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The Secret Law of Page Harmony
February 19, 2013 10:04 AM   Subscribe

A method to produce the perfect book (single-link graphic design essay).
posted by Doleful Creature (32 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Most perfect looking book. Putting 5 lbs of information on a 10 lb page is less than perfect from a usability POV.
posted by DU at 10:14 AM on February 19, 2013


I don't know, seems to me that the only reason it would be a detriment to usability is if you really hate turning pages. Also this way you get lots of room for marginalia. Sounds pretty nice to me.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:18 AM on February 19, 2013


Why are you showing this to anyone?! It's a SECRET!!
posted by Pecinpah at 10:21 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know, seems to me that the only reason it would be a detriment to usability is if you really hate turning pages

More physical material per-paragraph means the book is heavier and it takes up more physical space. Those are both clear detriments to useability.

Some people have processing disorders and find white space to be distracting - this is an accessibility issue. Personally I like how with my eBook, I can have text fill up as much of my visual field as possible.

I'm not arguing that people shouldn't ever follow this rule. I object to the idea that it's a 'perfect book', or that there aren't trade-offs.
posted by muddgirl at 10:23 AM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


"A method to produce an initial template for certain kinds of layouts that is usually good enough to kickstart the actual design process."

Just imagine the click-throughs!
posted by jsturgill at 10:25 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


It may be visually pleasing in two dimensions, but in a book with any heft to it, the position of the text block means it rolls into the gutter.

And that, professor, is why your photocopied course packs always suck.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:26 AM on February 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


Since 2:3 etc. are merely approximations to the golden ratio that are easy to construct with a straightedge, shouldn't we be going full-on irrational in today's computer-aided book design?
posted by mubba at 10:33 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or you could just use LaTeX if you really desire beauty.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:35 AM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


(Just be sure to note that none of the examples of beautiful LaTeX use Computer Modern.)
posted by mubba at 10:42 AM on February 19, 2013


Do all design articles have to read like the induction into a secret cult? bbbbbbbbbreathless prose about how you, too can use these ancient/modern/abstruse principles to make work so good your clients won't even be able to see it with their eyes?
posted by Fraxas at 10:47 AM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


So the folks behind Timecube and The Secret finally got together for a project?
posted by Behemoth at 10:50 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just imagine the click-throughs!

And yet, it's factual and informative!

But I guess I've always thought that form should follow and even enhance function.
posted by muddgirl at 11:00 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my admittedly limited experience (I've laid out maybe a dozen or so books ever, and I'm trained as a visual artist, not a graphic designer), effective page layout in print depends on an awful lot of variables regarding the eventual, physical object that you're designing—the size of the book/magazine, the binding type, the number of pages, the paper stock, etc. etc.

The author's idea of the text blocks being the same distance from one another as they are from the outer edge of the page might hold for something like a large-format, perfect-bound magazine (or, you know, an InDesign file/PDF viewed on a huge cinema display) where each spread can lay relatively flat. In a smaller, hardcover book (or even a paperback with more than a few dozen pages, probably) those text blocks are going to be all up in the gutter and look awkwardly jammed-together. (I think they already look awkwardly jammed-together onscreen, but whatever). All of those geometric overlays strike me as more tea leaf reading than anything else.
posted by wreckingball at 11:05 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can appreciate keeping negative space on the page (or screen, if you wish) but some of the examples seemed like they just threw the grid and lines over some other image. Presto! The harmony is there. Again, I'm sympathetic to good page layout but doubtful that any consensus can made when calling a technique perfection.
posted by dgran at 11:05 AM on February 19, 2013


If you enjoy reading about page layout and book design, particularly how things are changing with the rise of ebooks, Craig Mod's essays are fascinating. Hack the Cover is a good place to start.
posted by oulipian at 11:17 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tufte-LaTeX is a LaTeX class that produces something similar. It emulates the text layout that Edward Tufte uses in his books. I use it for my handouts when I give talks. You could pretty easily edit it to make the margins respect the dimensions that this guy recommends.
posted by painquale at 11:20 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was horrible. I was immediately pissed off thinking about how I was going to have to tilt and turn the book inside out to read the text that had fallen into the gutter, and wondered if I was some sort of reading savant for being able to keep a book open without planting my thumbs all over the page.

Like wreckingball points out, this might make sense for a magazine, but you probably shouldn't promise "the perfect book" in your first sentence.

