The simple page
Designing a book is largely an exercise in balance: Balance of letterforms and surrounding space in relation to the physicality of a book. In Hochui and Kinross’ Designing Books, they discuss the uniqueness of book symmetry:
The axis of symmetry of the spine is always there; one can certainly work over it, but not deny it. In this respect book typography is essentially different from the typography of single sheets, as in business printing, posters, and so on.
The spine gives book reading a kinetic motion not found in unbound sheets of paper. Forward and backward movement within a book happens because of the spine. And so designers erect scaffolding—text blocks and running heads and other literary accoutrements—around this keystone axis. It is the natural balance point of a spread. The implicitness of this means publishers have largely achieved functional book design right from the beginning: the forty-two line columns of thick type in the Gutenberg bible, even today, are quite a marvel of typographic balance.
If the axis of symmetry for a book is the spine, where is it on an iPad? On one hand, designers can approach tablets as if they were a single sheet of “paper,” letting the physicality of the object define the central axis of symmetry—straight down the middle.
On the other hand, the physicality of these devices doesn’t represent the full potential of content space. The screen becomes a small portal to an infinite content plane, or “infinite canvas,” as so well illustrated by Scott McCloud.(1st photo)
Regarding iPad book design, designers are left with a fundamental question they must answer before approaching this device: Do we embrace the physicality of the device—a spineless page with a central axis of symmetry? Or do we embrace the device’s virtual physicality—an invisible spine defined by every edge of the device, signaling the potential of additional content just a swipe away? (image 2)