| Design Basics, Design Trends

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It seems that the ePub file format is gaining as the leading vehicle for electronic distribution of books. After many years of multiple file types or inconvenient PDFs, ePub is quickly establishing itself as the premiere file format for publishing or converting traditional books to an electronic format that can be used on the iPad, Sony Reader, Kindle, and more.

We’re getting more requests from our publishing house clients for books to be converted to the ePub format. Some of these are rolled into the end of a current project. But also, they are looking to convert older titles to the ePub format.

ePub Book Conversion

Like many things in the design world we find ourselves competing with very low cost providers. There are software and online tools that can be used to create ePub files for very low cost or even free. It seems like with a push of a button you can magically convert a book to the ePub platform.

But like most things, when it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Human interaction is always critical when using technology

There are two rules that have held true over the years: 1) technology is only as good as the human using it, and 2) everything takes longer than you anticipate.

A good analogy is using and sharing photos from your digital camera. The idea in our head is that we’re going to instantly and easily take a photo, get it onto our computer, print it through Snapfish, share it on Flickr and post it on Facebook. In our mind, the transition from taking the photo to sharing it with friends is immediate: it happens quickly and with ease. The reality is that while each step is quite simple, the whole affair could take you an hour or more. And, making some adjustments such as cropping, rotating, adding captions, sharing the links, etc. are all critical to making the whole project worthwhile.

This is very much like converting an ePub file. While it can be a fairly straightforward process, it’s the little adjustments that make all the difference.

Additionally, there is a big difference in whether the book being converted is basic, straight running text, or if there are photos, tables, and other artwork.

The designer’s approach to ePub conversion

If you are not familiar with our book design work, I suggest you peruse our online portfolio to get a sense of the book cover and book interior design projects we are involved with.

There are many, many book out there that are 100% straight body text. They may have chapter numbers or section breaks, but essentially there is a master body type style and that is used throughout the entire book. In cases like this, publishers frequently use type setting services rather than graphic designers or book designers when preparing the book for printing. These books can quickly and easily convert to the ePub format.

However, there are a large number of books that need extra attention when converted to the ePub format. You can’t expect to just do an automated conversion process and be happy with the results. Photos need to be anchored the correct text, styles and fonts need to be confirmed as having translated accurately, graphics and tables may need tweaking, and links will need to be verified.

I’m not talking about over-designing the ePub book. In fact, a good ePub harkens back to the most basic of design principles. Making text readable, making the hierarchy of levels of heads easily understood, putting images near the text it refers to, etc. It is, in fact, critical to relinquish a lot of the fussiness of print design.

My predictions

As a designer involved with both print and web we’re expecting our design studio to master the ePub format with ease. Just like in web design where you have to work within the parameters of HTML and CSS and be able to “let go” of the need to overtly control every nuance of placement, font and size. A similar ability to deal with the restrictions, yet still make something pleasing and readable will be key.

The second thing I’m realizing is that the ePub conversion, will factor into how we layout books from the start, even while preparing initially for a print run. At Visible Logic, we do all our book design in Indesign, but in the past haven’t used all the features that would be beneficial for an eventual ePub book. As an example, you can auto-generate the table of contents’ page numbers in InDesign. Sometimes we use this feature, other times it has been just as easy to manually enter and typeset the numbers. In the future, we’ll probably always try to use the auto feature because that will make the ePub conversion easier.

What are some of the hurdles you’re experiencing with converting old files or creating new files for the ePub format?

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