Now available: Design for Impact by Erin Weigel

Testing the design of the book


How would you test the design of a book?

Not the content, but the quality of a book as a functioning information system?

It’s a strange question—the book, after all, has been around for centuries, and its design is fairly stable. Conventions exist to guide what goes on the covers, the spine, the pages, and so on. Readers expect tables of contents, an index, chapters, sections, and pagination.

But it doesn’t hurt to look for ways of carrying out those conventions more effectively. And maybe there is room for innovation when it comes to book design?

As a fledgling publisher, one focused on user experience design, Rosenfeld Media is trying to answer these questions. Our first manuscript, Indi Young’s book on mental models, is going into production, and we’re hoping to publish it late this summer. We’ve already designed the interiors—both print and PDF versions—for our initial series, based on a fair bit of market research (detailed here, here, and here). Now it’s time to test those designs, and we could really use your help.

We’ve started crafting our test questions (listed below), but have a long way to go. It’s especially unclear how to test for such qualities as readability and credibility. We’re also sure that we’ve left out some important questions. Your suggestions would go a long way toward helping us provide you with better books.

Some background: we’ll be using a print-on-demand service to create copies of the printed version for testing purposes, so our subjects will have access to a decent facsimile of the printed version as well as PDF. We’ll likely test the design with 5-10 subjects who represent our eventual readership.

So how would you test the design of a book? Please feel free to comment below; we’d be grateful for your input.

Initial interview

Explore users’ expectations regarding the design of books used for work.

User testing (done with printed and PDF versions of book)

Task analysis to determine if the design address common information needs, such as:

  • Orientation (understanding what the book contains)
  • Known-item searching (looking up information that you know is there)
  • Open-ended finding (learning about a specific topic)

Post-test interview

Determine if:

  • The design conveys overall credibility of the author and the publisher.
  • The typography and layout support readability.
  • The design met users’ initial expectations.

Follow with questions regarding specific aspects of the design, graded on a Likert Scale.

Conclude with open-ended comments.