Archives for category: #design

… or a leaf or a swirl or anything else you’d like.

it's a leaf!

Ornaments are a nice way to add a little somethin’ to your ebook. Here’s how I do it. There’s 100 other ways to do it … this one works for me and I’d also love to hear your method. Enjoy!

Make an Ornament for Your Ebook | 04-2013
[PDF: 168 kb]

Edited to add the video … because how could I not?



There are 3 quick changes that I like to make to ebook css, whether starting a new ebook or doing QA on an existing ebook. These changes help me to:

  1. Read the running text more comfortably
  2. Visualize the information hierarchy more clearly
  3. Give the design a bit of personality

I achieve this by:

  1. Resetting the p selector’s line height
  2. Resetting the p selector’s margins
  3. Adding color that matches the cover to the heads

Here’s what I’m usually looking at before I make these changes to the CSS.

And here’s what I’m thinking:

So I open the CSS and make these adjustments:

I find most ereaders’ line height default to be too tight to be comfortable. Bumping up the line-height fixes this. While I’m in there I throw in hyphenation, widow and orphan, and text-align declarations. I also set the text-indent to zero if I intend to push the epub through Kindle Previewer because older Kindles that read Mobi files (instead of KF8) put a text indent on every single paragraph, whether I want it or not. Note that if I have lists in my ebook, I need to repeat some of the declarations in the selector so that my design choices remain consistent.

While I’m in there I set the margins to zero so that there is no space between paragraphs. But when I do this, I make a p class for a text indent so that readers can see where the next paragraph starts. And that p class with the indent picks up all the good stuff I threw into its parent … the p selector. Now the space around the heads is more noticeable and this strengthens the information hierarchy.

To set off the heads even more, I add a color that matches the cover. Unlike adding color to print designs, adding color to ebooks doesn’t cost a thing. The proliferation of color tablets on the market makes this a quick win. On eink screens the color simply goes to grayscale (but check to make sure the color you choose doesn’t look too faint). The color doesn’t have to be flashy. In my example below it’s navy but it’s enough and it matches the cover to help make a polished package. And while I’m in there I throw in hyphenation declarations to prevent hyphenation in case the heads wrap to a second line. I also like to set the heads as sans-serf, at least in the beginning, to see them more clearly.

Now, of course, some ereaders will override or ignore some of these declarations and human readers have the choice of changing the line-height, font, and other aspects of the text. But as a designer I become familiar with the material first and my job is to present it in a way that will make it more easy to comprehend. If the reader doesn’t agree, they are empowered to make their own choices.

Here’s the before and after:

(click on image to enlarge)

So there’s my 3 favorite CSS changes that get me started on the road to developing an attractive and useful ebook. Feel free to try them yourself. And feel free to share your own favorite “resets.”

My husband surprised me with a book the other day. The blurb on the jacket says it’s for “transit and type nerds alike.”

That’s him + me!

We’ve kept the book, Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story by Paul Shaw, on our coffee table and have been browsing through it all week. Tonight I came upon the chapter in which Unimark International was hired by the NYCTA to help simplify the chaotic subway system maps and signage of the 1960s. This section particularly interested me as it reminds me of today’s struggle between print and digital:

The TA was glad to have Unimark’s advice, but nothing more. They did not have enough money to pay Unimark to create a complete manual of design recommendations. … Instead they sought to carry out the proposals themselves using their in-house design shop. … “It had never occurred to us that they would carry out the proposals in their own shop,” Massimo Vignelli said a year later. … The whole clash between the “signpainters”—as Vignelli called them—of the Bergen Street Sign Shop and designers at Unimark reflected fundamentally different expectations between craftsmen and designers. The former were intent on making signs while the latter were interested in sign systems.

I want to avoid making too many parallels between that situation and today’s publishing situation, but it struck me how the similarities hit close to home. Am I a “signpainter” who resists change? Am I concentrating on the little picture (“signs” or “I want to keep designing print books!“) instead of considering the bigger picture (“sign systems” or “OK, I need to keep up with how readers want their books.“)?

Most days my answer is “No!“, but I still get sensitive when it’s suggested that we print designers are in trouble, that our print mindset can’t change enough learn code, that web designers are better positioned to become digital book designers… These things may all be true for some, but it’s also true there are print designers who are passionate about books and their readers, who are ready for the challenge, who enjoy learning new things, and whose knowledge of book structure and editorial design contribute to and enhance eBook design discussions today.

But enough of philosophizing. This book is lovely and filled with pictures of old and new signage, typography specs, and user experience. Time to get back to flipping through the pages and being a type nerd. And can I say that the paper the book is printed on is sublime, it smells amazing! … P.S. It appears this book is not available as on eBook, but its pictures would look amazing on an iPad.

click on the pictures to enlarge

apologies for the blurry photos | on a related note, that is good wine

More and more I find myself heading over to to keep informed on current publishing and tech issues, learn new tips, jump-start my creativity, or just have a tension-releasing laugh. There are so many people on there generously sharing their talents and know-how. Most of the videos are free (or a free video might be an introduction to a course of instructional videos for which access would have to be paid).

Try to be aware of the upload date on the videos about technology. Since updates and new releases happen so often, it’s a good idea to go to the drop-down filter menu on the search page and choose “sort by upload date” if you’re looking for time-sensitive material.

I originally intended to post just my favorite videos, but you know how it goes—one search led to another to another—and I discovered a few more that I added to my favorites list. So here’s the searches that I like to do paired with an example of a video that I have found helpful, inspirational, or good for a smile.

