Taboos should never be broken. A great “rule of thumb” but does it apply in EVERY case?

There are certain long-honoured forbidden elements and rules of book design. Let’s examine a few of them now to see if these taboos should remain untouched.

  • The design of a book should be TOTALLY left to the book designer.
    Is this true? I would venture, “Not entirely.” I completely agree that the LAYOUT of a book is best left to a professional designer. However, this book is your “baby.” Your wants and needs are paramount in this process. And I bet you have some pretty amazing and inspired ideas about what you want to see in the design too! A good book designer will work in PARTNERSHIP with you. They’ll really listen to your wishes and take that on board when creating your design or making suggestions for the “look and feel” of your book. Let’s smash this taboo right now!
  •  A book must always have pages in multiples of 8 or 12 for printing and binding purposes.
    This taboo comes from a time when such page breaks were critical for producing a book on a traditional offset printing press. A file for completed book pages is arranged in a layout called an “imposition.” This is mathematically designed to have the pages print and bind in the correct order to make the completed book. A good imposition is a beautiful thing! Nowadays, with different printing technology, impositions can be much smaller. You can even go as low as multiples of two pages! It all depends on what your printing firm requires. Clear communication with them is essential and is best handled by your designer who will most likely speak that special language that I call “printer-ese” (otherwise known as technical jargon). Goodbye to Taboo Number Two!
  • The inside margins of a book (those closest to the spine) must always be narrower than the outside margins (those furthest from the spine).
    In days gone by – and even today, for certain luxury books – books would be bound with hand- or machine stitching. Books that are stitched tend to lie flat when opened and have a truly lovely finish. As this relates to the design of a stitched book, the belief was the inner margins must always be narrower than the outer margins. This would create a more cohesive design with the text blocks on each page visually pulling towards the centre. It was believed that this made a better book. However, in these days of glue binding, a designer must seriously consider how much space they leave in the inner margins to allow for this latter-day type of binding. At least 5mm to 7mm extra needs to be allowed to accommodate the loss of margin that glue binding creates. You’ll no doubt have opened a glue-bound book at some stage that you then immediately pressed flat along the spine so you could read the text more easily. Giving extra tolerance to the inner margins at the design stage makes the reader’s – and the bookbinder’s – life much easier. Aloha on a steel guitar to Taboo Number 3!

Book design is a living, breathing art in spite of its long and venerable history. Just because a taboo has always existed doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be examined in the light of the modern day. Some taboos are MEANT to be broken!

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