Don’t Turn Off a Major Market
by Cathi Stevenson
People past the age of 40 almost always need reading glasses. Around then, most can read something 10 inches away with ease. But by the time they’re 50, most people are holding their reading material 16 inches away, and the distance can continue to increase with age. The condition this reflects is called presbyopia. It occurs as the eye loses its ability to focus. Approximately 90 million Americans have it.
When you consider this, and factor in numerous other eye conditions affecting young and old, one thing becomes clear: Publishers who do books for adults on almost any subject need to design their books— and their promotional material—to suit people who suffer from vision problems.
While print books require special layouts and printings to accommodate people with visual impairments, electronic books have built-in advantages, including allowing the reader to change the font and increase text size. Issues with glare and contrast remain with some e-readers, but the technology is improving every day.
Still, it’s essential to format electronic books so that readers can utilize the options available on the devices. And it’s equally important to ensure that any images—particularly images with embedded text that can’t be adjusted—are designed in so that they too can be read with ease on a handheld device.
You need to take even more care with items that the reader can’t control, such as print books, signs, and advertisements.
Disclaimer: I derived the information that follows from a variety of sources. As they do on all subjects, experts disagreed about some specific details. I chose the information that is most applicable and the resources that are most accessible to smaller publishers.
Tips on Not Turning Older Readers Off
• Font and white space are the biggest factors in book design because page count is the determining factor for printing costs. Publishers don’t want text specs that increase a book’s page count significantly, but they still want the book to be attractive and to provide a comfortable reading experience.
• Experts in both North America and the United Kingdom tell us blocks of UPPER CASE LETTERS are difficult to read. Keep this in mind when creating posters, catalogs, and sell sheets. A few capitalized words might be okay, but if you must use them, increase the letter spacing to 110 to 120 percent, depending on the typeface.
• Underlined or italicized text also causes problems for some readers, so minimize use.
• Kerning any text, even upper and lower case (i.e., narrowing the space between letters), will make it more difficult to read.
• Increased leading (space between the lines) increases legibility. Generally, 1.5 to 2 times the space between the words is sufficient. While this can vary with typeface, more is often better.
• Wide margins are also a good idea.
• Contrast is another important consideration. Color choices have a huge impact on design. The optimum contrast for a positive impact is 100 percent black text on a yellow or white background. Obviously, life would get very boring if everyone stuck to this rule, so maintaining a 70 percent contrast on a nonglare background is a good rule of thumb.
• The size of the page affects contrast. The way something looks on a standard 6″× 9″ book page is very different than the way it would look on a 20″× 36″ poster.
• Test your color choices before going to press. You can check the contrast values for digital use at: colorsontheweb.com/colorcontrast.asp.
• Visual vibration can make it nearly impossible for a reader to look at text long enough to read it if bright hues make it appear to shimmer (you can see a wonderful “visual” of this phenomenon at webstandards.psu.edu/accessibility/tech/color/vibrate.)
• For larger printed matter, such as book show signs, consider the information offered by The Americans with Disabilities Act, which specifies height and weight ratios for signage.
Ideally, the width of each glyph body (glyphs being all the characters used in writing: letters, numbers, punctuation marks, accents, dingbats, etc.) will be between 60 and 100 percent of the height of the glyph, and each stroke weight (with stroke in this context referring to the lines that create the glyphs) will be between 10 and 20 percent of the height.
Fonts fitting these criteria include Futura, Futura Condensed Bold, Futura Book, Frutiger Light, Frutiger, Frutiger Bold, Gill Sans, Gill Sans Bold, Optima, Bodoni, Bodini Book, Century Schoolbook, Garamond, Garamond Semibold, Palatino, and Palatino Bold.
Remember, no one is going to struggle to read your books or your promotional materials. If people don’t like the reading experience you provide, they will move on to something else.
Cathi Stevenson has been working in the publishing industry since 1981, and spent eight years as a specials’ features writer and editor with Atlantic Canada’s largest newspaper. She now designs book covers, and does some writing on the side. To learn more, visit BookCoverExpress.com.