Design Department :
How to Hold Readers

March 2002
by Roger C. Parker

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Many publishers seem to have forgotten the importance of rhythm. Rhythm is essential for making books easy to read and for encouraging “immersion”–that is, the magical one-to-one communion between author and reader when time is forgotten and the reader’s entire attention is focused on the book.

All too often today’s books are cluttered with visual distractions that make rhythmic reading impossible. These distractions take many forms–oversized subheads, gratuitous quotations, numerous icons (tips and warnings), oversized pull-quotes, frequent sidebars, and the decorative–as opposed to functional–use of colored background panels.

Although these tools may have played an important role in the original success of several high-profile computer book series, the techniques have spread to other areas–especially business books. Now they’re becoming so overused that publishers may be alienating their readers.

Curiously, this widespread abandonment of the basics of design and typographic excellence coincides with the success of beautifully designed books like Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm and Malcolm Glackwell’s The Tipping Point.


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Reading is an unconscious but incredibly complex event. As you’re reading this, for example, you’re not “sounding out” each word. Rather, your eyes are scanning the patterns, or shapes, of…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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