Archives for category: Book design

Is it just me, or is there really something a bit odd about the term “Table” Of Contents? I guess it really is a table in the same way that real tables are tables: columns of information arranged in rows. In this case just two columns, chapter title (though chapter number could make a third column) and then the relevant page numbers. I think my beef is really with the use of the full term as the main heading on the contents page in a book. The words “Table of” should always be omitted. They add nothing to the proper heading “Contents” and look ugly, and being redundant, intrusive. I always think the presence of the words “Table of” are a marker of the amateur publisher. (Nobody ever said that these value judgements which proliferate in book making are not snobbish or élitist.) While I’m at it, the use of leader lines has exactly the same effect on me.

Here, (via The Digital Reader) is a piece from .TxtLab about Rethinking the table of contents. This is all fine, but seems to me in the end to be nothing more than play. Does knowing there’s some enhanced relationship between paper and ephemerality in this text provide me with any information that I can make use of? Despite the heading the authors’ experiments don’t seem to have anything to do with rethinking the TOC.*

The contents list is in essence a part of the index; or to put it the other way round, the index is a continuation and expansion of the contents list. They are both techniques for finding your way around the book. (I wonder if this has anything to do with the European practice of putting the Contents at the back of the book?) There is obviously potential to automate the contents/index function in an ebook. In a print book you turn to the front or the back of the book and seek information on where you might find information about a certain topic. With a digital text you can potentially find every reference to that word; but that’s likely to be too much information. What you need is to find significant occurrences of the word or group of words, or actually not the word so much as the subject. You don’t really want an function that’ll find you “morbidity” without also bringing you “approaching death”. What you need is an index, compiled by an intelligence which has foreseen exactly the sorts of question you are asking of the text. This could potentially be invisible, summoned only by clicking on a word which would conjure up all the similar references to morbidity and to approaching death etc.

Does a list of chapters for a novel really help, even if they are hyperlinked? I tend not to be conscious of being engaged in Chapter 17 as I read along, and really just want to be able to get back to the page I was reading when I started noodling around in the text trying to remember just why Uncle Bob was such a problem. I dare say it doesn’t cost much to hyperlink your contents list, so that a reader can in fact flick straight to Chapter 17 however rarely a reader might need to do that. But surely more could be done. Maybe we want a return to eighteenth century practice with its “In which the hero . . . ” sort of chapter summary at the head of each chapter. In non-fiction this would be even more useful. Of course it all costs money: if you are going to provide this sort of hyperlinking, someone has to think it through, plan it out, and execute it so that when you do click on something you really do get there (and a pet peeve, are actually able to get back to where you started from).

Again I’ll say, remember we are (still) in the early years of the ebook. In the beginning all ebooks were just clones of the printed volume, and maybe the existence of so many unhelpful volumes out there inured us publishers to the idea that that was OK. But it’s not OK: to fulfill the potential of the ebook, so much more housekeeping needs to be done. But market forces are the real driver. Until such time as readers vote with their pocket books I suspect we’ll just continue short-back-and-sides-ing them.


* Is it odd that in marking up a manuscript we publishers will happily refer to this section of the book as the TOC, despite our prejudice (well maybe it’s mainly my prejudice) against Table of?


Leader lines are those rows of dots, often to be found in tables and contents lists, which carry your eye from one column of information to the next, without the danger of your flipping from one line to the next and thus getting things mixed up.

I think leader lines are really rather ugly, and usually represent an admission of design failure. If the gap is too wide for the eye to bridge reliably, then reduce the gap by indenting the lines left and right and/or increase the line spacing so that the eye can more reliably move from line to line without error. There’s almost always a work-around, and surviving leader lines suggest to me a lazy or ignorant designer.

Here’s a ludicrous example from an 1894 edition of Balzac in translation printed in Philadelphia by George Barrie and Son. The line isn’t even long enough to make leader lines helpful: the compositor has just put them there out of habit or because he thinks that’s what you have to do, there can be no other reason. Look at the crazy one for page 272!

