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Content Marketing Design: 3 Guidelines for Creating eBooks for Tablets

girl using tablet for contentPrevious to owning an iPad, I would print out white papers and eBooks and read them when I wasn’t sitting at my computer. I have an entire drawer filled with these things — the pages covered in my handwriting with sticky notes earmarking important data.

That all changed when I purchased an iPad and found I could save reports and eBooks to iBooks. Suddenly, I was no longer viewing the content marketing design and format of these pieces from a print perspective — no, I was looking at things from the perspective of how readable the information was on my iPad screen. 

What I noticed:

  • Paper size: Although the U.S. 8.5″ x 11″ standard letter size is fairly easy to read if you’re in vertical mode, it’s not as easy if you’re in horizontal mode. Why, I wondered, weren’t content marketing pieces being designed for the smaller tablet sizes, which for the iPad is 9.5″ high x 7.31″ wide?
  • Lack of interactivity: One of my favorite magazines is “Better Homes and Gardens.” The online version is very clever: Clearly designed for tablets, the content features lots of interactivity. Touch “unhide” to see product information or to watch a video demonstration on mixing cocktails. Fun!

Better Homes designed for tablets

Marketing eBooks and reports, based on the PDF format, lacked this interactivity. Was there a way, I wondered, to make them a little more engaging?

  • Too much copy: While some eBooks and reports had made attempts to grab readers’ attention with bold graphics, they were still filled with dense blocks of copy. And often this copy was hard to read because the font was too small, the text color was too light, or both. My eyes would glaze over.

It wasn’t until Pathbrite contracted with my company that I was able to begin testing some of my assumptions. The assignment? Create a PDF eBook for recent college graduates detailing job search strategies. The book’s centerpiece would be digital portfolios — Pathbrite’s key (and free) product offering.

What follows are some general guidelines my collaborator (Rachel Cunliffe of Cre8d-Design) and I learned for eBook content marketing design that renders well on a tablet device. (Note: These best practices may not necessarily apply to designing eBooks for eReader devices, such as the Nook, Kindle, etc.)  Because devices are changing so rapidly, we won’t give any hard-and-fast design rules, except to advise that you test how everything looks on the various devices that people in your department have on hand.

Guideline #1: More images, fewer words

How we consume information is changing. If you’re a parent of a teen, you know they can chat with 10 friends on Facebook, carry on four or five conversations via text, and watch TV — all at the same time.

In addition to our “ADD culture,” we’re now becoming more and more visual-content oriented, thanks to tools such as Instagram and Pinterest.

I had these two concepts in mind while writing the eBook copy, but even so, the initial draft resulted in a 23-page Word doc. When Rachel laid the book out, it ballooned to 36 pages and felt very heavy and slow.

So, wherever I could, I cut whole pages down to a paragraph, and paragraphs into bullets. My goal was to ensure that the reader could quickly grasp the message through photographs, images, and charts – while skimming the copy.

Figure 2 shows how we communicated one of the job search strategies using images and keeping copy to a minimum:

job search design - limited copy

Copywriting tip: Put yourself on a diet by reducing the paper size you use as a default in Microsoft Word, then write your copy. The smaller document size will force you to use fewer words.

Guideline #2: Format for a smaller screen

Newer tablet devices — including those that use higher-resolution displays and those that offer variable screen size options — will render images differently than earlier generation tablet devices. While the debate continues on best practices and quality standards for the multiple screen types available, we recommend following these general guidelines:

  • Use a black font that is slightly larger than web design standards: This will help ensure readability, no matter the screen size. In addition, font size will automatically reduce when a tablet is placed in the horizontal (or landscape) position, so using a larger font will help keep readability consistent. Using a bigger font will also make the document easier to read when viewed on a smartphone, and black is much easier to read than gray on an electronic device.
  • Increase the leading: Leading is the space between lines in a paragraph. By increasing this space in your eBooks, you make your content much easier to read — especially if the reader holds the tablet at arm’s length.
  • Split up graphics: A large graphic that looks as if it’s all on one page when you view an eBook on your desktop or via a printed page may not render well on a tablet (or phone). If this is the case, consider splitting up the graphic into several, smaller pieces.
  • Use lots of white space: White space gives the eyes a place to rest.

Guideline #3: Add interactivity, and little “extras,” where possible

Designers now have the ability to add functionality to PDFs that wasn’t possible even a year ago. For example, using an idea I got from Constant Contact’s eBook, “If You Like It, Put a Pin in It,” our team formatted a button that lets readers Tweet about the book directly from the page.

interactivity -- readers can tweet easily

When they click the “Tweet” button, Twitter opens up with a pre-formatted tweet ready to go, making it easy for readers to share the eBook with their networks.

sharing eBooks on Twitter

Remember all the content I mentioned that I cut (to meet Guideline #1)? We were able to add links in the eBook so that readers could visit the Pathbrite site to access this extra material. We made sure this content would not be gated, so that it would remain accessible to eBook readers, without having to make this content part of the Pathbrite site’s main navigation.

eBook links- access to extra material

As a result of these copy and design changes, we were able to create a clean, visually stimulating eBook that is easy to read on a tablet.

If you have tips for designing eBooks and reports for tablets or phones, please leave your comments. I’m really excited by what we can do now with these new technologies and would love to share ideas and examples.

For more ideas on best practices for eBooks, visit the CMI Books page.