Three Steps to Successful Ebook Design or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Reflowability

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Successful ebook design demands that we work within sometimes surprising, often frustrating constraints and embrace the unpredictable. An ebook designer cannot be a typographic control freak, but must creatively build a robust ebook that can withstand reflowability, reader control, and quirky device behavior. Having said all of that, we also can’t shrug and walk away ignoring anything we don’t like saying, “the ebook world just isn’t ready for me.” So what can we do in this unpredictable landscape that still beckons for beauty? Three things will get you started on a path toward successful ebook design.

Related: Join Amanda and Digital Book World on Tuesday, March 11 for a webcast on Ebook Design and Typography: Best Practices and Tools for Executing Them

 

First: Use good semantic markup.

Don’t use generic tags unless it’s on purpose and you have a clever plan. Clean markup is important for many reasons. If your CSS is turned off or ignored for one of the million-billion reasons it will be, semantic markup will ensure the content retains hierarchy and readability. Consistent application of HTML tags will result in better archivability, reusability, and consistent application of styles.

To double check your HTML status you can de-link it from the stylesheet and check to see that the document has retained headings and inline styles.

 

Second: Keep it simple.

The old adage just because you can, doesn’t mean you should, should crash into your brain every time you learn a new CSS trick or realize one device supports something wacky like CFIs. Keeping the design simple will help with cross-platform consistency. It will keep you from cluttering up tiny screens of unsuspecting smartphone users and will ultimately make you much less crazy—I say this as a person who loves trying new things and regularly loses her mind testing the new things on multiple devices.

To badly paraphrase Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, ebook perfection is attained not when there is no longer any unreliable functionality to add, but when there is no longer any unreliable functionality to take away.

 

Third: Embrace the reflowable conundrum.

Do not give up on achieving your aesthetic goals, but let go of the old print design concept that we can control our environment. Start building your library of ebook-ready fonts (and their licenses), focus on proportions and hierarchy rather than discrete sizing, know what devices can and cannot do, test your ideas on as many devices as you can, and store code snippets that work for future reference.

Ebook designers have a strange challenge the world sees every time a new technology comes along. We must work with the technology while pushing the boundaries of what can be done to encourage advancement—all while balancing the needs of readers with the realities of digital publishing. We will be the most successful if we start with a solid foundation of good semantic markup, keep the design clean and simple, and embrace the reflowable nature of the beast.

Related: Join Amanda and Digital Book World on Tuesday, March 11 for a webcast on Ebook Design and Typography: Best Practices and Tools for Executing Them