With most e-books the “look” of the “page” is not really under the control of the publisher. The book will appear as it does on Kindle because of the layout parameters decided on by Amazon; same with iBooks and Apple. The only ways a publisher can fully determine the layout is to put the book up as a PDF, which makes it basically just a series of pictures of pages, or to design their own user interface. In the worlds of non-entertainment reading, this is happening more frequently.

Kevin Callahan gives sane practical advice at Digital Book World on how to design for e-books. The things you can do are different from what we are used to in the print world, but that doesn’t mean there’s no scope for creativity. After this week’s meeting of The Book Industry Guild of New York, ably organized and moderated by Kathy Sandler, I have won through to the realization that e-book design is more about designing things so that they’ll work, rather than designing them so they’ll look nice. In the world of physical books we are the heirs of generations of design of this nuts-and-bolts sort: we all knew that bibliographies went at the back rather than spread throughout the text, that tables could be set up this way for easy comprehension, and so on. And design for print books was all about appearance: if it looked right, it worked right — the user’s eye and brain would interpret the information in the agreed way, and it would instantly be understandable. Now we have to design for function not just for appearance. I’m not sure what the state of play is on table design: as far as I can tell there’s really no way to make a table (bigger than a couple of columns) work on an iPhone. This is one of the reasons I remain sanguine about the prospects of the print academic book.

To a very limited extent the look of the page is under the control of the reader. You can change the Kindle font, choosing among eight options one of which is called “Publisher font”, which may or may not mean anything. They recently added a new font called Open Dyslexic. I guess they’ve tested it and know it helps. You can enlarge or reduce the size of the type, change the leading, make the type black on white, white out of black, and or black on a sepia color. Your options are however controlled by the interface creator.

3046678-inline-3046678-slide-s-5-the-kindle-finally-gets-some-typography-that-doesnt-suckKindle recently introduced a new typeface, Bookerly, which looks quite nice. It was designed for them by Monotype. The Passive Voice tells us of Co.Design’s piece about the new Kindle typography. Digital Book World deflates the whole thing: it’s not the fonts, it’s the justification stupid! It is annoying that Kindle insists on justification: on an iPhone screen this leads to many crazy spacing “decisions”. Better however than one book I have from Project Gutenberg where every line throughout the book is centered! I think you may be able to do something about changing the default on the Kindle itself, but not I think on the Kindle app. The latest version of the app has improved things a bit by introducing hyphenation, but as far as I can tell you cannot get to a even-word-spaced-ragged right layout, like this blog, which is what one really wants. (Obviously the Kindle and the iPad, with their bigger screens, therefore more words per line, do work better in this regard.)