FMP: Designing the layout for Chapter 1

For this blog post, I want to discuss the main layout of the first chapter for the book, as it sets the precedent for the design of the rest of the book, so is therefore a very important thing to get right.

Starting to create the layout for the planet pages

For this, I draw on the previous blog post where I designed the layout. Theoretically, it should have been a pretty easy process, as I roughly knew where each element would go, but it did not turn out like that. I did not take a screenshot of how it looked, as I was too busy trying to sort it out, but I did manage to find out I took once I’d fixed my problems with it. The old layout on the right, and the new layout is on the left, which I will talk about in the next section.

What I was finding was wrong with the old layout was that the main image was at such a large size, covering the inner two columns, that it left one column for text. I wrongly thought this would be enough space, but as can be seen there are a lot of unequal lines which leads to very ragged text, which isn’t as easy to read and means less fits in. I was also experimenting with colour-coded text, which didn’t look so bad with pale planets like Uranus, despite the lack of contrast, but looked awful say for the Sun page, where all the text was orange.

As for the imagery, there was one large image, with no real space around it, and looked lost when there was space. When other images were introduced the spacing did not work out.

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At this point, I was starting to despair, as with the infographic at that point taking up the entire bottom half of the page (not visible) that there were major issues. A re-design had to be called for.

Re-designing the layout for the planet pages

I had a good think about where the problems were originating (as I needed to know where it was in order to fix it) and identified it as being its most fundamental level, the base page layout, which had three columns, with a relatively thin gutter as is visible below.

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I then tried five columns, with slightly ticker gutters, thinking that more columns would equal more flexibility. This was correct, but lead to an uneven structure to the page as it was an odd number, where suddenly it clicked as that was the problem holding the last layout back as well! Then when I thought about the St. Luke’s Church book I produced earlier in the year, I realised it had two columns, which was the final confirmation that I needed an even number of columns.


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So I reduced it to four columns, with a 24pt gutter between them. This worked much better when I started experimenting, and proved to be the definitive layout I used throughout the vast majority of the book! I was very relieved to have found a solution, and I have learnt a lot along the way that will help me in the future.

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Once I properly started designing the pages, I could immediately fit elements together more easily than before. I had been really concerned about how making the images smaller could make them a problem, but when I hooked up to an external monitor where I could design at 100% scale, I could see that there was no problem, and this had been a false problem I’d created in the design phase.

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Deciding on the text

For this chapter of the book, I decided to use both Daily Telegraph Night Sky guides I researched. When reading them, I found a lot of interesting information, so I made notes from these, as well as gathering information from other sources that have proven to be reliable, and then writing up the final text to fit the space I had designed into the layout.

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By splitting the text into two sections with sub-headings, with each sections focusing on a different feature, it breaks the information down into much more manageable segments for the audience to understand, meaning they are more likely to want to read the book.

Putting everything together

Once I had copied in the up to date infographics, sorted out the correct information, and placed all the images and captions in place, I knew that save for small design tweaks and improvements to the text that I will make to ensure everything reads well, they were finished.

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Creating the Moon spread

The Moon spread was an exception to the planet spreads completed above, as I had to think about this in a very different way, as I had a bit more information, but a whole extra page which I could use to my advantage. I decided to keep consistency running and make the left page the same as the others, save for a longer passage of text about the moon landings as they are a beacon for what space exploration can achieve and how inspiring it can be.

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For the right page, I was initially not sure what to do, so I decided to find two stunning images of the Moon, one of the Daedalus Crater and one of Buzz Aldrin on the Moon to take up the bottom half. The captions for the images were placed with the others captions on the left page.

I decided for the rest of the right page I would focus on how the Moon effects us on Earth. One of the most direct and clearly visible ways is through lunar and solar eclipses and I thought this would be interesting for the audience, as these are ways the Moon has a very visible impact on Earth.

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I decided I would create a couple of basic diagrams to highlight the process that causes an eclipse so once I got the shaping and positioning of the elements right, I imported them into InDesign.

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I am pleased with the way the spread now looks, but one area I might decide to change at a later stage if I think of a better way forward is the diagrams. They don’t really fit in with the

Edit: The image of what it looked like is below, but it is taken from a later stage in the project, as that’s the only image I could find of it. However, it had not changed from this point.


Creating the Introduction spread for Chapter 1

Unlike the layout for the pages which took some time to think about what direction was the best to go in, for this, I immediately knew what I wanted to achieve. I wanted a picture of the Solar System constructed from all the planets and the Sun, in a reasonable sort of scale and at a roughly accurate distance apart to scale. It is not possible to get it that accurate on a small book, but I wanted to give the audience an idea.

So I opened a new Photoshop document to the size of the bleed margins around the book’s edge in InDesign, and filled it with the darkest RGB format black possible to ensure it would print correctly when I overlaid the images of all the planets.

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The only problem came with Mars, where the background to the image wasn’t black, but more a very dark green, so I took care of this by adding a Layer Mask, brushing a black spot over Mars (in the world of layer masks, black hides, while white reveals) and then inverting it (Cmd + I keyboard shortcut) so the background was hidden instead. The image is pixellated below because at this point, I was displaying it at such a small size.

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I took a long time and made many refinements to the size and positioning of the objects, and after a while, was able to produce a finished prototype, which I was really pleased with.

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The first change that I made for the finished piece was to place a Layer Mask around the Sun as I wanted to blend out the edges of the corona, as with the size and scale of my image, it was a bit too close to Mercury as it looked like it was about to swallow it!

