The thinking behind the design of PeerJ’s PDFs

We have had a great reception to our PDF design, and so we thought it would be helpful for Jackie Thai (our Head of Publishing Operations) to explain some of the philosophy that went into the design. Although we are an ‘online only’ publisher, we know that many people still prefer to  read a PDF, and so it was important to get the design just right. Here, Jackie explains how we went about it:

Open the pages of any scientific publication and odds are good that you will be greeted by a fairly standard sight: a prominent title, two columns, right justified text, figures sized to fit one, one and a half, or two column widths. This has been the face of the scholarly publication for decades.  

With our launch, we felt that the time was right to take a step back, collect all the feedback we’ve heard from authors and readers over the year, and create a fresh format to better serve the function of the research publications.  

Our primary goals were simple: improve readability on and off screen, increase functionality and enhance the content. At the same time, the text should appear authoritative and the overall effect should convey ‘high quality’ and be ‘scientific’ in look and feel.

To achieve this we reached out to our production partner, River Valley, who were able to produce a design that takes advantage of new technology and suits the myriad reading experiences now available to you.

The single column, eliminating the need for side to side scrolling, is more suited to on-screen reading than two columns, particularly for mobile and tablet users. Coupled with the left aligned margin (which has been found to be easiest to read and navigate for languages that read from left to right) the design thus removes some of the traditional formatting structures which can pose as barriers to best readability.

We also opened up some generous white space both to reduce text crowding and to improve readability – you will notice that there are not too many ‘words per line’ and that the spacing between lines is also generous. We allow figures to publish at their most optimal size, to enhance their usefulness, and the overall layout is designed to accommodate any type of research content, from simple text to complex equations.

As far as possible, we also wanted to make the PDF functional in an online environment – hence you will notice that in-line references are hyperlinked to their position in the Reference Section, and those references are themselves linked (via DOIs) to the original publishers. Metadata on the first page is also linked where appropriate. As an online only journal we do not use continuous page numbering (instead each article starts from page one) and so this also allowed us to introduce a ‘status bar’ indicator (bottom right) showing the readers position within the article.

Early authors have found the PDF design to be “very clear and readable”, “beautiful”, “clean and pleasing”. We hope you will also find this to be true as you read the newly published articles in PeerJ.

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