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What makes a good-looking eBook: Tips on eBook design for standard titles

So, what are the challenges of standard reflowable ebook design? Besides the difficulty of imposing a font on the reader, who will always have the option of changing it, the main problem is that reflowability precludes the existence of set proportions. Designing a printed book is all about arranging the text and illustrations on the page in the most visually pleasing way, but when you factor in reflowable text and a variety of screen and font sizes, it is virtually impossible to control the end result.

As Baldur Bjarnason notes in his blog about interactive ebooks, the challenges involved in ebook design are exactly as nightmarish as those encountered by website designers when developing cross-platform websites, except most traditional publishers don’t seem to have noticed this yet. If anything, I would say ebook designers have it even harder as the market leaders in e-reading devices often strip out or impose their own formatting on files, overriding their best efforts.

Reflowable, resizeable text aside, there is also the issue of what to do with design features such as chapter headings and the plate sections. In a print-first workflow where the design features have been commissioned with the printed book in mind, there is inevitably a conflict between preserving the ‘look’ of the book and retaining the usability of the ebook, e.g. in taking chapter headings as images even though this would render them unsearchable. Ideally, the ebook and print design would be considered simultaneously, but if this is not the case some sort of compromise has to be agreed.

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