Design for eBooks—What Matters Most

by David Wilk, guest blogger on

Designing eBooks is no less challenging a proposition than is designing print books. Great tools make it easier to make eBooks, but making them really well requires knowledge and skill, both of which can only be gained with time, study and practice.

Digital processes are fast—we all know this. Computers have sped up our lives tremendously and provided us with remarkable productivity gains. But we can’t allow ourselves to forget established values. Speed and efficiency can blind us to the fact that a great deal of time and attention is required to make books—digital or otherwise—that do the job of presenting written and illustrated material properly to a reading audience. Time, care and attention are all requirements of successful design. Understanding how humans interact with information on the page, be it digital or printed, is hugely important.

A key principle of book design is that design serves content—a great design becomes invisible—the reader does not notice design at all. If you don’t have a design background, it’s worth taking some time to learn about this critical subject. And unless you do know about design or have the time and ability to learn it, you should always hire talented professionals who have the necessary experience to create great eBooks that serve their content and readers.

What matters most in design for eBooks?

Cover Design

Ebook covers are different from print book covers in important ways. They must stand out on screen in very small size and catch the reader’s eye in the most fleeting amount of time an eye can take in. Make sure the book title and the author’s name are highly readable, and use colors that do not clash. Test before you finalize. And don’t hesitate to swap out your cover for a better one.

Pay attention to the covers of successful books. Figure out what works and emulate them. Make sure you follow the latest technical cover standards for dimensions and pixel coverage.


Proofread before converting your manuscript or PDF to eBook formats, then proofread the eBook files again after conversion. Make sure you read through each version on actual devices and in reading apps to ensure the conversion process did not introduce new mistakes.

Don’t let your readers be distracted by errors. Today, readers notice everything, and they will not hesitate to call you out for your mistakes. It is far more difficult to rebuild your reputation than to establish a good reputation from the outset. Negative customer reviews caused by poor eBook design or typographic errors will kill your sales. Quality control on eBooks is an issue for many publishers, who have too often assumed that it would not be needed. Allen Ginsberg’s poems and JK Rowling’s new book are both well-known examples of problematic ebook production. Ebook Quality Assurance is a time consuming but necessary investment of time and/or money.


Make sure any photographs or illustrations are high-resolution; files that are less than 300 dpi should never be used (and while it is not a design issue, do make sure you have the rights to use your art in an eBook and always credit your sources).


Study type and typography. It’s a rich design subject that deserves the attention of everyone who produces ebooks. Learn the rules that govern how typefaces work in eBooks—it’s a complicated subject, and different rules apply to different platforms. Type matters; don’t leave it to chance.

Don’t ever settle for less than the best work you can afford, and don’t cut corners that will affect the quality of the books you publish.

-David Wilk,

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