The Table of Contents
An often-overlooked element of print design.
I was just reading an excellent post over at Smashing Magazine that brought this subject to my attention. The post makes the point that although Tables of Contents are often skimmed over in the design process, there are a lot of beautiful, creative things you can do with that space.
Tables of contents grace the first pages of magazines, catalogues, booklets, and annual reports. Usually, they're designed with a font and style that subtly shows compatibility with the rest of the printing, without drawing undue attention to itself. But why not draw attention to the table of contents?
Elsewhere in the print design world, we emphasize the importance of catching our audience's attention immediately. Our goal is to do something that pops out and draws the eye almost against the will of the reader.
In catalogue and report publishing, the table of contents can be that attention-grabber. By putting in the time to create something unique, you have the potential to effectively sell the rest of the print offering.
Questions to ask when designing a table of contents:
- What comes first, the page number, or the title?
- Will you include a leader – a row of dots, a line, or some other design feature training the eye from title to page number?
- Will titles and page numbers be uniform, or will they vary in size, font, spacing, and placement?
- Should the table be framed as a portrait or landscape on the page?
- Would the table benefit from a background or other use of imagery?
- Are you interested in working with color coding, within the table and perhaps throughout the publication?
- Would organizing the table into an interesting shape help to reinforce your design concept?
- Will your titles correspond precisely to chapter/section headings, or will you rewrite headings to be more information, abstract, or enticing?
- Will you work within, or around and beyond page borders?
- Could the entire publication benefit from a table of contents that was integrated throughout the pages to follow?
There's almost no limit to what can be done creatively with tables of contents to draw the reader into engagement with your print publication. The table can set a mood or immediately introduce a theme. Conversely, it might be your one chance to bring a bit of light and color to an otherwise dry, uniform printing.
The only thing to look out for is the importance of prioritizing legibility. A confused or difficult-to-use table of contents can be as annoying as a table of contents hidden under pages of advertisements in a mainstream magazine.
If this post inspires you to create a great table of contents for your next project, get in touch and share it with us!