Book design

Book design

Book design is the art of incorporating the content, style, format, design, and sequence of the various components of a book into a coherent whole.

In the words of Jan Tschichold, book design "[...] though largely forgotten today, methods and rules upon which it is impossible to improve have been developed over centuries. To produce perfect books these rules have to be brought back to life and applied. Richard Hendel describes book design as "an arcane subject" and refers to the need for a context to understand what that means.

Book structure

Book design concerns itself with the elements listed in the Book design sidebar.

Front matter

Front matter, or preliminaries, is the first section of a book, and is usually the smallest section in terms of the number of pages. The pages are numbered in lowercase roman numerals. Each page is counted; but no folio or page number is expressed, or printed, on either display pages, or blank pages.

Front matter generally only appears in the first volume in a series, although some elements (such as a table of contents or index) may appear in each volume.

The following table will help distinguish between some of the different types of front matter:

Name Voice Notes
Foreword Some real person other than the author of the book Often, a foreword will tell of some interaction between the writer of the foreword and the story or the writer of the story. A foreword to later editions of a work often explains in what respects that edition differs from previous ones.
Preface The author A preface generally covers the story of how the book came into being, or how the idea for the book was developed; this is often followed by thanks and acknowledgments to people who were helpful to the author during the time of writing.
Acknowledgement The author Often part of the Preface
Introduction The author
Dedication The author A dedication page is a page in a book that precedes the text, in which the author names the person or people for whom he has written the book.
Prologue A character in the book

Body matter

Body matter can consist of:

  • Volumes
  • Parts
  • Books
  • Chapters
  • Sections

A single volume is a set of leaves that are bound together. A single volume may be synonymous with either a part or a book. Many works dispense with parts and books, and simply have one volume containing one book which contains multiple chapters.

Sections may be larger or smaller than chapters, but often smaller.

Parts and books are larger than chapters, but each may be larger or smaller than the other, depending on the work in question. Examples to be taken into consideration include:

  • The Lord of the Rings: 3 parts (in either one or three volumes), each of which contains two books, and each of these contains multiple chapters
  • The Bible: This consists of 66 books in two testaments, each of which contains multiple chapters. This is generally bound in one volume

Back matter

Often only included in the last volume in a series.

Front cover, spine, and back cover of the dust-jacket

The front cover is the front of the book, and is marked appropriately, by text and/or graphics, in order to identify it as such, namely as the very beginning of the book. The front cover usually contains at least the title and/or author, with possibly an appropriate illustration.

The spine is the vertical edge of a book as it normally stands on a bookshelf. It is customary for it to have printed text on it. In texts published and/or printed in the United States, the spine text, when vertical, runs from the top to the bottom, such that it is right side up when the book is lying flat with the front cover on top. In books of Europe, vertical spine text traditionally runs from the bottom up, though this convention has been changing lately. The spine usually contains all, or some, of four (4) elements (besides decoration, if any), and in the following order: (1) author, editor, or compiler; (2) title; (3) publisher; and (4) publisher logo.

The back cover often contains biographical matter about the author or editor, and quotes from other sources praising the book.


Books are classified, under two categories, according to the physical nature of their binding. The more costly cover, cloth, derives its name from the fact that it is a board, most often cardboard, which is literally made of cloth. However, the designation hardcover, sometimes hardback, also apply, and it is more precise. That's because the cover is always stiff, as opposed to flexible, and other material, such as plastic, may be substituted for cloth.

Less expensive is the paperback (sometimes called a softback, or softcover). It is so called because, originally at least, it was made literally of paper. But that is not essential. It may be made of other material, such as plastic. The essential element is the flexibility of the covers. Such books were and still are often sub-classified into the category of pocketbooks. These kind of paperbacks were smaller than usual - small enough to barely fit into a pocket (especially the back pocket of one's trousers). However, this capacity to fit into one's pocket, diminishes with the number of pages. A book, of 400 pages, no longer fits into the pocket of one's jeans. Nevertheless, it is still designated as a pocketbook, so long as the covers are sufficiently small for them to fit.

Page spread

A basic unit in book design is the page spread. The left page (called verso) and right page (called recto) are of the same size and aspect ratio, and are centered on the gutter where they are bound together at the spine.

The design of each individual page, on the other hand, is governed by the canons of page construction.

The possible layout of the sets of letters of the alphabet, or words, on a page is determined by the so-called print space, and is also an element in the design of the page of the book. Clearly, there must be sufficient space, at the spine of the book, if the text is to be visible. On the other hand, the other three margins of the page, which frame the book, are made of the appropriate size for both practical and aesthetic reasons.

Print space

The print space (German Satzspiegel) is a typographic term and determines the effective area on the paper of a book, journal or other press work. The print space is limited by the surrounding borders, or in other words the gutters outside the printed area.

The term comes originally from hot metal typesetting: above the desktop was a mirror (German: Spiegel) where the typesetter could read the inverted letters.


Further reading

  • Hendel, Richard, On Book Design, Yale University Press (1998) ISBN 0-300-07570-7.
  • Hochuli, Jost, and Robin Kinross, Designing Books: Practice and Theory, Hyphen Press (1996) ISBN 0-907259-08-1.
  • Bruno, Michael H., Pocket Pal: The Handy Little Book of Graphic Arts Production, 19th Edition, Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (2004) ISBN 0-88362-488-5.
  • Lee, Marshal, Bookmaking: Editing, Design, Production, Third Edition, W. W. Norton and Company (2004) ISBN 0-393-73018-2.
  • University of Chicago Press, The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. (Chicago: 2003) ISBN 0226104036 (hardcover); ISBN 0226104052 (hardcover with CD-ROM): ISBN 0226104044 (CD-ROM).
  • University of Chicago Press, The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed., Online ed. (Chicago: Released September 29.)

See also

External links

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