One basic principle of good book design and composition is that nothing should be included that does not have a function. These leader lines serve no purpose.

Their use in technical drawing to establish a link between a drawn object and text describing it is a horse of a different color, and as such is of course altogether acceptable.

Times Roman or Times New Roman? One assumes they are different, but the reason we have these two names is merely the fact that when the face was cut for the Linotype soon after Monotype had introduced it as Times New Roman in 1932, Linotype named their version Times Roman tout court. Perhaps the name change was intended to distinguish it from the Monotype version despite the fact that, to the non-specialist eye, it looked more or less identical. The typeface which The Times (of London) used before that, what we might now call Times Old Roman, was in fact Monotype Modern, cut in 1908.

Times New Roman

The distinction in nomenclature survives the passing of hot metal typesetting: both appear as options on the Mac — Times Roman coming from the Linotype Corporation and Times New Roman from Monotype. There are differences between the two faces, but they are slight. Here from TypeTalk at CreativePro is an illustration showing some of the differences — Times Roman at the top; Times New Roman below. Basically you can see that the counter of the cap P differs, and Times Roman has pointy bits at the top of the shafts of letters, while they have been leveled off in Times New Roman on the lower line.

The creation of Times New Roman came about as the result of an insult. Allegedly when the Monotype Company was invited in 1929 to advertise in The Times’ Printing Supplement, Stanley Morison, who was Monotype’s typographical consultant, replied that he’d rather pay them £1,000 not to set an ad for them as The Times’ typographic standards were so low. Ironically Morison, who had started his working life as a bank clerk, had first become interested in type and printing when reading The Times’ previous Printing Supplement in 1912, and this next supplement got him the job of redesigning The Times, whose management immediately picked up the gauntlet.

Aesthetically not altogether lacking, the face was, it should be remembered made for the functional purpose of jamming as much text into as small a space as possible, and in this it succeeded. Morison made drawings which he then gave to Victor Lardent of The Times who translated them to reproduction standard. Morison used a design by Christophe Plantin (1520-89) as his inspiration, though there are elements of Perpetua and Baskerville in its make up. It took till 1932 for the work to be completed.

Don’t bother checking. The Times no longer uses Times New Roman. According to Wikipedia they stopped using in 1972 and replaced it with Times Europa, then Times Roman took over in 1982, Times Millennium in 1991, Times Classic in 2001, and Times Modern in 2006. Times Roman, older or newer is of course still widely used.

Everybody knows, don’t they, that Times New Roman was designed by Stanley Morison? Surprise, surprise, the typeface design was for The Times newspaper, and was part of a comprehensive face-lift that took several years to implement fully.

Morison was, beyond that, a remarkable man. He was born in 1889 and brought up in north London, a city he always expressed himself reluctant to leave. He didn’t attend university but managed to become formidably learned. He was described as the most intelligent man in Europe by his friend R. M. Barrington-Ward, editor of The Times. Typographical consultant to The Times, he was at one point almost dragooned into becoming its editor. He did serve as editor of The Times Literary Supplement from 1945 to 1948. He was a consultant to the Monotype Corporation where he helped usher in many classic typefaces, refusing ever to compromise quality.  He was also a consultant to Cambridge University Press, joining there with Walter Lewis, the University Printer, to launch and consolidate the mid-century revolution in the design and printing of books.

Morison, who converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of nineteen, always wore black suits which he’d obtain from an ecclesiastical outfitter. Lord Beaverbrook, a friend, alleged that the black hat he always wore was one size too small for his head. Morison was a life-long Marxist, and was a conscientious objector in World War I, spending time in jail in consequence. In the Second World War his Regent’s Park flat was bombed out with the loss of immense amounts of early print and manuscript evidence, but he couldn’t get there for hours as he was on the roof of Barrington-Ward’s house a few doors down putting out fires from another bomb. On more than one occasion he declined to be knighted.

