What do you need to know when Designing an eBook?

Posted on by Nicolas Franz

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This is the first article from the Tutorial Designing eBooks

A few months ago a client asked me for Tips for his eBook Design. In this post I want to share the very basic principles and concepts from eBook Design process, the first part from a series of articles about Designing EBooks for eReaders, not only in PDF format. Some of these tips would be too obvious for a designer, and that’s why I decided to name it a “non-Designers” article.

If you are not a designer the first thing you should keep in mind is that hiring one will save you time and will certainly improve the feedback from your readers. In other words: leave the work to the professionals!

In brief, what an eBook is and what is not.

Even though the scope of this article is not to deepen theoretical arguments, it is important to understand the concept itself:

“…an electronic version of a printed book that can be read on a computer or handheld device designed specifically for this purpose.” – Oxford Dictionaries

Therefore, a simple PDF or even a .txt document which is readable in a computer screen or in any handheld device stills is an eBook. However, in Design terms, what really matters to us is the increasing concern of users to easily manipulate and read from electronic devices.

If you are a Designer or not, don’t forget: your initial concern is always the content.

User Experience, Accessibility and other factors that sometimes we designers are forced not to prioritize, the reason are many preventing factors, or simply because authors are worried about selling the content, but not necessarily about how their readers will receive their books and perceive it in eReaders devices.

Designing eBooks: Keep it simple

Things you can’t forget

  • Common eBook Formats: PDF (almost all electronic devices support this format), EPUB (free and open standard), MOBI (specifically for Kindle)
  • Typography: Use typography contrast when creating a hierarchy.
  • Pictures/Images/Graphics: Take advantage of free Stock Image Banks, but don’t forget that images will always behave differently according to the device you are using.
  • Cover: Keep it simple, minimalist and try to remember that an eBook is different from a Book. There are many designers today creating stunning covers for Books wich are later re-used on eBooks, but it doesn’t work as we would wish.
  • Table of Contents: Yes, even an eBook needs a Table of Contents with anchor links to navigate through the content. I’m sure that you have to scroll enormous chapters on a PDF, and it is worst if it was a .doc or .txt file. Fortunately PDF format allows the creation of “Bookmarks” and other Table of Contents features (let’s refer to this as TOC onwards). But there are other formats that work in a delightful way. I plan to go deeper into this subject in future next articles.

Specifical tips for eBook Design

  • The best advice: Avoid creating complex structures for your eBook unless it is absolutely necessary, like, for example, numeric exhaustive hierarchy. Always try to keep just two hierarchy levels: Title (1) and Subt. (1.1).

1. Lorem Lipsum
1.1 Sit Amer
1.1.1. Lipsum eatta kripso Lipsum merat uipsso.

  • Do not saturate pages give it blank, since white spaces give breaths to the reader, a place where heir eye could rest from the body-text.

Specifical tips for eBook Formats

  • Do you want to design your own book and have no time to improve it with a specific eBook format? Use PDF, this format is readable in almost all computers and handheld devices.
  • Do you want to design your own book and have time to improve it with a specific eBook format? Use EPUB, but how to do this? Through Adobe InDesign (if you have a licensed copy) among other programs like Calibre (free and open source).

If you’re trying to reach Kindle users remember to export from EPUB to MOBI.


  • Use typography contrast for creating a hierarchy. For ex. Verdana/Helvetica for Titles/Header and Georgia/Sabon for body text. You can use custom fonts because some eBook formats give you the possibility to embed your own fonts, which includeEPUB, but Kindle with the MOBI format works by default with Caecilia.
  • For body text avoid sans-serif fonts, since serif is (almost) always easy to read, less tiring.


Take advantage of free image resources but don’t exaggerate. Use them only where you need to and choose a graphic style:

  • Photos?
  • Black and White?
  • Colorful?
  • Illustrations?
  • 3D?

Some great image resources:


Take advantage of colors to create impressive contrasts without breaking harmony and rythm. The Adobe Kuler tool could be useful to inspire you and a single scale is all that you need to give harmony and life to your book. Again, keep in mind that some devices (like Kindle) only supports monochromatic scales, and that means Black and Gray.

Avoid using more than grayscale for the Body-Text and Titles/Headers.

The Key is to be Simple

Conclusion, The Best Advice

Hire an eBook Design Specialist! Even though these design tips could be enough to develop your own eBook to be supported on a few eReaders, the time you could expend with this step-by-step tutorial may not be worth it when a designer can solve this in a couple of days. A professional can guarantee that your eBook will work on most devices: Kindle, iPhone, iPad, Nook, Kobo, Sony and more.

If you are a Designer or not, don’t forget: your initial concern is always the content. In the next article we’re going to discuss the Screen metaphor for readers, trying to find an answer to these questions: How users behave regarding eReaders? What’s a linear and a fluid design?

The next article: The best platform to design an eBook

Image Credits: Wikipedia.
Thanks to Rosi Piña Jafelice for the English language corrections.

2 Responses to What do you need to know when Designing an eBook?

  1. Pingback: How To Get Focused | Nicolas Franz

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