For watching another book designer’s process:

The Making of a Book Cover: BLAMELESS, by Gail Carriger

Description: See how a book cover gets made in just 2 minutes! Visit and for more.

For InDesign and book layout tips: Tutorials | InDesign CS5: Collaborative Workflows with InCopy CS5

Description: An introduction to a course by AnneMarie “Her Geekness” Concepción on Tutorials | InDesign CS5: Making Interactive Documents

Description: An introduction to a course by David Blatner on

For typography inspiration:

A Lesson on Typography

Description: What is typography? A nice lesson by from the Vancouver Film School.

For learning about InDesign plug-ins:

Grid Calculator Pro Edition 2.0 (Grid Layout Adobe InDesign Plugin)

Description: A page grid generator plug-in from

For catching up on sessions at popular conferences:

Digital Book World Conference 2011

Description: Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks, on ebook experimentation, the agility of small book publishers, the new definition of publishing, and learning through failure.

Tools of Change Conference 2011

Description: Margaret Atwood (Author), “The Publishing Pie: An Author’s View”

Elizabeth Gilbert: A New Way to Think About Creativity at TED

Description: “Eat, Pray, Love” Author Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses, and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. Check out more talks on the TED website.

For eReader user experience:

Kindle iPad App Review: Kindle Books On iPad

Description: Here’s the link to the updated iPad review. This video shows the Kindle iPad app in action, going through all the features of the Kindle iPad app. Compare it to other ebook reading apps, such as iBooks, Kobo and B&N, by visiting the link above.

For when I need a smile:

Organizing the Bookcase

Description: Over the weekend Lisa Blonder Ohlenkamp and Sean Ohlenkamp decided to organize the bookcase. It got a little out of hand.

And today one of our own #ePrdctn group members on Twitter, Keith Snyder (@noteon), created a video tutorial quickly styling Word files for InDesign import (in the middle of a deadline, no less). Check it out on his blog.

So those are videos that I am enjoying right now. Let me know in the comments of videos that you have produced or have found that spark your interest.

In my previous post, I wrote about the book design process. Bookstore field trips are a great way to keep inspired through rounds and rounds of book design cycles. I wanted to share the field trip handout I give to our layout artists. It is customized for our publishing list, but feel free to customize it to your own publishing list or client needs. It can be used by one person or a group of people. The point of this type of research is not to copy others’ work, but to be inspired by the way other book designers found answers for their own design challenges. I also placed it as a downloadable PDF in the Appendix section of this blog. I sometimes use parts of it myself after hours when I find myself in a bookstore after work with a cup of coffee and some uninterrupted time ahead of me. Bliss.

Let me know how it goes, and also leave a comment if you have other ways that you like to stay inspired. If possible, visit your local independent bookstore on your field trip. They need all the help they can get. And be prepared after your book research to walk out with an armful of books. It never fails to happen!

Bookstore Field Trip for Book Designers

Book design research helps us to be aware of current design trends to stay competitive, reminds us of design basics, and gives us a stockpile of design solutions. Find as many of the following examples as you can. Don’t feel like you have to complete the list or follow it in order—it’s just a starting point for brainstorming.

Write down the books that you find for future reference. The interiors may be accessible thru’s “look inside” feature . . . or take a picture with your camera phone . . . or sketch what you find. Take note of the paper stock and binding of the books you pick up (uncoated paper vs. coated paper, paperback vs. hardcover, type of binding). These factors can play a role in how a book is designed.

If you’re in a group, meet up and share what you find. Discuss how you can apply these solutions to your books. You’ll return to your work space with a folder of ideas.

  • Find a book you like (any category is fine) and point out an interesting design feature of it.
  • Find a book that uses icons. How detailed are the icons? Are they easy to understand without a usage key?
  • Find a book that has extensive forms / charts / tables. How are shading and rules used to help give structure to them?
  • Find two books: one with a very simple, clean chapter opener treatment and one with a chapter opener that is more involved with many elements. Compare the way they use fonts and white space.
  • Find two gift-type books: one book in black and one book in 1-, 2- or, 4-color. Compare the way they use fonts, white space, and art.
  • Find a 1-, 2- or, 4-color cookbook. Pick out an interesting design feature. How many recipes fit on a page? Is this determined by recipe length?
  • Find a 1-, 2- or, 4-color travel book. Pick out an interesting design feature. What is the advantage of owning this book in print versus accessing the information on a website?
  • Find a business book. Pick out an interesting design feature. How is the tone of the subject matter conveyed through the fonts?
  • Find a self-help book. Pick out an interesting design feature. How are worksheets treated?
  • Find a book that has many different design elements. How does your eye moves across the page?
  • Find a book that is a compilation of stories. Pick out an interesting design feature. Do the stories run into other or do they start new pages? How does that affect the page count? Does the book feel full or spaced out?
  • Find a running head and / or folio style that you would like to try.
  • Find a contents page design that you would like to try.
  • Find a back matter page design that you would like to try.
  • Find a book you wish you had designed and tell us why.
  • Find a book that uses a font that you wish owned. Uploading an image of it to can help identify it.
  • If you were to create the ePub or .mobi version of this title what design elements could you keep? How would you order the front matter?
  • If there’s an eReader section of the store talk to the staff about what they’re hearing from the customers. What question do they get asked frequently? What do (human) readers like or dislike about the eReaders?
  • [Insert your own search here].

Happy hunting and have fun out there.