He promoted a clean, uncluttered design scheme. His First Principles of Typography amounts to a manual for creating a book layout using one typeface. “The primary claim of printing is not to be an art, but to be the most responsible of our social, industrial and intellectual mechanisms; it must, like a transport system, be most disciplined, most rational.” The transport simile is characteristic: Morison was a wild fan of railway trains, and once rode to Edinburgh on the footplate of “The Flying Scotsman”. Perhaps more clearly he writes in First Principles “Typography is the efficient means to an essentially utilitarian and only accidentally aesthetic end, for enjoyment of patterns is rarely the reader’s chief aim . . . Even dullness and monotony in the typesetting are far less vicious to a reader than typographical eccentricity or pleasantry.” Many today would benefit from this advice.

As well as his work on book design and the history and design of typefaces, Morison was expert in the history of letter forms, manuscript hands, and ecclesiastical printing. He edited and wrote much of the four-volume History of The Times (1935-52). Towards the end of his life he was a member of the board of editors of Encyclopedia Britannica.

In his biography Stanley Morison Nicolas Barker writes “Morison found typography without organized history or principles: he left it with both, and in addition a substantial body of work exemplifying them. The future is unlikely to dispute the size of this achievement.” He was direct, and often outspoken. Barker compares him in this to Samuel Johnson. Johnson I fear is the English author I’d come closest to wanting to punch on the nose — so portentously opinionated; so irritatingly often correct.* However, I started working at Cambridge University Press a couple of years before Morison’s death in 1967 so naturally grew up uttering his name with awed respect.


* D. H. Lawrence runs him a close second. Might there be a lit. crit. genre abirthing here? Authors one feels violent toward?

The Folger blog, The Collation, brings a nice little study of how shading has been introduced into line art over the centuries.

Detail from page 1 of C. Walter Hodges, The Globe Restored: A Study of the Elizabethan Theatre. Second edition. London: Oxford University Press, 1968. Folger PR2920 .H6 1968.

They use as their example this drawing of the Globe by C. Walter Hodges for an OUP book. Not sure I don’t prefer it without the tint as shown below.

C. Walter Hodges (1909-2004). The Second Globe Under Snow. Pen and ink drawing, circa 1968. Folger ART Box H688 no.3.5.

Still it does unquestionably make for a greater contrast between snow and non-snow areas.

The Folger, inveterate collectors, not only have the book, they have the artwork prepared for the book. Here’s a detail of the tint overlay.

We used to make these sorts of things all the time, using an Xacto knife to cut away the bits of a Letraset sheet of tint dots in order to create highlight and shadow, or often different shades of flat colors. You can see the feint cut marks in the backing sheet which remained after Mr Hodges had tweezered off the little bits of tint he wanted to remove.

If like me you start getting crazy trying to figure out exactly where on the printed version these cut-out highlights appear, you’ll finally figure out that The Collation have photographed the overlay from the back. In other words the tint image is flopped with regard to the line drawing.

The Bookseller has a round-up of the best cover designs of the year — from British publishers. I was struck by this one which seems pretty cunning. For the sake of completeness here’s a link to a US view, Paste‘s 30 Best Book Covers of 2017. There are tons of bloggers producing this sort of cover favorites list.

In September The Guardian did a piece on the differences between British and American book cover design. I must say I do usually find myself voting for the UK jacket over the US, and I have always attributed this to the impossibility of ever overcoming early childhood conditioning. The Guardian, in discussing the cis- and transatlantic jackets of Hillary Clinton’s What Happened comes down on the US side (me too in this case). Slightly surprised, they say “it raises the question: why did the Americans get it right and the British so wrong when UK book design is supposedly the envy of the world?” Well, you can’t expect The Guardian to overcome its early childhood conditioning either.







