Let’s talk about margins
September 12, 2014 11:40 AM   Subscribe

 
There’s a building in Tokyo that feels like it hates the world. Standing in its shadow, the wind becomes portentous, howling, angry. It will swallow you if you close your eyes. It does not want you there. Its rotating doors even killed a child the first week it opened. It is not a nice building. You are not an architect but you know this: The building is bad. There are no George Nakashima chairs inside.

What's the building?
posted by leotrotsky at 11:51 AM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


Laying out my master's thesis, it took me about 20 to 25% of the total time to decide on the proper pagesize + margins. I ended up using the renaissance golden-ratio one from the Elements of Typographic style.
I got the maximum grade for it, but I still think I'm most proud of the page ratios.
posted by signal at 11:51 AM on September 12, 2014 [18 favorites]


That was almost some kind of prose poem about margins. It was interesting, but I was hoping for something else... some detail about how Proper Margins are constructed. I guess I should ask Donald Knuth.
posted by axiom at 11:52 AM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


I really like it when he says, "Giving a shit does not require capital, simply attention and humility and diligence."
posted by wenestvedt at 11:57 AM on September 12, 2014 [15 favorites]


I like big margins and I cannot lie.
posted by echocollate at 11:57 AM on September 12, 2014 [9 favorites]


> What's the building?

I think it's Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, although according to Wikipedia, the death occurred much later than a week after the building opened.
posted by Condroidulations! at 12:03 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


I really like it when he says, "Giving a shit does not require capital, simply attention and humility and diligence."

Unfortunately, he's also wrong. Attention, humility, and diligence are all capital of a sort, and all too often require capital of other sorts to be achieved.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:06 PM on September 12, 2014 [9 favorites]


Unfortunately, I discover someone is wrong on the interwebs. I agree that social capital might indeed be required but its a fallacy that attention, humility and diligence require any kind of financial capital. Otoh, one rarely finds disconnected, arrogant layabouts among the lower income demographic, except in stereotypes outside of the developing world.
posted by infini at 12:14 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think it's Roppongi Hills Mori Tower . . .

To my Western ears, that is a startlingly unfortunate name.
posted by The Bellman at 12:20 PM on September 12, 2014


Beautiful essay. I can't wait to get home, away from this computer, and open a book. I will also drink a beer. I will eat cheese, and fruit too.
posted by stinkfoot at 12:22 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


I have a book printed by The Bodley Head that has the perfect margins and is just so perfect that even the printed cataloging numbers on its spine do not mar it.
posted by OmieWise at 12:22 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Time is a type of capital. If your job requires you to build three hundred widgets a day, do you have time to give a shit?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:22 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I suggested to Oscar Wilde that he should publish a book all margin, full of beautiful unwritten thoughts, and have this blank volume bound in some Nile-green skin powdered with gilt nenuphars and smoothed with hard ivory, decorated with gold by Ricketts and printed on Japanese paper.

He approved.

"It shall be dedicated to you, and the unwritten text illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley. There must be five hundred signed copies for particular friends, six for the general public, and one for America."


(Ada Leverson on book design in the 1890s)
posted by verstegan at 12:23 PM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


Laying out my master's thesis, it took me about 20 to 25% of the total time to decide on the proper pagesize + margins. I ended up using the renaissance golden-ratio one from the Elements of Typographic style.
I got the maximum grade for it, but I still think I'm most proud of the page ratios.


I have that book and love it, but we clearly went to different schools. For both my undergrad and grad theses, each school had a person whose job it was to check page margins with a ruler to check for compliance with the (ugly) required page layout specifications. People were routinely handed back their 400 page dissertation and told to reformat the entire thing because of margins, tables, lists, or extended quotation format errors.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:23 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


I have that book and love it, though I had to repurchase it after leaving the print business as my original copy disappeared into the newsroom. I hope whoever ended up with it appreciates it.
posted by rewil at 12:26 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just the thickness of a thumb, plus or minus a bit.
posted by sammyo at 12:31 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


If your job requires you to build three hundred widgets a day, do you have time to give a shit?
You're right. But widgets may not require the same dedication (unless you were Japanese) and I'm sorry I derailed this beautiful thread and topic by responding without thinking or taking a walk.
posted by infini at 12:31 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've encountered a few kindle books with this (or other spacing) problem. It _is_ frustrating, and I'm glad people care about the beauty and useful of their books.
posted by Phredward at 12:31 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


People were routinely handed back their 400 page dissertation and told to reformat the entire thing because of margins, tables, lists, or extended quotation format errors.

And we liked it.

and only cried in our advisors' offices a little.
posted by BrashTech at 12:43 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


What's a book?
posted by jsavimbi at 12:46 PM on September 12, 2014


I worked for a publisher who made a lot of perfect bound books. For some reason the graphic designer didn't care much for margins and every time he'd run off the first chunk of spreads I'd have to remind him to increase the inner margins. "Dude! The binding will eat all that miniscule white space you've set...and some of the copy!"

