ebook design

The Theory of Color

Photo Book | Cover, Layout, Typesetting, & Content

In this project, I adapted a 1923 book on color theory for viewing as an eBook. One of the marvels of the original were the use of hand painted color swatches painstakingly glued into the pages of the book. Primaries, secondaries and more complex blends of paint offered a color representation not practical via the printing methods of the day.

The Theory of Color, ipad cover
The Theory of Color, original 1923 cover

Fast forward about 100 years, and a similar problem would exist in trying to create a mass-produced version of the book today: traditional 4-color offset printing, with its color halftones of cyan, magenta, yellow and black dots, cannot quite reach the purity of color of the painting primaries. And spot color would be cost prohibitive for the dozens of different swatches of the book.

But digital displays, and their wider color range of red, green and blue pixels, are actually a perfect choice to demonstrate the original ideas of this book on color theory. And so I came to the idea of creating a digital representation of the 1923 book.

My first attempt with this project was to create a web version of the book; several chapters where set into a simple size design for testing. And I tried incorporating colorful images, which were not possible in the original text, to show the colors. In retrospect, it was flat and uninspired, and the design did nothing to enhance the obvious passion the authors felt for the teaching of color theory. That design was eventually set aside.

The theory of Color website design, rough draft

My second approach was to create an eBook. Typically an eBook is designed like a very simple web page: the user has control of the font and type size, images appear only as anchors in the text, with little or no formatting design control. While maximizing flexibility, this “reflowable” approach eliminates the possibility of using design to help guide the reader.

The Theory of Color, ipads

To prove this point, I created a design that not only used a “fixed” format (similar to a print layout, giving me full control over what the reader sees), but that would use only the original text and images, but utilize design to present them in a way that supplemented the story.

And so my story of color, told in color, came to life. To provide a stable reading experience, the book’s system has only 3 primary types of text pages, coupled with one design for the chapter break pages. But despite this system, each page in the book is unique: colors are used representing the chapter of interest (primary colors used very simplistically in the chapter on primaries; secondary colors in the chapter on secondaries; and so on…).

And by limiting each page to only 1 – 2 sentences, really just a single thought, the book of 100 year old text takes on an entirely new feel, coming alive almost cinematically. The “turning” of the eBook pages, a quick swipe, becomes like the individual frames in a movie, blending together into a single unified scene.

The Theory of Color, color pages The Theory of Color, color pages

I believe that, while print and digital designs all offer their own specific implementation challenges, they share a common design goal: presenting the information in a way that is accessible and engaging, that makes best use of the medium, without overwhelming the user / reader by obscuring the meaning and experience of the content.

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Design is process of creative problem solving as applied to challenge of controlling how a user (i.e. a reader) interacts with their environment (i.e. the book). While Book Design isn’t writing, editing, or illustration, it affects the success of all three. It is part production minded, and part visual story-telling.

learn more about paul nylander and illustrada design

I encourage you to step through my recent projects and learn for yourself how I have applied a design process to a variety of different challenges. Or jump back up to the overview.