Book Design: Throw Me Align

15 Jun

For the past two weeks here, I have been working exclusively on the page layout for Diana Gafford’s Quick Math Review, a developmental math book for TSTC Harlingen. On my last day of swimming through a sea of equations, I find myself thinking about alignment and how it keeps things organized and directs the eye of the reader through the text. I have come to realize that it does not matter how I choose to align the equations, by the fraction bar or by the numbers above or even below the fraction bar. In the words of the publisher, Mark, “what matters is consistency.”

In the same way, creative professionals must align their ideas with those of the client in order to develop a final product that is both marketable and functional. Figuring out how the client wants to portray a product or service takes just such a meeting of the minds. Any graphics specialist who has created say, a logo, for a client knows how tricky it can be to turn a client’s concept into something that will generate public interest in a product, be eye-catching, promote product recognition, and be simple enough to use at any size. What keeps a client coming back is the designer’s ability to be consistently flexible. As far as math books go, I cannot say that I derive the enjoyment from math equations that book designer and layout artist Stephen Tiano does, however I see that finishing a book full of equations can be a rewarding accomplishment.



4 Responses to “Book Design: Throw Me Align”

  1. Stephen Tiano June 17, 2007 at 6:53 am #

    That’s right about consistency, of course, but I do think there are some things that are just the standard–aligning broken equations on equal signs and then centering the whole block, for instance. And it’s true that I get a kick out of typesetting equations. An engineering text that contains a few hundred equations can be a bit of an accomplishment.

    But this whole line of thought reminded me of something, a memory, from when I first began to do freelance layout work. This was pre-Internet, when all my inquiries for work were done by U.S. postal mail.

    Back in 1990 or 1991, I was sitting at my desk at my day job–completely unrelated to publishing, design, any of that. And a call came from a prospective freelance client, a local ad agency. I guess I must have put my daytime phone number in a cover letter; so they called me. It was late winter; it still got dark early. I remember staring out the winter by my desk, speaking softly so no one would get what i as talking about.

    The voice on the other end began to talk about the few samples I’d sent them–most were made up samples, as my experience was extremely limited at that point. The voice said he was impressed with my “use of negative space”. I proceeded to exchange with him about the importance of giving copy “room to breathe” and not overwhelm the reader with crammed words that take an effort to make sense of. I used the expression myself a few times, liking how it sounded coming out of my mouth.

    And once I said “negative space,” I looked into the window at my desk, because I was able to see my reflection against the darkness outside and I grinned, mouthing the words “negative space.” Had I just spoken those words?

    I must be a graphic designer, I thought..

    Of course, the jury’s still out, as that’s something it’s best hearing other people say.

  2. Kendra January 23, 2008 at 9:48 pm #

    When I was younger I was not very good at math and I would look at all the pictures instead of doing the homework.
    I have always admired the kids in those pictures and have a dream to be one of them.
    So if you are ever making a new math book and need a girls picture for a word problem or something please let me know!
    Thank you

  3. Amanda May 12, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    I am a student in Portland State University’s publishing program. I am interested in the unique challenges and tools for book layout and design of textbooks that are equation heavy. I would love to have a discussion with anyone who has an insight.


    • Grace Arsiaga May 13, 2010 at 11:59 am #


      I work in textbook publishing, and I use a program called MathType (free trial versions avail. online) to create and edit equations that will be dropped into the textbook’s interior.

      There is an option in MathType for saving the equations as .eps files which are easily placed into Adobe’s Indesign program for page layout. If you have any trouble with the symbols not looking as they should, MathType allows you to change the font for symbols used in your equations. Often, I have found that changing the font and resaving my eps files make all the difference.

      Hope this helps,

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