Using design to engage readers of different ages

Book design is more than just putting text and image together on a page. Many people don’t realise it, but HOW text and images are put together are just as important as the content of the text and image by itself. A reader engages with content that is presented through a combination of fonts, colour palettes, visual balance and spatial balance. When designed with careful consideration these elements facilitate ease in reading and generate the desired emotional response. If not, the content becomes dry and tedious to its audience.

A designer therefore has to think about how each spread works as a whole — are all the elements (photographs, illustrations, text, page numbers), visually balanced? Are the colours appropriate for the content? Are the font sizes and text layout appropriate for the age group the book is aimed at?

OUPANZ designers follow a set of design ‘rules’ and approaches when designing for a specific audience to ensure that they achieve an engaging design that accurately conveys the information in a reading level appropriate context. The following examples, taken from Oxford books, are all literacy texts which helps to demonstrate how one topic is conveyed differently to engage readers of different ages.

Designing for primary education students

Oxford Literacy - page sample

Designing for Primary school students – spread from Who Eats Who, Oxford Literacy Independent

  1. The overall design is visually rich to encourage learning. Specially commissioned illustrations are often in full colour and take up most of space on the spreads. Coloured photographs may also be used in conjunction with illustrations.
  2. The images tell the story as much as the words so have to be not just engaging but relevant. Word count is set according to the level of the reader.
  3. Images appear close to the text it refers to as early readers often need visual context cues if they are learning a new word.
  4. Fonts contain “infant characters”. This makes words more legible and readable.

 Designing for secondary education students


Designing for Year 10 VCE students – spread from Oxford Year 10 English

  1. The overall design is still visually rich but images are more conceptual and less literal. In the example above, a full-colour collage of type and photographs have been used to convey a literary feel.
  2. In terms of typography, the font choices for the headings are playful but highly legible at the same time. Font sizes vary according to the hierarchy of information — more important pieces of information are set in larger text.
  3. Some pieces of text are also set in different colours to call more attention to them.
  4. Colours are well-considered, not only to engage the reader but to aid navigation — chapter 1 is predominantly set in purple with other chapters set in different, but similar, cool hues (blues, greens, etc.). Definition boxes are set in orange throughout the book to complement the cool palette and to make the information contained in the definition boxes stand out.

 Designing for higher education students

HIgher ed_sample_call-outs

Designing for first year university students studying primary teaching – spread from Literacy, 5th edition

  1. The design has minimal embellishments and a restricted colour palette to accommodate the large amounts of text. The orange scribbles/doodles reflect elements from the front cover.
  2. The text is set in three colours — orange, blue and black — to be visually engaging and act as a ‘key’ to the differing hierarchy of information.
  3. Fonts with softer corners and strokes are used to reference the elements of literacy — reading, writing, speaking.
  4. Wide margins are used throughout the text to give the reader’s eyes enough rest between pages and to balance out the dense text.

As you can see, there is a lot to think about when creating book designs!

Is there a book that has engaged you through its design elements? We would love to hear about it.

 Regine Abos works as a Senior Concept Designer at Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand.

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