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Opinions of Thursday, 21 May 2020

Columnist: Kofi Asante Twumasi

Making the book user-friendly: Legibility and readability

Book designing requires visual design and balance, and the best way to communicate. Book designing requires visual design and balance, and the best way to communicate.

There is a common saying that, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. Indeed, literally not all books should be judged by the cover. Reasons are that some locally produced books on the market would have a very catchy book cover with nice illustrations or designs but the format or structure of the book block wouldn’t be user-friendly.

A book could have very interesting content, but one’s interest in reading could be lost when the book lacks some important features. What sustains one to read is not just images, or the storyline, but importantly how the content or storyline is presented.

Aside grammar and consistency, the target readers of a book should be considered whenever designing the book. Book designing requires visual design and balance, and the best way to communicate. The understanding of book design, in order to make the book user-friendly should be a priority.

Book Designers must know and adhere to the rules of Typography. To help capture and develop the cognitive skills of readers, especially children, the typographical aspect of a book plays an indispensable role in book designing and production. It is the duty of a book designer to present authors’ works in a format that would be appreciable to the reader.

Therefore, a good designer’s or typographer’s main duty is not to overly demonstrate his or her skills of designing, but help the reader.

To attain an international standard of book publishing and retain readers’ attention, publishers and book designers should not overlook legibility and readability of books. Legibility is the ability to distinguish between letters (characters) of a typeface (font). Readability on the other hand is the ease to identify and comprehend words.

Typefaces are designed for specific purposes; their usage ought to meet that purpose with the target user in mind. Book designers should be conversant with the classification of typefaces, their purposes and suitability to readers. The most common classifications of typefaces or fonts are serif, sans serif and script. In book designing, it is desirable to use either serif or sans serif typefaces or fonts, depending on the target reader.

Serif typefaces have an extension of strokes at the end of the letters or characters (e.g. Times New Romans, Garamond, New Century School Book, Palatino Linotype, etc.). Sans serif typefaces on the other hand do not have any extension at the end of the letters or characters (e.g. Gill Sans MT, Century Gothic, Calibri, Helvetica Infant, Comic Sans, etc.).

With children’s books especially, the book designer must choose the suitable class of typeface and type size(points). San serif typefaces are suitable for children at Kindergarten up to Primary 6, whereas either serif or sans serif typefaces are suitable for Junior High students upwards.

With regard to recommended type sizes in Ghana, books for Kindergarten to Primary 2 should be 18pt, Primary 3 and Primary 4 should be 16pt, Primary 5 to Primary 6 should be 14pt, and Junior High School upwards should be 12pt. Basically, the type size marginally reduces as users or readers advance in age or class level. The main idea is to help readers appreciate the content of the book, thereby ensuring legibility.

As part of achieving readability, designers should not compromise spaces between lines of texts (leading), spaces between characters or letters (kerning), and spaces between group of letters (tracking). These skills in typography are very important to acquire and utilize, since some typefaces would require some manipulation or adjustment in order to help create better readability.

Furthermore, the use of lowercases (small letters) and uppercases (capital letters) should be considered in book designing and typography. Whereas the use of lowercases achieves readability in a long block of text, the use of uppercases makes reading difficult when used for a long block of text.

Lowercases are calm and tend to have a good relation with the reader, compared to uppercases which often create boredom and disinterest when reading.

It is important to note that good content of a book and good typography keep readers. It is also expedient on a good designer to research and pick the suitable type or font to ensure legibility, and adjust kerning, leading and other forms of spacing to achieve readability.