NOTE: 12/31/11 — Expect a new post on Monday :)

I was going through my digital stack of PDFs recently and noticed a direct correlation between my gag reflex and these three unfortunate PDF ebook design elements.

These three things are

  1. borders on the pages
  2. clipart
  3. arial (the font).

So you can see what I’m talking about, here’s a screenshot of one ebook that commits all three of these sins:

Borders, clipart, and arial

Borders, clipart, and arial.

(Bonus: This particular ebook has the additional sin of including the words “maximum” and “profits” in its title. Those words are way too hype-y.)

Borders might have been cool in the 90s when people were still learning how to do things on a computer (“Oh, cool! You can add borders to the pages in Microsoft Word! Must border-ize errythingggg!”). This is no longer the case.

Clipart followed a similar coolness trajectory. In fact, this graph shows that trajectory:

Trends in ebook design.

Overall, I like arial as a font. I like it in graphics and on the web. But it just doesn’t look good as the main text of PDF ebooks. As headings? Sure, I think that’s fine. But as the main text of the ebook it just doesn’t look very nice.

(Bonus: Underlining doesn’t look very pretty either. When’s the last time you saw text in a book underlined? Exactly.)

Here’s a good example of clean, professional-looking ebook design:

Better ebook design

Better ebook design.

It’s still a sans-serif font (like arial) but it just looks better. The maroon lines add a nice element of color without the cluttered feeling of the full borders. I think that the smaller text size (when compared to the ugly example at the beginning) makes the document look more professional overall.

I think the most important thing to keep in mind when designing your ebook is simply not making it look ugly. It doesn’t have to look exquisite. You don’t necessarily need to hire a designer to format your ebook. Just don’t make it look ugly. Don’t add borders. Don’t use clipart. And don’t use arial everywhere.

And yes, no clipart also means no more screen beans. Sad.

  • What are some other elements of bad ebook design? What makes you cringe?
  • What is your idea of a well designed ebook?
  • What are your favorite fonts and colors to use?