Content Design Course: 20 Fundamentals

Here at Author Ready Templates, we build designs for authors on a daily basis. It's what we do. Whether it's a custom design for one of our clients or a completely customizable template for our products page, there are some basic rules we follow when crafting our designs.

Content Design Course: 20 Fundamentals

In this design series, we're going to share some tips & pointers with you for customizing a template or designing things from scratch. The course is all about building engaging and beautiful content that'll make you look like a pro. 

Below you'll find 20 fundamental topics that make up a successful design and how you can apply them to your own work:

  1. Know Your Audience

  2. Aspect Ratios and Orientation

  3. Design (Not Decoration)

  4. Typography, Text, & Pairing Fonts

  5. Choosing The Right Colors & Color Palettes

  6. Using The Right Images Effectively

  7. Creating Charts, Bars, and Data Your Audience Can Understand

  8. Visual Interest: Hierarchy

  9. Visual Interest: Proximity

  10. Visual Interest: Using Whitespace

  11. Visual Design Effects: Animations and Interactive Content

We'll be posting one each week so be sure to check back or subscribe to our blog. 

If you want to follow along by customizing one of our templates, you can check out our products pages here: 

iBooks Author Templates here.

Keynote Templates here.

Pages Templates here.

Best Fonts For Your Book: Understanding Typography

How to choose the right fonts for your book or work

For those of you who feel less than skilled when it comes to visual design, typography is your secret weapon.

Typography is a surprisingly easy way to create lots of visual appeal and add that extra polish to your work without having to learn all about page layout and graphic design.

If you spend any amount of time trying to learn about typography, you’ll notice it’s a much debated topic among design professionals (designers can be quite an opinionated group)!

Don't let this scare you away.

In this tutorial post, we're going to give you the basic principals you need to understand how to pair different fonts and some examples pairings to get you started. While most tutorials cover way too much information about the history and minutiae of a particular font, we know all that information isn’t useful or actionable when it comes to designing your book. 

When it comes to typography, it need not be complicated.

Book Fonts & Pairings Simplified

Here’s what you need to know:

For our purposes, you’re going to think about fonts in two different categories: text and display.


Text fonts are for larger chunks of text like the body of your book. The goal is readability above all else. 

choosing the right fonts and font pairings for your content

The two basic choices for text font are serif and sans-serif.

Serif fonts have little serifs, or tails, on them as you can see in the top half of the image image to your left.

  • Serif fonts are often considered better used for body copy, as the serifs act as trails or pointers that lead the eye from character to character. This can reduce eye strain and make the reading a little smoother.

Sans-serif fonts (“sans” meaning “without”) do not have the tails.

  • Sans-serif fonts can also work well for body copy, but because they lack the serifs, they often appear to be closer to together. This, if not done well, can make for eye strain and tough reading. So generally the sans-serif fonts are bumped up in size a bit, to increase legibility.

Personally, I find that as long as the font size is adequate, serif and sans-serif fonts work equally well and the choice comes down to preference.      


Display fonts are what you will use for chapter and section titles, headlines, block quotes, and any other type of text you’d like to draw attention to within your work. The goal is to evoke a feeling and add visual interest to the page. 

Display fonts are usually larger than regular text, more decorative, shorter in sentence length, and/or colored. 

Generally speaking, your options here are endless. We’ll go over a few suggestions in the pairing section below. 

Choosing Fonts

The easiest way to avoid amateur mistakes is to pick one of three strategies: 

Strategy 1: Pick one text font and use it for everything

Some text font families are extremely versatile because they include lots of different weights. 

best fonts for book covers

What is a weight?

Weight refers to how heavy or light the text will appear. This basically means “thickness” and can include labels such as: hairline, thin, light, medium, regular, semibold, bold, heavy, black, and ultra. The image to the right shows an example of Helvetica Neue in various different weights.

This is an excellent way to avoid the fear of pairing two fonts that don’t match. The font is the same (and therefore will certainly match), you’re just using a larger size and/or different weight for your display font. 