It was also pretty funny viewing it initially with JavaScript disabled.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:23 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love white space, am a designer and that first grid looks like it has way too much white space, to the point of distraction.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:23 AM on February 19, 2013


A method to produce the perfect book

as long as your idea of perfection is "a teacher's edition of a middle school math textbook".
posted by 23skidoo at 11:29 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aw man, I liked it. Once again y'all are schooling me like the gauche fool that I am.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:33 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm all for white space, but unless every page is full of marginalia those inside gutters strike me as way too small.
posted by usonian at 11:37 AM on February 19, 2013


As a composer I've become particularly attuned to when artists are fetishizing and reifying formal relationships that don't actually show through the veil of production to the audience, and to be honest that seems like what's going on here. The sense of harmony that he talks about throughout the piece may very well exist for him in terms of his process, but if it's communicated to the audience then I think it's the result of other factors besides this particular layout method.
posted by invitapriore at 11:42 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


This totally reads like somebody trying to sell the writer's equivalent of PUA techniques.

"Writers, are you worried that readers may reject you based on things like the quality of your work? Maybe it's because you're too nice and focused only on the reader's gratification. Our proven techniques teach you how to grab the readers attention effortlessly every time, using subconscious "signalling" techniques that will have your readers drinking out of the palm of your hand (or wherever else you want, wink wink)."
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:42 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"What are you writing?" "A poem for you."
posted by oulipian at 12:03 PM on February 19, 2013


Use this one old, weird page formatting tip - discovered by a Mom - for perfect page layout - every time!
posted by kcds at 12:18 PM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


For further reading I recommend Jan Tschichold's The Form of a Book.

A few of the essays do rise to the level of intellectual bullying reserved for white-page architecture critique but there are some good lessons in classical design in there.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:43 PM on February 19, 2013


I'm currently creating a book using LyX. I know nothing about LaTex markup etc. but this thing just does it and looks great, really simple.

Re: this secret formula, are there margin setting examples for certain page sizes? I'm too lazy to get out a ruler and figure it out.
posted by stbalbach at 1:22 PM on February 19, 2013


Yeah, as a former book designer, I have to say I learned to take Jan with a grain or two of salt. High-end, design-y books require a different solution than more mass-market stuff. Cost and beauty aren't mutually exclusive, but they don't always go hand in hand. In most books, the design ought to get out of the way and become effectively invisible. That's harder to do than it sounds. But yeah, leave plenty of room in the gutter, and make the bottom margin the largest. There's a lot of room for flexibility.
posted by rikschell at 1:29 PM on February 19, 2013


As a composer I've become particularly attuned to when artists are fetishizing and reifying formal relationships that don't actually show through the veil of production to the audience, and to be honest that seems like what's going on here.

Yeah, no kidding. All the formal folderal reminded me of the bullshit behind the redesign of the Pepsi logo.

(The link on that page is broken; here's a link to a working pdf. Pages 19 and 20 aren't much different from what is going on here.)
posted by painquale at 2:30 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


And yet, it's factual and informative!

And also woefully wooful, is I think the sticking point.

I was delighted to learn about the idea of book layout canons and to get a little history lesson on the independent development of similar ideas by designers centuries apart, and it's neat to hear a little bit of a philosophical take on why a person likes the idea or the shape of a thing, but christ almighty there's a whole lot of being-in-love-with-their-love-of-the-idea stuff in there and irrational (heh) devotion to magical whole number ratios and total rejection of practical considerations of books as bound objects that don't lay magically flat and which exist in a variety of sizes and shapes.

Basically it's halfway a neat, informative peek at some design history and theory, and halfway a dare to the reader to pick up the nearest perfect book and hit someone in the nose with it.
posted by cortex at 4:17 PM on February 19, 2013


The main thing I have learned about books is that the stories within should feature an incredibly powerful weapon made of giant metal spheroids and spinning rubber belts that shoots lightning bolts at the enemy. It would be called the Van de Graaf Canon.
posted by miyabo at 8:01 PM on February 19, 2013


painquale, I've seen that Pepsi logo pdf before. I do UX design, and that pdf is the most full of shit thing I've ever seen. It's sometimes hard to be a designer because your client will think they're paying you to bullshit them. This turd does not help. It's got every bit of bullshit that designers do in one neat package.
posted by nushustu at 10:52 PM on February 19, 2013


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