One element of good book design, or page layout for any print or digital application, is the grid. The grid is similar to the rough framing of a building. In the building, the framing determines where the interior finishes will go. Similarly, a grid in graphic and book design determines the interior divisions upon which designers lay out the various elements, from type to illustrations and photographs.
It is important to note that sometimes book designers cast aside the grid in favor of a more expressive approach versus the rationalism of the grid. However, in the instance of a traditional, trade book that presents a strong narrative into which the reader will lose themselves, I favor using a grid to create a predictable and purposeful form that does not distract from the content the reader is after.
Designers can create grids using several approaches. In this post, I am showing a proportional geometric grid that is based on subdivisions of the book dimensions. The German designer Paul Renner described a similar process in his book Die Kunst der Typographie, published in 1948. The grid here is 18 X 18 for each page and 36 X 18 for a spread. Note that the diagonal lines intersect each division.
Below is the text box stretched out over the grid. This particular book is over 400 pages long, so I wanted the text box not to get sucked into the gutter. There is also plenty of space at the top and bottom for headers and page numbers, and ample space on the outside edges for thumbs.
Next, I estimated the approximate leading and type size that I wanted to use. I then subdivided the grid units until I found the right match. In this instance, 2 units divided by 5 created the ideal leading for the type size. Digital typefaces allow this style of grid to shine because book designers can scale typefaces to any size, into the thousandths if need be. Note that the baselines split every other grid line. This adds a touch of expression to the rigid geometry by aligning to the grid and breaking it at set intervals.
Finally, I can set the content into the text block and place headers and page numbers onto the grid.
I indented the first lines of paragraphs 1 em, i.e. the height of the leading. The block quotes I indented two vertical grid units into the text box.
To convey new sections, I used a line break, no indent, and small caps. Having more than just a line break is important for when a new section starts at the top of a page.
Headers have a slight tint applied to fade them from the main text and thus be less distracting.
Creating a book design this way is very enjoyable. Some might argue that a grid will constrain the typography and other visual elements. But I think that the grid frees the designer to find expression through form.