Strategy 2: Choose a font family with a serif and a sans serif; use one for the display and one for text

best fonts pairing for books

This is another easy strategy to avoid the fear of pairing the wrong fonts. Again, because they are the same family, they most certainly match. Choose the sans-serif for the display font and the serif for the text font. 

Or the other way around. Whichever you prefer, both work perfectly well.

Strategy 3: Pick one display font and one text font 

Use one display font for all your chapter titles, headlines, block quotes etc. and your text font for everything else. Make use of italics to diversify your text font for example, captions under images. 

Pairing Fonts 

So how do you know if two fonts go together? 

The truth is, there are no hard and fast rules about combining fonts, which makes the process of pairing them time-consuming and maybe even a little exhausting. Instead, just avoid the following blunders and you’ll likely pick a winning combination:

Pick two different fonts (i.e. they shouldn’t look “similar”)

Using two similar fonts is a waste and can make your design look amateur built. Why use two similar fonts, when one font will do? If you take to two-font path, make it count! 

Don’t use two highly decorative fonts

Remember the goals of each type of font (display vs. text). The goal of text font is readability, while the goal of the display font is to stand out. It can’t stand out if it’s competing with a decorative text font. This will not only make your design look amateurish, it will look cluttered and illegible as well. Stick to one decorative font and one text font! 

Can you read one more easily than the other?

If you can’t read it, it doesn’t matter. First try bumping up the size a bit. Next, try playing with the font weight. Still can’t read it? Then get rid of it and try something new. A great way to test this is to try squinting at the screen. Can you see a visual hierarchy? 

Best Font Pairings: Some Inspirations and Examples

Futura / Bodoni 

Minion / Gill Sans

Bodoni / Futura

Myriad / Minion

iBooks Author: A Guide To Landscape And Portrait Orientation

Working With Landscape and Portrait Orientation in iBooks Author

Working With Landscape and Portrait Orientation in iBooks Author

When you create your book in iBooks Author, one of the first and most important decisions you'll make is deciding on page orientation: landscape, portrait, or both.

One of the benefits of the iPad and other tablet devices is it gives you the option to use either landscape or portrait as well as to switch between the two. Most people will automatically jump to the conclusion that it's better to have both. But is it?

Yes, it's nice to give the reader the option of holding the device in whatever position they prefer. But that's not always the best thing for your content. Your guiding principal when deciding on your books page orientation should be consumption dictates form.

What do you think is the best presentation of your content? Will readers be viewing your book on a tablet or on a desktop? Is your work image heavy, predominately text, or a mixture of both? Answers to questions like these will help you decide which orientation to choose. 

In this guide, we're going to go over the benefits and drawback of each to help you make the best choice for your book. 

iBooks Author: Portrait Orientation

Portrait orientation is taller than it is wide.

The cover of any iBooks Author book is set to be mandatory Portrait (for consistency when/if you want it to be sold in the iBookstore). The dimensions are 1536 x 2008. Within the book, the pages are a set width but could scroll infinitely if you don't break them up into Chapters and Sections. 

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 11.18.50 AM.jpg

A general rule of thumb is that any books which are primarily text-heavy will benefit from a portrait orientation. This orientation is easier on the eyes when reading lots of text.

Obviously, columns and paragraphs can break up text in landscape orientation too. But generally speaking, if you don't have a lot of images or things to break up the text, Portrait Orientation is the way to go. 

iBooks Author: Landscape Orientation

Landscape is wider than it is tall (think of an actual outdoor landscape).

Within the book, the dimensions are 1024 x 748.

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 11.16.32 AM.jpg

If you have a lot of images, graphics, video, or other supporting objects within your text, landscape orientation gives you a lot more flexibility when it comes to spacing and layout for your book. Be sure to check out our post on optimizing images for full screen viewing here.

Landscape orientation tends to allow you to create more interesting layouts which can really add to the experience when reading your book. However, this can and will be more challenging if you're not an experienced designer (pssst...that's how we can help you). 

