Words in Boxes

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Design of a Book

Rosenfeld Media is publishing their first book, and they want to test the design. Since their focus is on UX, they of course want to put together a focus group and interview them and put the results on a Likert Scale. Maybe it’s overkill, but as someone in book publishing, I think approaching the functional design elements so systematically is fascinating. It can be difficult to escape the layout and authoring mindset and get into the nuts and bolts of how a the physical object of a book is actually handled and used, and if methodology-heavy user surveys are how they want to do it, that’s great. But the comments are where it really gets interesting. People talk about writing in the margin, using post-it notes, how the book should be small enough to read holding it with one hand, and how it should be able to stay open on a desk. My company made the decision a long time ago that our law reference books have to be compact enough and light enough to fit into a briefcase. They need to be easy to navigate and easy to cite (row numbers, etc.), and they should stay open on a table. And in case you don’t think that design requirements can affect content requirements they can; we’ve left potential chapters out of books to keep the page count manageable. But tradeoffs are where the interesting decisions get made.

I'm James Sulak, a software developer in Houston, Texas.

You can also find me on Twitter, or if you're curious, on my old-fashioned home page. If you want to contact me directly, you can e-mail comments@wordsinboxes.com.