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The finished layer mask visible below made a good difference to the design, and made it slightly more realistic looking. It was important not to mask too much off however, as I still wanted some of the corona to be visible as it’s an important part of the Sun.

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My second change was to do with Saturn. I noticed that for all the other planets, the shadows lined up away from the Sun, which I was pleased with as it helps the illustration work. If you shine a light onto one side, then you get the shadow the other side. The exception to this in my image was Saturn.

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Thankfully, being a planet with no real recognisable features, I was able to spin it around, which looked much better and also put the rings at a much better angle, which was unintended.

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The finished image was now ready to place into InDesign. I am very pleased with the final result, it meets the needs of the audience by looking spectacular and explaining the basic planet order of the Solar System. I thought about adding in other features such as the satellites, or the Asteroid Belt, but in the end felt it was better to keep it simple and clean.

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I then moved my attention onto adding all the information. I added the lines down from the planets, and placed their names in the middle, cutting the lines to leave adequate space around them. I then placed the sub-headings ‘Terrestrial Planets’ and ‘Gas Giants’ under each section as the Solar System is formed of these two types of planets, which is important to understand.
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As for the top section on the right page, I could see there was an opportunity for more information, so I needed to think about what the audience would like/want/need to know before they read the chapter. There wasn’t anything that really jumped out, so I decided the best way forward would be to continue trying to put the Solar System into context.

I had seen on a Kurzgesagt YouTube video of the Solar System (well worth a watch!) about comparing the masses of the planets and then those compared to the Sun’s. I decided this in my own style would be the best way forward and created two pie charts that showed the mass of the Solar System.

As I was still using three columns for this spread, the third space was blank, so I decided to find an image of the Milky Way to place there. Of course, it is not possible to have an image of the Milky Way from the outside as we are well inside it, so I found an artist’s impression of it created by Nick Risinger. It really looks great, and made a great contribution to the spread. The last point was to add the text below that explained the sections.

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While I was happy with what I had created, it occurred to me that no where in the book had I stated how you could observe the planets. This being a book for the general amateur astronomer who wouldn’t know automatically where to look or how, I thought I would create some small vector icons to place above the planet’s name.

Drawing an eye, binoculars and a telescope provided a great way of showing what you need to view the planet. I could have also focused on where to look, but the planets locations are very changeable, and the audience would be better served looking at where to see them on a digital planetarium app, something I’ll recommend I think in the introductory section for the book’s second chapter.

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Placing the images onto the page meant more guidelines were needed to keep everything properly aligned, but the end result was well worth it.

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And finally, here is the finished spread. (Edit: Actually this screenshot is from a much later stage in the project when the chapters have disappeared). I am delighted with the way this spread has turned out, and think it works well visually, and in the way the information is presented to the audience.

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Creating the Advice & Tips page

Although not strictly part of Chapter 1, I decided that I would be better off designing this page earlier rather than later. It was a bit daunting looking at a blank spread, with no idea on how I was going to fill it, especially as I had drawn no plans up for it, and it was going to be the book’s first spread.

I put some information into the spread, and then the main image, which I wanted to be of some active stargazers. A Google Image search did not turn up much, but I did find an image taken by the Wakefield Astronomy Society which worked excellently.

Credit: Wakefield Astronomy Society
Credit: Wakefield Astronomy Society

I then added a diagram to explain what you could see depending on what equipment you use, as well as some small vector based icons to illustrate the text about how to improve night vision when stargazing out and about.

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On the right page I added some text relating to the brightness of stars and the issue of light pollution to help the audience understand various basic concepts behind stargazing.

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I definitely was following the main theme of the book to balance the text with images, as I did not want to produce what a book like some I had seen in my research where there was just page after page of text with hardly any images to help the audience visualise and enjoy the topic, so that led me to create some diagrams for the content on the right page as well.

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I also changed the width of the column, breaking from the grid to provide the necessary space needed but no more, to allow for as much image as possible.

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I am very pleased with how this spread has turned out, with the images and diagrams balancing out the text. I think you can very quickly gain an idea of the information just from looking at the diagrams and the captions, but if you want to know more, you can read more.

Creating the contents page

Again, while not a part of the first chapter, as it was at the beginning of the book, I wanted to get it designed. I took an image-based approach as I decided that for pages where there was not much interest in the text, say for the contents and credits page, I would add a really striking image to the background that would make sure every page was really worth looking at.

I really wanted a picture of someone stargazing, or looking out at a star-filled sky, and in the end, I selected a picture taken at ESO’s La Silla Observatory.

ESO's La Silla Observatory. Credit: ESO/H.Dahle
ESO’s La Silla Observatory. Credit: ESO/H.Dahle

Something I have learnt from previous contents pages is that I have always placed the information on the left side of the page, and then when you open the book’s cover, it is positioned near the turn-in, and with a cover that isn’t overly flexible, you have to hold it right open to get to see the contents as is visible below with the St. Luke’s Church book I produced earlier this year.


This time, I decided it must be positioned on the right side, so this ‘problem’ could not occur. I was pleased with how it came out, and

Edit: The image of what it looked like is below, but it is taken from a later stage in the project, as that’s the only image I could find of it. However, it had not changed from this point.


Conclusion & Next Step

This has been an incredibly tough part of the project as the planet pages were such an important part to get right. Everything I had done with those layouts up until the final design just didn’t look right, and it proves instinct is important when designing. Now that it does look good and is suitable for the audience, I will progress on to designing the layout for the second chapter and see if any issues await me there, as the layout of the first chapter has taken much long than expected to design.