Landscape and Portrait: Working With Templates

When working with default templates that come with the iBooks Author application, Apple wants you to choose whether your content should be viewed in one orientation or the other.

From Apple's iBooks Author Help:

Each template type is optimized for viewing in either landscape (horizontal) or portrait (vertical) orientation. When you create a book, you choose either a landscape or a portrait template.

If a book uses a landscape template: When a reader rotates iPad to portrait orientation, the book reformats slightly. For example, a graphic might appear to the side of text, rather than below it. 

If a book uses a portrait template: Even when a reader rotates iPad to landscape orientation, the book’s text stays in portrait orientation. However, intro media, the glossary, notes, study cards, and widgets can switch between portrait orientation and landscape orientation.

So, the gist is this: if you want both orientations, you must choose a landscape template to work from. But note that Apple templates are very limited when switching back and forth.

That's why we create Author Ready Templates for iBooks Author. All of our templates give you this option to use both landscape and portrait. We make our templates to look equally beautiful in both orientations. This is not only helpful for congruency, it will save you a lot of time when trying to customize an Apple template. 

Check them out here

Tip: With a landscape template, you can use the Orientation buttons in the toolbar to see what your content will look like in each orientation. (The Orientation buttons do not change the template itself from landscape to portrait, or vice versa.)

Tip: If you prefer, you can disable portrait orientation in the completed book in the inspector menu.

iBooks Author: How To Create A Picture Book Without Chapters

how to create a photo book in ibooks author

When Apple first released it's free authoring application, iBooks Author, it was largely designed for creating rich, multimedia, and interactive textbooks for the education market. 

But over the past year, we've seen the adoption of this powerful application by authors creating books outside of the textbook market.

This presents some challenges for content creators who wish to produce a different kind of book. Because the software was designed with textbooks in mind, templates and layouts can be a bit hard to work with if you want to create, for example, a picture book.

While the application is drag-and-drop simple to use, the layout hierarchy of Chapter >> Section >> Text can be a little challenging to work with. And you don’t have to spend much time on the support forums to find authors frustrated with the software’s assumptions about what a book looks like (psst...we have customized templates to help with that frustration).

How create a chapter-less photo book in iBooks Author

In this tutorial, you'l learn a few tips and tricks to help you create a book without chapters in iBooks Author.

Creating A Picture Book Without Chapters

Step-by-step (see images below):

  1. Instead of starting with a Chapter, start your book with a Section page
  2. Next add blank pages behind it.
  3. Add images to those pages (Note: the screen size for landscape images is 1024 x 748. iPad with Retina display that has a resolution of 2048x1536 pixels).
  4. Go to the inspector an select the first tab "Document" and click "disable in portrait orientation"
  5. You'll notice we might have a slight problem with the Table of Contents. Here's how to fix it.
  6. Add a background image to the table of contents.
  7. In order to preview, select the preview button in the top right corner.
1. Start your book with a Section page.

1. Start your book with a Section page.

2. Add blank pages behind it.

2. Add blank pages behind it.

3. Add images to those pages (Note: the screen size for landscape images is 1024 x 748. iPad with Retina display that has a resolution of 2048x1536 pixels).

3. Add images to those pages (Note: the screen size for landscape images is 1024 x 748. iPad with Retina display that has a resolution of 2048x1536 pixels).

4. Go to the inspector an select the first tab "Document" and click "disable in portrait orientation"

4. Go to the inspector an select the first tab "Document" and click "disable in portrait orientation"

5. You'll notice we might have a slight problem with the Table of Contents. Here's how to fix it.

5. You'll notice we might have a slight problem with the Table of Contents. Here's how to fix it.

6. Add a background image to the table of contents

6. Add a background image to the table of contents

7. Go to the preview in the top right

7. Go to the preview in the top right

8. Fixed!

8. Fixed!

Now you've got a picture book without chapters and a customized table of contents for iBooks Author. 

