Inky Articles: Berenice Smith on Page Design

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Berenice Smith is a print and digital designer with a Masters in Graphic Design and Typography. She runs her own design practice in Cambridge ( and is a partner with Dialogue (


We often judge books by their covers but many readers forget to pay attention to the page design. Unlike the shining cover, the page design carries the bags of words, gently helping the reader through the information inside. Dr. Watson to Sherlock’s start, if you like. Just like Watson, it should be reliable, quietly invisible but occasionally challenging. I have been reading The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. In this fascinating first person narrative, the changing format and typography is part of the plot. Many readers and writers are astonished to know that a designer even touched the inner pages. But yes, we do! Even e-books. A reference or educational book requires more navigation and perhaps a ‘how to use the book’ section. Clear titles, section headings and features. Designers will select typefaces according to the hierarchy of content. How the format works in print and the transition to an eBook is an important consideration too. What does the designer do and how can you apply it to your book?

Technical details. A designer will consider the trim of the page and the number of pages. Your printing method and budget may decree a certain number of pages and your designer will keep this mind when looking at typefaces (as different fonts are not equally sized) and overall page sizes. A good designer will know the differences between different printing techniques such as litho and print on demand and how this affects colours and photos.

White space. Margins and gutters (the gap where the book is bound) matter even though they do not contain any text. Does the text require two columns? What is a suitable line length? Does the text have any extracts and should these require indenting? How does this white space affect the balance?

The typeface. I believe that the typeface used in a book can decrease or increase the enjoyment of a book. A book may require more than one but getting the balance right is critical to the success of the page design. Incidentally a typeface is a set of typographical symbols and characters. It’s the letters, numbers, and other characters that let us put words on paper (or screen). A font, on the other hand, is traditionally defined as a complete character set within a typeface, often of a particular size and style. Fonts are also specific computer files that contain all the characters and glyphs within a typeface. • Way finding. Navigating a book can take the form of running heads, folios, page numbers, sets of features such as quotes, tips, mapping end notes or footnotes.

Prelims and endlims (also referred to as front and end matter). Fiction books are making use of what may have been a notes section in the past. Book group questions, extracts from future novels and interviews can be found in this section. How does the overarching page design relate to these important introductions and lasting impressions? Any good book be it written to help you learn or to entertain when you curl up in bed, you can be certain that page has been designed. And if you don’t notice it, then the designer has done a good job!