Page layout for novels is focused on providing the best experience for the reader. The right combination of fonts, font size, spacing and all the issues we talked about in a recent blog post on typesetting are intended to increase readability and ensure the reader puts the book down only when finished and not when frustrated.
Page layout for nonfiction takes readability into consideration, but moreover is an act of information design: carrying out the author’s intent of transferring specific knowledge to the reader. Basically, the book designer, in the role of information designer, makes information usable and the complex simple so that readers understand information in the clearest and most efficient manner possible. Information design incorporates text and images, and often utilizes graphic design to make sure the author’s point is understood. While the emphasis is on displaying information effectively, a good book designer will create an attractive design as well.
Information design often starts with the editor, who will also don his or her “information design” hat and ensure that data or ideas are translated into meaningful and concrete information. The editor will also take into account the expected reading abilities of the intended readers. Thus, it is helpful for nonfiction authors to work with a team that includes both an editor and book designer so that communication between the two is seamless.
The book designer will suggest a number of strategies for presenting information. Working together with the author and editor, the book designer will ascertain how the information should best be accessed by the reader. Although a book might seem very linear with a defined beginning and end, a nonfiction book often is not read in a linear fashion. Thus the team must think through how the author intends for the information to be accessed by the reader, and plan how to best encourage the reader to take that envisioned path. However, the team must also consider how the reader might independently access the book and balance that with maintaining the integrity of the information transfer. Drawing upon his or her experience and design toolkit, the designer will use a multitude of techniques to present the information so that it’s usable and flows. These techniques might include font style and size, color, graphics, sidebars, and call-outs. The designer may suggest additional graphics to present information in a clear fashion, or may suggest changes to graphics provided by the author.
The information presented in nonfiction differs drastically from book to book, along with each author’s goals and objectives for what they want readers to take away and do with that information. Page layout templates are not advisable; each book is unique and a layout that works for one book likely will not work well for another. Instead, make the investment in a unique design created by a book designer who is well-versed in information design methodologies and who will communicate the knowledge in your book to readers in the most effective, efficient, and beautiful manner possible.