Good Design is in the Details (With Plenty of White Space in Between)

by Kristen Knight

Released in March 2015 with approximately 1,200 pages and 26,000 entries, the APA Dictionary of Psychology, Second Edition, is a behemoth of a book by any definition. But it was the smaller details in the text that garnered the attention of judges when they awarded it first prize in the typographic text category (large nonprofit) of the 2015 Washington Publishers Book Design and Effectiveness Awards.  Those details included good column width, the use of guide words and rule at the top of each page, and cleanly executed thumb tabs for easy navigation.

“We gave the nod to your dictionary because the design is technically effective and successful in all of the ways that dictionaries need to be,” said awards judge John Guthrie, who is the managing editor of the book program at the American Diabetes Association. “I’ve worked on dictionaries before, so I am fully aware that the apparent simplicity of a well-designed dictionary belies the amount of planning, skill, and expertise that goes into creating an effective one. We commented frequently during the judging process about how good design also exhibits restraint. The design of the APA Dictionary of Psychology represents creativity, attention to purpose, and restraint.”

Guthrie also praised the dictionary’s effective use of font size, boldface, italics, and small caps, along with the “incredibly descriptive” guide to format for readers, which appears in the front matter of the book.

DoP2 Award_Inside spread graphicFor you font nerds out there (yes, they exist!), this second edition of the dictionary was typeset in 9-point Photina. The design and composition of the text were produced by Anne Kerr at Market House Books, Ltd., in Aylesbury, England. With almost 45 years of experience in creating specialty dictionaries for various publishers, Market House is perhaps the premier reference compiler in the United Kingdom.

“The font was selected for clarity and economy of space,” Anne said about the design. “I think the font is easy to read and, as using this font meant we needed less space for the text, we were able to increase the interentry space. From the design point of view, the white space is as important as the text itself!”

Anne typically offers APA reference editors several samples to review prior to the production phase for a dictionary. “Generally, there will be different typefaces and variations in type size, leading, and kerning from which to select,” explained our Reference Director Ted Baroody. “For the APA Dictionary of Psychology, Second Edition, we chose the specs that seemed most generous for ease of reading while also being most closely aligned with our desired overall page length. It was a great plus for APA and Market House Books to be able to land on such an aesthetically pleasing set of specs.”

The collaboration between APA and MHB goes back more than 16 years, dating to work on the critically acclaimed first edition of the dictionary and encompassing several subsequent derivatives, among them the well-received APA College Dictionary of Psychology and APA Dictionary of Statistics and Research Methods. Ted describes the partnership this way: “It is certainly not overstated to note that APA Reference staff has learned substantially about the profession and art of lexicography from our English colleagues, and, perhaps, MHB staff has even learned a little bit about psychology from us!”

As you might guess, producing such a considered and inclusive second edition required years of effort on the part of a large team of psychologists and allied health professionals, editors, and designers. The reference team at APA is pleased that the Washington Publishers Association award recognized the result, and specifically the way in which all of that knowledge is so effectively presented for readers.

Reference

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *