Five Tips for Ebook Typography

Ebook designers today face a greater assortment of fonts and displays than ever before. Reading apps and devices have never been better at delivering them. How can digital publishers take advantage of both in ways that enhance the reading experience without reinventing it?

Charles Nix, a partner at Scott & Nix Inc. who’s taught typography at Parsons School of Design in New York, offered a few pointers at Digital Book World 2014’s Digital Design and Production Conference in New York today.

Readability, readability, readability. “Stay out of the way of communication with the reader,” Nix urged. When in doubt, keep it vanilla.

Consider “color.” Not that most book designers would consider setting a book in tangerine, but believe it or not, not all black type is strictly black, especially on screen. Line space and weight can cause text to shade into gray or even other colors unintended by the designer. Certain typefaces reduce those errors better than others.

Embrace typographic choice. Last year, Nix said, the question was, “Should we embed fonts?” Today it’s, “Which one should I embed?” Companies like Monotype now sell a wide array of typefaces for web and print production on an unprecedented scale. By and large, costs remain well within reach. Publishers should take advantage of them.

Root out automated ugliness. Look beyond “widows” and “orphans.” Digital publishing has seen the return of pesky aesthetic aberrations like “pseudo italics” and “straight quotes” that must be corrected manually. If your content contains italic text, make sure the font you select contains a true italic set. Not only can those details can be the difference between amateur and professional text design, Nix said, but “they get in the way of the reader” if they’re left unaddressed.

Adjust for adjustable type size. Readers now control a text’s point size on their devices, but typographers control type intervals. The Fibonacci sequence is (still!) a reliable baseline system for preserving proportionate sizing. The key for designers is to create “meaningful relationships” between type sizes, Nix said, rather than hewing to familiar round numbers.