Canons of page construction: The perfect proportions

It’s amazing how a well laid out book can appeal to your aesthetics or turn you off completely. It’s always best to not judge a book by its cover, but you know what? We do it anyway.

Now these days almost everyone is either stuck on a computer or glued to an e-reader, but there’s just something very fulfilling about holding a proper book in your hands. A well designed book with an appealing page layout will make a great impression the first time that will carry over to the content. So this got me thinking… Can I create a page template that anyone can use for their own work.

Before I went about doing this, I thought I’d start with what’s been around already. The canons of page construction rely heavily on not just visual aesthetic, but also a mathematical aesthetic. The proportions are often inspired by or are directly based on the Golden Ratio for many old texts and there is a very strong use of geometric shapes to get predictable results on even different sizes of parchment or paper.

I started with this image of the canon by Van de Graaf also called the “secret canon”.

The Van de Graaf canon is used in book design to divide a page in pleasing proportions. This canon is also known as the "secret canon" used in many medieval manuscripts and incunabula. The page proportions vary, but most commonly used is the 2:3 proportion. In this canon the text area and page size are of same proportions, and the height of the text area equals the page width.

What struck me the most is at how simple lines from point to point build up to create a complex layout. I took apart the design to figure out in which order the lines were drawn and afterwards, I numbered them for my own reference. Now unlike the medieval writers, I have access to Photoshop, so finding the perfect center of a layout is fairly simple. The original page designers would have used a 90 degree angle ruler to draw perfectly vertical lines from point to point using the edge of the paper as reference.

Order of the guides

Now we can translate this to an actual page we can use. Because 8.5 x 11 inches is the standard letter size in the U.S. although I have a feeling that legal size proportions (8.5 x 14 inches) would look even better if we’re doing a single page in portrait, but I went with letter size for now in landscape and translated these lines onto a blank image with a 300 dpi resolution.

Because I have the ability to find exact center later on thanks to technology, I saved the middle line for last and instead created a guide at the exact middle which was used as a reference for lines 3 and 4. By pressing the Shift key while drawing, you can create straight vertical or horizontal lines in Photoshop. I used this feature to create lines 5 and 7.

Drawing the corner to corner lines first make sense since the corners provide the perfect anchor. The center can be found in Photoshop if you’re using guides since they snap to the exact center of the image. Lines 3 and 4 can be drawn from the botton corners to the guide in the center. The “X” created by the crossing of lines 2 with 4 create a point on which to start line 5. By using the Shift key trick, we can draw a perfectly straight vertical line to the edge of the image. The point created by the intersection of the top edge and line 5 create an anchor to start line 6 which can then be drawn to the intersection of lines 1 and 3.

I also added extra lines on the bottom using the same points as reference because I want to include page numbers and a footer. I didn’t just want to copy the Van de Graaf analysis, but instead wanted to create something appealing for a book that would still look good. I started by extending the vertical lines of the text block on each side until they hit lines 1 and 2 so I can rule off of those. I can then use those to draw more lines horizontally that hit the additional guide lines as well as the other end of the text block vertical lines.

My interpretation

Now the content rectangle appears to have been elongated from the original, but I have plans for the extra space. First, I need to set the actual text region.

Layout blocks separated from the rest of the lines.

And when we momentarily hide the lines, we can see how well it will look.

Text blocks on page

Now that we have our text blocks, we can add some text to see how it will look. I’m going to use a triangle created at the bottom of the page as a reference point for the page numbers, while using the elongated rectangle from the main content as reference for a page footer/notes section. I used Century Old Style Standard as the text font and Calibri for the page numbers.

I wanted the content to look symmetrical as much as possible, so the footers are pushed to the center from both sides.

And let’s see what the final product looks like without the lines.

Looks good to me.

The great thing about using this method to find the perfect proportions is that it should be possible to do so with any paper size. You will still end up with a very nice looking layout for a book or single sheet print.



R.I.P Bravo TV (1980 – 2001)

Once what used to be the “film and arts network” turned into the “watch what happens” petty drama, I was truly dismayed.

Then again, I would tune into it to see if anything has changed. Nope…
Now they’re committed to giving the rest of the world the impression that gay people and women have the worst taste in television ever!*[see notes]

Why would you encourage “arts” or “film” or even “class” when you can entertain with non-entertainment.

Former class act... Bravo TV sucks!

Former class act...

Now I’m starting to spend more and more time on IFC which has also been seeing its share of hiccups, but I think it probably won’t end in the same fate. Considering it is owned by Rainbow Media, the original owers of Bravo, I’m more hopeful. In fact, I think IFC (though a bit rough around the edges) is what Bravo should have been today.

There is some reality TV and semi-reality TV out there (ones inspired by some predicted outcome that goes horribly awry resulting in entertaining moments I.E. Mythbusters) that are actually interesting beyond the same arguments and silly banter we’re already used to only relocated to more affluent settings.

“Project Runway”…
Reinforcing my belief that fashion designers have no sense in fashion. I’ve seen abstract art from the 60’s that seem more comfortable and functional wrapped around a person (I.E. a scene from What a Way to Go!  from 1964 is a classic example). What better way to give a great first impression than to dess like a freak.

Whatever happened to “usable fashion”. As in something you could wear on a daily basis without handing out free seizures to everyone on the street?

“Sheer Genius”…
And I don’t care about hair! If I didn’t have to cut it or comb it to step out of the house, I would forget that I even have any. I understand you need to present some sort of upkeep there, but if I could, I would place a restraining order between my hair and each and every contestant in that show.

“Millionaire Matchmaker” ?
Here’s a hint for the naïve… There’s no such thing as romance. You find someone who puts up with you, produce offspring, and then you die. End of story. If you want comedy between that, then consider stubbing your toe and your partner laughing at you as your personal highlight. Excitement? The time you pretended to enjoy the company of your significant other while menacing over another unsuspecting soul. Your options are only as good as your looks and the size of your wallet.

If you’re wealthy, then chances are, your wallet is the only reason your significant other puts up with you. And that person isn’t so significant to you either, if their looks start to fade.

Then there’s Kathy Griffin’s “My Life on the D-List”…
I’m not going to bring up her personal life and difficulties as that has no bearing here. I just don’t give a flying intercourse about celebrities, their idiosyncrasies or other gossip. And if you’re not living a sham of a life with your only source of entertainment coming from the misery and suffering of famous intellectual midgets, neither would you.

As Patton Oswalt once exclaimed, we’re spending all our time watching “***holes and ****wads at work”, only to come home and watch the same on TV. Why?

People with enough privilege to afford plenty of therapy and be motivated to stick their heads out of their shells to see a world of suffering are not looking to reality TV to boost their careers. Those that don’t are media whores.


*Apparently, the network primarily caters to a gay and female audience between the ages of 18-54. If the line-up is any hint, according to the Bravo execs, the folks in this range, who also happen to be gay or female, are tasteless, pretentious dimwits. I sincerely hope that’s not the case.

Considering Agnieszka Holland co-wrote and directed Europa Europa, Sarah Jacobson wrote and directed I Was A Teenage Serial Killer, and Kathryn Bigelow directed Point Break, I also can’t believe female writers and directors are all one trick ponies a la “Romance” & “Comedy”. I put quotes around them as I’m seeing a disturbing trend in films created by women, allegedly part of these genres, that failed to induce either sentiment.