This is a story about bad book design decisions, and how to avoid them.
Jill and I visited Copperfield’s Books in Sebastapol this afternoon.
Copperfield’s is a small chain of independent bookstores here in California, and a favorite place to browse their curated selection.
As an aside, when you consider all the books that are published each year, every independent bookstore is essentially an exercise in commercial curation. If customers buy the books the bookstore buyers have curated, the store will succeed, so effective curation is an existential necessity for any indie bookstore.
In any event, Jill found a book she had been curious about and brought it over to show me.
“I would never buy this book,” she said. “It’s a mess!”
The book, as it turned out, was Princesses Behaving Badly from Quirk Books.
The book had many design elements you don’t ordinarily see in commercial books, including 2-color printing. But what bothered Jill was the many graphics used in the book. Here’s a typical page, with ornaments running up and down both sides of the page:
She simply felt the patterns, ornaments, and colors would interrupt her reading, and said she would look for a Kindle version when we got home.
Clearly, although the publisher put a lot of effort into the design of the book, that’s something of a loss. After all, was all this something readers wanted? In this case, no, and a sale was lost for the bookstore, the publisher, and the author.
More Book Design Problems
You can see another example of design overtaking the main purpose of the book—communicating the author’s words to the reader’s brain—in one of Haruki Murakami’s sensational novels, Sputnik Sweetheart, originally published by Knopf:
This book contains two examples of what not to do: The running heads are large and distracting, and when repeated on every single page, soon become overbearing. Running heads are there as a courtesy to the reader and could be considered optional in novels anyway.
Even worse is the use of gigantic initial capitals every time there’s a text break. Talk about distracting! And what purpose could they possibly serve? This is a fairly short book with many text breaks, so this assault on the reader’s attention happens over and over again.
Another example of a book design “fail” is getting your page numbers in the wrong place.
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