Does Your eBook Design Stand Up or Fall Flat?

istock_ebookEbook design has evolved so much beyond just the content that ebooks are now like little portable websites. Unfortunately, there’s very little written about ebook design trends out there – beyond a ton of sites touting ebook design skills or ebooks with great content.

When it comes to defining what makes an ebook design look great, there’s nothing. Until now, of course.

Today’s post is about ebook design trends, what works and what doesn’t. Keep in mind that this post has nothing to do with the content inside an ebook – we’ve seen plenty an ebook that has a kick-ass design, but the content just sucks.

In the past, ebooks were no more than digital versions of physical books. They had the same look and feel, too, with the usual portrait layout, text wrapped around static images and very little interactivity. Unfortunately, many ebooks still follow that boring format today, having only a plainish cover and nothing but text afterwards.

It’s a shame. Today’s ebook design leaves passive reading and boring pages behind. Ebook designers now add video, music, stunning graphics and animation, making an ebook a fun, interactive and informative work of art.

Portrait or Landscape

Page orientation is the beginning point of any ebook. When taking something physical, like a book, and transforming it to digital format, like an ebook, most developers and designers go with the formats used in the physical world.

Old-style ebooks used portrait format, laying out pages vertically like a book. That meant readers had to reduce the size of page to fit a computer screen or scroll as they read to catch the end of the page.

What ebook designers discovered was that landscape orientation worked much, much better for screen reading. The horizontal format lets a page fit nicely within computer screens, and readers can see a whole page without scrolling.

Interactive Ebook Design

Gone are the days of static ebook pages where the only way to get to a specific page was through a bookmark in the side panel of the PDF – or worse, by trying to remember the page number and which section held that inspiring quote.

Many ebook designs today have live tables of content, where each title is a live link anchored to its corresponding chapter. Many more also have navigation bars built right into each page, showing you exactly which page you’re on and where to go next.

Sticking with the concept that ebooks are portable mini-websites, there’s nothing you can’t do with ebook design that you wouldn’t be able to use designing a full website. You can add Flash animation, video clips, live links to other sites or downloads, music and more.

If you want an idea of how far you can take PDFs and interactive ebook design, check out what’s new with Adobe Acrobat Pro . You just may be surprised.

Mixing Fonts

When I was in art school, one design rule that stuck was never to mix fonts. Well, ebook designers toss this one out the window.

The technique of mixing fonts isn’t for amateurs, though. Mixed fonts do work, but you have to know which families of fonts get along well and which don’t. Sometimes, it’s as tricky as deciding who’s going to sit next to whom at a wedding reception.

When mixed properly, the results are stunning. When fonts are just mixed up, it doesn’t take a pro to see that something’s off.

Text Size and Writing Style

Large fonts were typically reserved for an older audience in the past, but more people are realizing that eyesight starts to go somewhere in our late 30s and early 40s. When you’re reading online often, too, you don’t need to be elderly to appreciate a font size that doesn’t leave you straining.

With screen reading rapidly taking over reading physical books, ebook designers find that increasing font size for the content makes the ebook easier for everyone to read, no matter what age the reader.

Physical books also use a different style of writing – typically, readers are relaxed and taking their time to absorb information. Large chunks of text and longer paragraphs are just fine.

Online, everything happens fast, and readers skim and scan content. That means breaking up paragraphs, using shorter sentences and sticking in headlines helps them stay focused and read more easily.

Many ebook designers suggest one section or chapter per page, using a large font and broken-up paragraphs. That’s plenty to keep our interest without getting bored.

It Ain’t Nothing Without the Bling

At Men with Pens, we’re all about the bling. We spend so much time online that we know how much difference visual impression and impact can make – and that goes for ebook design, too.

Bling is all the pretty on each page of an ebook. Every ebook should have an overall theme surrounding the content – call it content branding, if you will. Add a nice textured accent or integrate relevant images, get a custom border and fancy lettering – just make the whole presentation pop.

Blinging up an ebook takes as much consideration as designing a website. Too little, and an ebook looks empty. Too much, and it’s just visual chaos. Effects and designs should be subtle, with just enough interest to enhance pages and not interfere with the content.

One trend is the use of muted colors and images in backgrounds, headers and other accents. Capturing someone’s visual attention doesn’t always mean bright, flashy colors or tacky pictures. The most professional ebook designs garner plenty of respect from readers, and they’re always well done and subtle. The visual break is just enough to say, “Look here!”

Want an example of great ebook design? Download the Outsourcing Conspiracy. That’s just a taste of what can be done today.

What’s Next For Ebook Design?

The sky’s the limit. Seriously. My prediction is that ebook design will evolve further and become more interactive as stand-alone sites versus viral downloads. All it takes is some time, while web designers take the work they do and incorporate it further into distributable, downloadable PDF format.

What ebooks have you seen that really knocked your socks off? What would you like to see in an ebook that you haven’t seen already? Which ebooks turn you on and which turn you off?

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.