Exercise 2: Double-page spread

Updated: Oct 20

Following on from my research task on the golden section and grids, in this exercise I wanted to put those grids into practice through recognising how content is structured in existing publications and creating my own rearrangements. I started by looking at layouts that from my own collection of books from around the house and had fun attempting to use my new grid knowledge to pick apart how a page has been constructed by eye.

Selecting Examples

I found that magazines and educational books look to have a greater need to use a strong layout to juggle multiple elements in complex ways, often with variations throughout. Most of the art and fiction titles do not have many images and text blocks on the same page to contend with each other on the other hand, so simpler layouts are the most effective there. I then shortlisted some of the books with layout that I found the most interesting or effective.

Selections of books with double page spreads

The Worlds Great Adventure Treks

Edited by Jack Jackson


This large book looks to follow a two column grid for pages describing a location, but uses a 3 column variation for pages that act as a guide along a trail. The large glossy landscape pictures then break the margins however and reach the edge of the page. This simple but effective layout helps pull the reader into the photographs.

Art: The Definitive Visual Guide

Andrew Graham Dixon (Editorial consultant)


As an encyclopaedia of the history of art, the layouts in this book present a wealth of different blocks of images and information as carefully controlled chaos. It looks like this may have used a series of modular grids as loose layouts to follow at first, but it is hard to tell at first glance with so many images having different aspect ratio's, sub modules and exceptions that rely more on the baseline grid than the overall structure.

RHS Genealogy for Gardeners: Plant Families Explored & Explained

Simon Maughan, Dr Ross Bayton


This book on the genealogy of flowers has been inspired by Victorian books on botany with its aesthetic, but features an updated layout fit for a modern audience. The book uses a single column for the chapter introductions, then splits into two for the break down of each section. What I like the most is how the plant Illustrations have been included without a border, allowing them to poke outside of the normal grid in several places as if they are specimens pressed into the page in the traditional way.

Landscape magazine (October 2018 ed.)

Edited by Rachel Hawkins


Landscape magazine is a lifestyle publication with articles and guides mainly covering countryside living, gardening and recipe's for cooking. There are clear templates for each of these using several types column designs with generous amounts of space in between elements so it never feels overcrowded. What I like about the images is how they also run outside the grid to the edges of the page wherever possible, making the edit feel more like a book than a magazine.

Simple Stargazing

Andrew Vamplew


As a scientific book, the structure here appears to use a 6 column layout throughout, which gives it plenty of flexibility on how to align smaller pockets of information alongside a larger main body of text for each page detailing a single space object. For the pages detailing the various constellations with illustrations, the text wraps around the images to break up some of the monotony with dynamic shapes.

The Northumbrian (April/May 2021 Ed.)

Edited by Jane Pickett


This lifestyle magazine follows a 3 column structure in the majority of it's articles, but keeps things dynamic by breaking up sections of the text with images that neatly adhere to the underlying grid structure. The back few pages become exceptions and use two columns for advertising space and reader submitted content.

Examining a Spread

I was the most fascinated by of Art: A definitive visual guide for having so much complexity and variation, and really wanted to unravel how it had been designed. To account for the large size of the book, I started by manually tracing one of the spreads using a large sheet of greaseproof paper as a substitute for normal tracing paper.

Tracing out text and image blocks

Some of my lines are rougher than others due to the awkwardness of the size and curve of the page block, but I still had a clearer sense of how the layout flowed together from this process. I then scanned the tracing and printed out a smaller copy to annotate in my sketchbook. Through taking measurements directly from the book, I then noted down all the lengths, widths and margins using matching colours when the same measurement would reoccur.

Manual Measurements

Next, I transferred my measurements into a document in InDesign. This gave me the basic skeleton of the document margins, including the 6mm central margin that lines up with the page numbers. I experimented with the grid settings to discovered the main layout; A 12 column grid with a 3mm gutter makes up the template for both of these pages, allowing for flexible divisions of content into thirds, halves, quarters, or across any number of boxes that comfortably accommodate the variety of artwork.