Is the gap between US and UK design closing, and if so why? If it is, it’s probably for no reason other than because everything in Britain/ everywhere seems to get more and more international/American all the time. One reason advanced in The Guardian piece seems fairly lame to me: “US designers have upped their game because of the explosion in digital books”. There’s no question that jacket design has been affected by the on-line revolution: a fussy little detail-heavy design is just going to look like a blob when viewed at 436 x 436 pixels on Amazon. But surely the force that is Amazon is just as strong in Britain as it is in the USA, and UK designers are likely to have upped their game in similar ways.

I find myself voting (contrary to The Guardian) for the US cover of Go Set a Watchman rather than the UK one. Harper have made their version look quite like the well-known cover of To Kill a Mockingbird, a book everyone’s familiar with. True it has some gash typeface taking the place of the hand-lettering on the older book, but anybody looking at them would know they were related to one another. The tree makes a nice comment too.












The UK cover for To Kill a Mockingbird (lower row) is surely not one anyone would want to echo. In America where every schoolchild is made to read To Kill a Mockingbird, the cover is lodged in most minds. In Britain it can’t have any similar iconic aspirations. Those Brits who have seen their cover will probably instantly have forgotten it. That little circle on the Go Set a Watchman cover quoting the other cover, is, I think, the worst feature of the design. Notice that it has the tree making the same comment.

Illustration by Elena and Anna Balbusso from the Folio Society edition

The Folio Society has seized the moment by reissuing their edition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which they first published in 2012. Elena and Anna Balbusso, the twin sisters who did the illustrations for the book were interviewed at Publishing Perspectives. Part 1 and Part 2 of the interview can be found at these links. All seven “plates” are reproduced in the course of the two-part interview.

You can get the book from The Folio Society for $71.95. They only have 83 copies left.

from Learn about Type at Monotype Imaging Inc.


Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press Oxford states “Unless instructions are given to the contrary, capitals, small capitals, numerals, and punctuation in displayed lines should be letter-spaced.” The lines above, in Sabon Initial cap & small cap, show the difference — which non-designers among you may consider pretty minor. I might argue with the third line and want even more space between the two Ts, but I do think the overall color of the two sets of lines shows how beneficial letter-spacing caps and small caps can be. That cap W in the second line really sticks out, but your letter-spacing can’t do too much about that.

Caps extend from the base line (a few typefaces have one or two descend below) up to the top of the ascenders. Small caps are designed to be the same height as the x-height of the face.

Hart’s Rules calls for small caps (which I cannot generate in this blog’s typeface) to be used for abbreviations like AD, AM, BC, and tells us that they should be set without letter spacing in these instances.

Quaintly they command “Text references to capital symbols in plates and line-blocks to be in small caps, except in scientific work, where capitals are used.” It is true that (to me at least) small caps tend to have a humanistic, as opposed to scientific, look — no doubt because that’s where one tends to meet them. In scientific setting symbols have so much significance that using a small cap for aesthetic reasons runs the risk of having readers stopping to ponder if there’s some meaningful distinction being made between upper case C and small cap C. For analogous reasons one will be unlikely to meet old style figures in scientific or mathematical setting.

Cambridge practice, as codified by Judith Butcher in her Copy-editing, is perhaps best just directly quoted:

Use of small capitals

Small capitals are often used for AD, BC, except with lining figures where small capitals would look too small: AD 1990. [I cannot make my AD small, so the point is lost. These are lining figures though.] In the USA they are used for a.m. and p.m. Small capitals are also used for quoted words originally in capitals and for most capitalized roman numbers, e.g. vol. XII [again I can go smaller], though full capitals are always used in titles such as Henry VII and for LXX (Septuagint). Some authors type lower-case roman numbers to indicate small capitals rather than full capitals; ask the author if you are not sure what is required.

I love typography has a detailed examination of small caps, demonstrating that small caps are not just scaled-down caps, but separately designed characters. If you are one of those who think the letter-spacing in the example at the top is not discernible or irrelevant, you might probably think it a waste of time to design small caps separately when you could just scale down the caps. But the whole typesetting craft, bearing 5½ centuries of trial and error, knows what’s right.