If you're creating a picture book or any book containing images without a lot of text, designing the right layouts is critical for the ultimate viewing experience. Our templates set the gold standard when it comes to beautiful, engaging layouts. Check out our iBooks Author Template Library

The template used in the example above is the Modern Template.

iBooks Author - Full Screen Images Step By Step

How to create full screen images in iBooks Author. 

In this iBooks Author tutorial, I'm going to show you three different ways to create a full screen image within the iBooks Author application. 

One of the neat features of an interactive book for the iPad is the ability to take advantage of the beautiful retina display by showcasing full screen images or by making small images pop up fullscreen with a tap. Even better, is the ability to zoom in and out of a picture. 

There are three ways you can do this and I'm going to walk you through each to decide which is the best solution for you. Here they are:

  • Tap-to-view image full screen
  • Full screen background image from your photos
  • Full screen background image using a shape

Tap-To-View Image Full Screen

One of the most common questions we get asked is how to make a smaller image pop-up full screen when tapped. Our templates already have this integrated in, but here's how you can do it for additional images: 

  1. Select the image
  2. Open the Inspector
  3. Go to the Widget tab (very last one that looks like a brown folder)
  4. Select interaction toggle
  5. Check the "Maximize on tap or click" box
Inspector tab ibooks author tutorial
tap to view image full screen in ibooks author

Note: if this box is 'greyed' out and you can't select it, make sure you've selected the image first.

Full Screen Background Image From Your Photos

Let's say I wanted to create an image that was already a full screen background image.

  1. Here's what i would need to do:
  2. Find the photo you wish to insert
  3. Drag and drop it into your iBook
  4. Go to the Metrics tab in the inspector
  5. Resize proportion to 1024 width and 748 height, x = 0 and y =0

You'll notice that you can resize it using the white boxes on the actual image. Or you can resize the photo within the inspector under the Metrics tab. If you want to maintain proportions, keep the "contain proportions" tab checked. This will mean you need to have already resized it to match. 

ibooks author image tutorial
display image full screen

Full Screen Background Image Using A Shape

The final option allows you to use a shape to insert an image. This is beneficial for two reasons: you can choose interesting shapes (like a star or circle) to mask your image and you can also do interesting things like have the image tile or stretch to fill a shape.

Here's what you need to do:

  1. Go to the shape tool and select a shape
  2. Go to the Metrics tab in the inspector 
  3. Resize proportion to 1024 width and 748 height, x = 0 and y =0
  4. Select the Graphic tab
  5. Go to fill and select image fill
  6. Select Scale to Fill (or other option if you want to play)
ibooks author full screen images
image display ibooks author themes

The template used in this example was the Retina Template. Go check all our iBooks Author Templates here.

4 Reasons Educators Should Use iBooks

ibooks in the classroom

We're not saying print is dead - but digital media like iBooks for iPad are changing the educational landscape like never before.

It's no secret that for teachers and students alike, textbooks and other supplementary materials have a been a huge money pit we've always just accepted. Countless dollars have been spent on less-than-necessary new textbook editions and reams of paper wasted on additional course handouts. 

But with the advent of new technologies like the iPad, it's a wonder we haven't completely switched. Here are the top 4 reasons to use iBooks in the classroom (in case you're not already).

Easy Updates

The ease with which an iBook can be updated could potentially stand alone as the defining reason to switch to digital formats. Forget once-a-year revisions. iBooks can be updated with the latest material - as it happens. For dynamically changing subjects like business, finance, technology, and science, your content is never going to be outdated or irrelevant. 

Better Learning

Another thing content will never be - boring. Digital iBooks allow readers to engage with text, images, video, and quizzes all inside a single book. No one could possibly dispute this has the potential to change how we effectively teach and how fully students understand new material. Teachers have more options to help explain difficult topics like a 3D object for organic chemistry demonstrations. Students have more options to help them study like using the touchscreen to highlight key passages which automatically become virtual notecards. 


New textbooks range anywhere from $40-150 or more each year. A professionally authored interactive iBook costs about $20 in the iBookstore. It's almost laughable. With all the other bells and whistles added (easily updated, interactive, etc.) this is simply icing on the cake when it comes to switching from paper. 