InDesign reconstruction, showing the 12 grid system

For the text font, I matched it as closely as I could to the original by using the Sans Source variable family, which works well for the most part, although I believe a modified or alternative variation may have been used instead, as not all of the punctuation characters look the same. I really wanted to know the structure of the baseline grid, so I chose to re-write all of the text rather than using any lorum impsum, so that I could accurately match line lengths and point sizes.

This was time consuming process and involved a lot of trial and error, but was well worth the extra effort once I found the right balance and everything clicked into place to match the original as closely as possible. I made the baseline from the top margin at 10.8pt, to match the leading for the 9pt main body of text. For the smaller image descriptions, 8pt was used, with auto leading which still hangs nicely when positioned in line with the borders of an image. It's not perfectly exact to the original, but still close.

When flicking through the rest of the book, it appears all of the pages use the same grid and text style rules throughout, with only a few small exceptions made where text and images poke outside of the guidelines due to the irregular proportions of some of the artwork.

Alternative layouts

Next, I was asked to design some radically different layouts for my chosen double page spread. I printed out some smaller samples with the same aspect ratios as the spread and used them to sketch out some rough ideas as a starting point. None of these are accurate with measurements, but were a good quick fire activity to come up with functional ideas that could be developed in InDesign. To help keep track of the distinctions between the images for each of the four artists across the two pages, I also colour coded the image boxes.

Sketchbook Ideas

Now that I was comfortable in using the program, I used InDesign to develop three of the sketchbook ideas into new forms. I duplicated the original, then rearranged the elements to match my rough layouts, before adjusted the sizing of the images and text. I still maintaining the original font and aspect ratios, so nothing was removed or heavily changed in this process except for the layouts.

1. Horizontal Timeline

Horizontal timeline concept

This idea came from a mix of two of my sketched options. One had the horizontal arrangement of artists across both of the pages in strips, where the other made functional use of the "lifeline" elements as dividers. I took the vertical column from the "lifeline" paragraphs and divided them into two new timelines features that help naturally divide the spread into thirds across both pages. Each artist is also listed near the margins at the page edges, making them easy to reference at a glance. Although there are still some sizing issues that create crowding in certain areas, I'm pleased with the accessibility of the content.

2. Golden Canon

Golden canon concept

I used Jan Tschichold's 9x9 modular grid as the basis for this version. A rectangle in the manuscript position (as preferred by the golden canon of page design) houses the main paragraphs as the central focus. In the negative space around the edges, the additional text still follows the rules of the grid by fitting into any number of modules, but some of the images break the grid guidelines because of their irregular aspect ratio's. Whenever a break like this occurred, I would make sure that it faced in towards the central rectangle. I think this worked out well in making this spread feel dynamic but still easily readable.

This experiment grouped all of the text into a circular text wrap rather than rectangular blocks of text and images. Without the use of an even grid, I arranged everything else relatively freely, while still keeping even separations between the images and text around the edges. This is definitely my biggest departure from the original design and although I'm still pleased to have made something visually interesting, I think more work needs to be done to reshuffle the surrounding elements in a more complementary way. The shapes are interesting and a strong focus of attention, but at the cost of some legibility overall as I couldn't quite find as many natural positions for elements that would balance out on both sides.

In previous work I would usually snap and align objects without a specific structure using only limited photoshop guides. This would be a fiddley and frustrating process at the start of each project until I found a natural rhythm, but now I also know the benefits of using predetermined grids as a starting framework, I will continue to use this for formatting books in future using InDesign Instead.


Dr Bayton, R., Maughan, S. (2017) RHS Genealogy for gardeners: Plant Families Explained and Explored. London: Octopus Books.

Graham Dixon, A. (2008) Art: The Definitive Visual Guide. (1st Ed) London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.

Hawkins, R. (2018) Landscape. (Issue no. 52) 01/10/18.

Jackson, J. (2003) The World’s Great Adventure Treks. London: New holland Publishers.

Pickett, J. (2021) The Northumbrian. (Issue no. 181, April/ May) 03/04/21.

Vamplew, A. (2007) Simple Stargazing (2nd Ed) London: HarperCollins.