Both of these techniques arrive at the same destination, a wooden block with the background carved away, leaving a raised image which can be inked and printed by letterpress along with the types making up the text.

Boxwood sample from Hobbit House Inc.

They differ in that wood engraving is done on the end grain of a block of wood (often boxwood) whereas a woodcut will be done on the more easily worked side grain. In this photo the end grain is seen on the right hand side.

Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) is credited with the invention of wood engraving, and he certainly was a master of the craft, engraving fine lines which the end grain could hold in a way that the side grain couldn’t.

However, one has to recall the detail which Albrecht Dürer had been able to achieve in his woodcuts four hundred years earlier. Here for example is St. John devouring the book from Revelations X.9 “And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.” Dürer’s book is surely a bit more than a “little book” but he does manage to get lots of fine detail into this woodcut. One commentator claimed you could read the words on the pages. The Web Gallery of Art enables you to increase the size of its image to 200%, but even at that I can’t tell whether the words really are recognizable.

By the early years of the nineteenth century the technology of printing illustrations in books had advanced to quite sophisticated levels. The peak of excellence was offered by copperplate engraving, whereby a craftsman delicately gouged out little lines of metal from a smooth plate to allow the remaining image to be printed either as an intaglio or a relief print. The stability of the metal allowed for delicate lines, and marked a significant advance over the earlier method of woodcuts.

But do not assume that just because something is better it automatically takes over from all contenders. There was a hefty installed base of woodcut operators, and because copperplates cost more and required printing on a separate press they were thus only employed on deluxe projects. (Because these copperplates had to be printed on a different press and added in later to the text pages, they were known as “plates”, a term we still use in a rather debased sense, sometimes even using it to designate just a full page halftone.)

One cannot perhaps argue that this whimsical vignette contains more detail than Dürer’s work; but this feather just wouldn’t have been possible as a woodcut.

Bewick was born in Mickley near Newcastle upon Tyne, and spent his working life in that city (recoiling from an eight-month stint in London). A better draftsman than scholar, Bewick was apprenticed at the age of fourteen to Ralph Bielby, an engraver, and quite quickly switched from engraving on metal to doing his work on end-grain boxwood. This was not only cheaper but enabled the engravings to be incorporated into pages of metal type and printed in one pass. The pinnacle of their partnership was the publication of Bewick’s A History of British Birds in two volumes, Land Birds (1797) and Water Birds (1804).

One of Bewick’s blocks







Here’s a video showing Thomas Shahan making a woodcut

If you don’t see a video here, click on the title of this post so that you can view it in your browser.

And now a video of a wood engraving:

The project described in this video was set up by the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. The engraving is being done on end grain maple off-cuts from their wooden type. As you can see the techniques are very similar, with a wood engraver being able to use finer tools to create tinier detail.

Jenny Uglow’s Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick is an excellent biography.

As Thrym & Ellen point out at the start of their post Stellar Book Jacket, Jan Tschichold advised against putting anything meaningful on those disposable pieces of advertising, book jackets. Fair enough: I’ve advised the same policy with regard to endpapers. Thrym and Ellen have however come up with a cunning counter example.

This star chart is the folded-out jacket of The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H. A. Rey. You can see the folds for the flaps at the top and the bottom of the picture. Unsurprisingly the spine area has taken the most damage. Rey (born Hans Augusto Reyersbach) was half, with his wife Margaret, of the team which brought us the original Curious George. They wrote the first six volumes of what has become almost a publishing industry of its own. You can see at the link above that the jacket also gave you a horizon chart before you unfolded it completely.

The book is still in print, though no doubt the fold-out jacket has been abandoned along the way. A second-hand version of the 1952 1st edition is available at Amazon for $75.00. The condition of the dust jacket, which apparently carries the original piece of $4 is described as “Very good”. Go for it: you’ll never see a more thoroughly functional jacket.