Less Waste

And in case the reasons above weren't enough, how about we save some trees and our backs too? Digital textbooks make it easy to stop wasting reams of paper and save our backs from the unnecessary weight of 30lb textbook stuffed backpacks. 


The evolution from print to iBooks and other electronic files will gradual, but changes are imminent and sure to be profound. So far, the reception to iBooks in education has been largely positive. Given the industry's tendency to seriously court user adoption, it may be up to teachers and students, instead of just policy, which shapes the future of classrooms and education. 

How To Beat Writer's Procrastination

author productivity tips.jpg

Apparently sprinters reach their highest speed right out of the blocks, and spend the rest of the race slowing down. The winners slow down the least.

It’s that way with authors too.

The earliest phase of writing is usually the most productive. Words seem to flow through you and anything you write seems like pure gold. That’s when you have the most energy and everything seems possible.

But the difference between those who publish and those who don’t is found after the honeymoon period is over. You know - when you feel like nothing you write is good enough, the days when you get a really nasty comment on your blog, the days where you look at your traffic and think why do I even bother...

Consistently commit

You’ve got to commit.

Writing a book is hard. You may have heard the quote about luck consisting of opportunity meeting preparation? You've now done the preparation. This book has, in effect, put you in a position to get lucky: you can now become a published author by just committing to doing the work. So let's talk about how to do that.

Make consistent progress every day

When an author fails to publish their book, it doesn’t happen in one instant decision. It’s a slow process that happens over time and the default is - not publishing. So what’s the opposite of the default look like? Doing something every single day, even if it’s really small.

The #1 thing not to do...

Give up. Put it off to tomorrow. Listen to negative people. Sign up for more
newsletters that answer questions you aren’t having issues with, but might in the future. Distractions like these are fatal to publishing your book. So cut them out.

Don’t give up

You’re smart, you’re prepared, and I know you’re creating something you think will be valuable to at least a few people in the world - otherwise you wouldn’t bother. So whether you end up among the successfully self- published authors or the wannabees comes down to the final ingredient, not giving up.

I’ll tell you right now: this isn’t easy. There will be days where you stare at your computer screen wondering what the heck you’re wasting your time for. Whatever you do, don’t get demoralized. When disaster strikes, just say to yourself, ok, this is what Jess was talking about. What did she say to do? Oh, yeah. Don’t give up.

iBooks Author Resources

ibooks author tutorial

iBooks Author Beginner and User Guides

You can download the free iBooks Author Application from Apple here.

The blog post How To Publish An eBook With iBooks Author Tutorial gives you a phenomenal overview of iBooks Author and the key features and options.

O'Reilly Media has produced an amazing 110 page free guide called Publishing with iBooks Author to help you get up and writing with iBooks Author.

iBooks Author Templates has a free resource guide that includes a template with golden mean grids to help novice designers.

Peter Papas is an educator who has a fabulous blog about iBooks Author and an equally great feed has a great iBooks Author feed here.

Arstechnica writes an article that reviews iBooks Author and the whole iBook publishing experience.

Apple explains that iBooks Author isn't just for education - and how you can take your business content from standard to stunning on this page.

This iBooks Author Pinterest Board has everything you need and is updated regularly.

iBooks Author How-To Tutorials and Videos

Emerson College Department of Journalism has produced over 20 short video tutorials to get you up and writing with iBooks Author quickly.

This hour long video explains How to Create and Distribute iBooks in Education.

Davide Barranca's blog post details how you can add a full screen image to your book. He wrote another one on compressing images so you don't exceed the maximum file size limits of iBooks Author.

iBooks Author Themes has a great 2 part video series on how to design, create, and customize your own template from scratch.

The Bookry has over 25 more advanced video tutorials to check out here.

iBooks Author Templates

3rd Party Widgets & Services

Using Tumult Hype, you can create beautiful custom HTML5 widgets for your book (no coding required).

Check out Class Widgets for both free and paid widgets.