it’s no problem to hold the object where one isn’t reading, after the manner of newspaper use. In fact, it could be argued that the newspaper format is responsible for undermining the traditional book proportions, entrenched as they had become over the centuries of its virtual monopoly.

riccard0's picture

I think the necessity of white space where resting one’s thumbs is also historically tied to the quality of ink: to avoid black thumbs, finger stains and smearing of text.

yannisl's picture

Thanks! This is a good point and I remember when LaserJets first came out this was a problem with desktop publishing as well.

yannisl's picture

Nick thanks. You make some very good points. Do you think one should still strive for achieving ratios such as the typed area height should equal the page width etc., you think they are still relevant?

David Vereschagin's picture

As the real gives ways to the virtual, the conditions which dictated traditional book design lose their relevance.

I don’t agree with that, and I don’t think it’s actually what you meant. The stuff that is important for traditional book design will remain so (even as publishers force book designers to squeeze margins so their own are less squeezed). I don’t think digital books are going to change the basics of designing and producing print books. The demands of digital texts are different, yes, but they are particular to their medium.

David

Nick Shinn's picture


The device now provides a frame which accomodates the thumbs, and also acts as a visual border to the text, lessening the demand for a generous margin of white space.

Digital device with only one page: no need for asymmetric positioning of text.
Has anyone patented a folding e-reader that creates a 2-page spread?


Using closely positioned, thin rules as a border to demarcate content, rather than a buffer zone of white space.

JamesM's picture

An iPad normally shows a single page when in the vertical orientation, and switches to a 2-page spread when horizontal.

> Has anyone patented a folding e-reader that creates a 2-page spread?

Microsoft was developing a folding tablet called "Courier" which I presume could display a book that way, but it was cancelled in 2010 prior to release.

CNET article about Courier's cancellation: http://tinyurl.com/3j54xvy

oldnick's picture

I don’t agree with that, and I don’t think it’s actually what you meant.

David,

You are free to disagree; however, as a general rule, I mean what I say, even if—due to the ambiguities built into language—it appears that I don’t always say what I mean. The iPad two-page spread “solution” is a nod to dead-tree book purists, but it’s just algorithmic fakery.

hrant's picture

I also can't stand such fetishism. Even the shading of the gutter is being reproduced. I mean, like, gag me with a spine!

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture


Yes, the faux effect is silly—and the paragraph indents are much too large.
Look at how that affects the orphan at the bottom of the left hand page.

dstdenis's picture

Yes, the faux effect is silly

Agreed. The iBooks software also animates page turns to resemble a paper book page turn, which is goofy, I think. Fortunately the fake gutter can be turned off, and tapping the edge to turn pages rather than swiping makes the animation less pronounced.

Here's a screen grab from iBooks with both the gutter effect and full justification switched off (you can click to view at full resolution):

Lacuna in iBooks

There's also an option to enable hyphenation, improving word spacing with full justification on or the right rag with justification off.

Working back towards the original topic, I hope that the introduction of additional software controls will improve e-book typography. For example, Kindle Format 8 seems a step in a better direction.

JamesM's picture

I like the simulated page/book look. I might disagree with iBook's choice of margins, indents, and so forth, but I like the visual metaphor. And as dstdenis said, the user has the option to turn the effects off.

David Vereschagin's picture

I haven’t, yet, opined on the iBooks spread view, but to me it’s just symptomatic of retrograde mimicry on the iPad (and creeping into OS X) in general. But I’ve gone off topic, so enough on that.

David

JamesM's picture

The use of visual metaphors in interface design goes back to the 1980s (or perhaps further), when graphical user interfaces started to replace text interfaces. We got visual icons for files, trash, control buttons, and so forth which made batches of computer code resemble physical objects.

It's always been controversial to some extent.

hrant's picture

One cool thing though is the floppy icon for Save. Over time fewer and fewer people know what it's supposed to be, so it's getting nicely abstract.

hhp

JamesM's picture

I've still got a shoe box full of floppies (and some Zip cartridges, too). Don't know why I'm saving them as I don't even have a working drive that'll read them. I guess CDs are on their way to becoming obsolete also.

oldnick's picture

James,

The use of “graphical user interface icons” long predates the 1980s…

Té Rowan's picture

I do have a lot of floppies as well: 5¼″, 3½″ and 3″.

ncaleffi's picture

Tschichold's canons of page construction are historically related to an era where books were mostly hard-covered and would open flat; therefore, one designer could easily set a tight interior margin (and large exterior margins) without the risk of getting the lines of text too close to the spine. Nowadays, when books are bound in paperback-like covers or, in the digital printing world, glued and milled, those margins proportions are harder to apply, althought Tschichold's micro-typography prescriptions (and the golden ratio book form proportion) are, in my opinion, still very useful.

A common norm in designing a book page, anyway, is to set the bottom margin broader than the others; I would set the left and right margins with the same size and the upper margin just slightly smaller. This way, when the book is bound, you will have the impression that the golden ratio approach is somehow respected.

rs_donsata's picture

Also consider the change in aesthetic preferences and attitudes toward books in time. During the Renaissance texts were treated with regal dignity and harmony was the new black. Contrast those values with early modernism stark paradigms.

washishu's picture

Way, way, way back, as an apprentice comp. we were given quite a lot of "rules"; they weren't quite "Thou shalt not. . ." but they did often come quite close to it. And no-one ever bothered to explain to us where they came from.

We were given margin ratios for "de-luxe", "normal" and "economy" margins. I forget them all but I think the "normal" was—in the order of backs, heads, foredge, tails—1.5, 2, 3, 4. Economy was less than this and de-luxe considerably more of course. As has been pointed out, this assumes traditional case-binding. This gave a spread in which the backs taken together, were roughly equal to the foredge and the heads about half of the tails, which is more or less what jacobsievers indicates in his illustration.

It irritated me for years that publishers would use similar values for paperbacks, often resulting in the need to break the back of the book to get any kind of back margin at all. They do seem to be learning now however and it is far more usual than it used to be to see a generous back margin on paperbacks. Seems to have taken them a long time to learn though.

HVB's picture

OldNick: "The iPad two-page spread “solution” is a nod to dead-tree book purists, but it’s just algorithmic fakery."

While the image details may be algorithmic fakery, the overall format is a nod to readability and human factors. You wouldn't want lines of text to be ten inches long. There is ample research and evidence related to optimum line length, single-glance capture, minimization of left-right eye focus, etc.

The readability effect could have been achieved with multiple columns instead of dual pages, but the implemented solution is both more familiar and technically easier.

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