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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: Controlling Eye Flow Across the Gutter

Since the house fire, I’ve been scouring thrift stores to rebuild my business library. Today I found a great print book for $2.00, used: Design Basics Index by Jim Krause.

I’ve always been a firm believer in fundamentals, the building blocks of any discipline, and this book delivers in spades on this front. You can jump in and out of the print book and learn something new or remember something you’d forgotten each time you open the cover.

Jumping the Gutter

“This Is a Gutter” is a section starting on page 104 that uses examples of commercial printing to demonstrate how the eye moves across a page spread of a publication, and how best to not only use this information but to also take control of how the reader’s eye navigates a page. Although eye movement is a subject that could fill a number of books, Krause’s text chooses one focused area for this particular section: how the eye navigates the jump across the gutter of a print book.

The first comparison explores a two-page spread with a sea creature (an urchin, or some other such creature) on the left and the article’s teaser, headline, intro, and body copy on the right-hand page. Both pages are completely separate. The text and the headline in blue on the right balance the sea creature on the left. It’s a classical arrangement, perfectly balanced. It looks good.

In sample #2, Krause extends the blue/gray background of sand from the left across the gutter and onto the right-hand page by about two inches. He reverses the “Sea” of the word “Seashore” out of the photo (still on the right-hand page) and then sets the balance of copy in a narrower measure than in the first example. Again, this looks great. However, it also looks more modern, with the reverse type. The photo appears more expansive, since it brings the eye across the gutter and makes two individual facing pages read like one magazine spread. In both pages, the photo bleeds on all sides, which also gives a luxurious air to the image.

What this shows is:

  1. There are no “correct” solutions in design, only different solutions to consider.
  2. Different design solutions provide a different sense of visual movement; or make a subject look more formal or more casual, or different in some other way.
  3. It’s always a good idea to try different iterations of your design idea to see which works best in the context of your own specific design and editorial goals.

Sample Two, Jumping the Gutter

Design Basics Index includes a second double-page spread example with a photo of a man running and jumping out of the stop-action photo frame as well as the same “Seashore” head and text as in the prior case study. The first sample design solution places the photo on the right-hand page and the text on the left-hand page.

Your eye goes to the right-hand page first because the photo of the man is so dramatic. Then you must backtrack. After looking at the right-hand page, you must return to the “Seashore” headline at the bottom of the left-hand page. Then you must go to the top of the left-hand page to start reading the text. This eye movement is cumbersome and disjointed and may tire the reader.

By reversing the photo and the text (putting the photo on the left-hand page), you get a different design result. In this case Krause has re-cropped the image, leaving a little room in front of the running and jumping man. Since he is running toward the gutter of the page spread, he appears to be running and jumping across the gutter and toward the copy on the right-hand page. Your eye goes immediately to the man, then jumps the gutter and finds the text at the top of the page (since we’re conditioned to read from the top to the bottom of a page), then finds the “Seashore” headline at the bottom of the page (away from the expected position at the top of the page but still large enough to grab the attention).

Sample Three, Jumping the Gutter

In sample #3, Krause introduces a subtle pattern of waves. In the “before” photo, which now covers the entire two-page spread and bleeds off the pages on all four sides, the waves are coming from the top right downward toward the bottom left. The magazine title “A day at the sea shore” crosses the bottom third of the two-page image, jumping the gutter.

The only difference between the “before” and “after” photo is the direction the waves travel. Whereas the waves are coming from the top right downward toward the bottom left in image #1, in sample number #2 of this set, the waves travel from the upper left across the gutter toward the lower right.

On both page spreads, the waves carry the reader’s gaze across the gutter, unifying the two pages. However, in the alternate design option, the waves carry the reader from the upper left down and across the gutter toward the bottom right—and then onward into the following pages.

Awareness of Eye Movement Is a Powerful Design Tool

The reader’s eye moves through a page spread of a print book, but he or she is usually not aware of this movement unless it becomes difficult. If he or she is confused and doesn’t know where to look or what is more or less important in the design, this will slow him or her down and make reading uncomfortable.

An adept designer of commercial printing products can be conscious of the natural eye movement to which we have grown accustomed, and then facilitate it or even redirect it as needed to achieve a particular design or editorial goal. This awareness is a powerful design tool.

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