I never understood it. White space is luxurious. Leave some.
posted by notyou at 12:47 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


If we're giving recommendations, I really enjoyed Hendel's On Book Design.
posted by echocollate at 12:51 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I worked for a publisher who made a lot of perfect bound books. For some reason the graphic designer didn't care much for margins and every time he'd run off the first chunk of spreads I'd have to remind him to increase the inner margins. [...]I never understood it. White space is luxurious.

Your comment may point to the reasoning.
posted by OmieWise at 12:54 PM on September 12, 2014


This is only marginally important.
posted by vorpal bunny at 1:43 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


A love letter to margins
posted by stoneweaver at 1:53 PM on September 12, 2014


This is of marginal interest.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:56 PM on September 12, 2014


That was a remarkable amount of writing about margins without actually saying anything about margins.
posted by echo target at 2:09 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


♫ Because you know
I'm all about that space
'Bout that space, no deckle...
posted by Toekneesan at 2:14 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


"A book with proper margins says, We respect you, Dear Reader"

As does a book with a readable type size.

When I laid out my dad's books for (perfect bound) CreateSpace, I bumped from the standard 10pt. to 12pt. When the page count grew too much, I shrunk the margins. The proof copies made it obvious this was going to be irritating. I didn't want to bump from 5.25x8 to 6x9, so I took the page count hit and had to re-layout the cover for the thicker spine.
posted by morganw at 2:15 PM on September 12, 2014


Unfortunately, mostly the publishers worry about profit margins, not actual margins.

Two margins, skinny & fat.
posted by chavenet at 2:22 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Perhaps they can get Sergio Aragonés to illustrate it.
posted by rifflesby at 2:26 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


I have written a truly marvelous response to this FPP, which this margin is too narrow to contain.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:57 PM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


Craig Mod is brilliant in general, don't forget to read all his other things.
posted by oulipian at 4:37 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Anybody know what movie he's talking about?
posted by TheCoug at 5:07 PM on September 12, 2014


The Great Passage (I assume anyway. I haven't seen it. But how many recent Japanese movies about dictionary making can there be?)
posted by Aznable at 6:13 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. The timing, for me, is absolutely perfect. I'm working on a book layout as a hobby project. I thought I was qualified because of past work laying out interfaces, graphics, and the occasional web page. But, I am discovering my level of knowledge is roughly equivalent to Jon Snow's.

Now I'm examining every old book I have, and forming an obsession with Tchichold’s Golden Section Canon. This is all so much fun.
posted by honestcoyote at 9:12 PM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


this was an interesting read, simply because i am completely indifferent to margins. i must be some sort of feral literature wolf, recklessly devouring pages without even giving them the slightest consideration. id gladly read a novel on the back of a shampoo bottle.

the only books i recall even being vaguely aware of such a thing are House of Leaves and Only Revolutions by Danielewski, if that gives you any indication about the depths of my indifference.

anyway, i had no idea anyone could so passionately care about such a thing.
posted by young_son at 3:46 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh my that was beautifully written.

In a world of digital quantification of everything, it's reassuring that sometimes one must still make a judgment call based on what feels right, what works, rather than some cold equation. Good page layout is still like that.

Inadequate inner margins that require the binding be broken to access all text, however, show serious indifference to both content and reader.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:26 AM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


> I've encountered a few kindle books with this (or other spacing) problem. It _is_ frustrating, and I'm glad people care about the beauty and useful of their books.

I agree wholeheartedly. In principle I prefer ebooks to print, but I still buy print books because I have been burned by crap publishing in ebooks. I was reminded of something I read recently (err, five years ago) about someone who does care about ebooks: Mike Cane compared a "professional" edition of a Jack London ebook with his own efforts.
posted by Monochrome at 11:06 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Best book layout fact I know: The amount of sinkage the text block should have is the width of the text block, basically leaving a big white square. Not every book does that but check your library, it's used often and a thing of beauty.
posted by Brainy at 11:47 AM on September 13, 2014


White space is my first love. It gives my brain room to move around what it wraps, to give it whatever color, size and shoes it seems like it should have, and to remember it longer.
posted by yoga at 1:37 PM on September 13, 2014


honestcoyote, you know what's great about the Van de Graaf canon? If your pages have a ratio of 2:3, then your the height of the text block is the width of the page. It's beautiful.
posted by nushustu at 4:42 PM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


When I was working on a personal photo book for our of our travels, I spent weeks trying to get the layout right, which mostly involved the width of the margins. I found many resources for laying out portrait-orientation books with mostly text (Van de Graaf and others), but there isn't much out there that discusses good layouts for landscape books, and pages consisting of a few separate objects (images). Ultimately I settled for something based on the Golden Canon, splitting the page into a 9x9 grid.

So, does anybody know of some rules that can be applied to photo books? Or is there not really any specific rule that you can follow, since every page might be somewhat different?
posted by destrius at 7:43 AM on September 14, 2014


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