There must be a universal design template for puzzles books percolating somewhere in the ether because almost all puzzle books, regardless of the publisher, share similar features: bright red or yellow soft cover that is meant to attract attention by assaulting the visual sense and raise one's blood pressure, cheap dirty-white, gritty paper that offers no pleasurable tactile experience, and the solutions, reduced and bundled together like sardines in a can and placed at the end of each book.
This template was designed to minimize the cost and maximize the profits. These puzzle books provide cheap, disposable entertainment. They sell very well, especially the sudoku and the crossword books.
I can't argue against minimizing costs and maximizing profits. And I want to increase my sales in any way I can. But with the two "Kids" puzzle books I wanted to create a more satisfying and fun experience not only for kids but also for adults (these two books offer challenging puzzles for players of all ages). I wanted to break this generic puzzle book design pattern.
My first break was in doing the covers. I don't like the gaudy colors and crude layouts that include a lot of superfluous text (ironically, while most of these covers are polluted by the sales pitch, they invariably always lack two words: the first and last name of the creator. Have you every seen a name of the person who created the puzzles for the puzzle book on the puzzle book? Someone had to create the puzzles. I am suspicious of any publisher who does not give credit to the creator). For the covers of the the "Kids" puzzle books, I eliminate superfluous text, I use calm and meditative white as background color and a two color combination for the title and name of creator. I also include a sample puzzle as illustration and tie these separate elements together with a light background graphic that is an enlarged version of a letter ("o" and "S") from the font that I use for the titles.
For me, pen-and-paper puzzles are meditative, digital puzzles are reflexive. I think most people who solve digital puzzles, do it quicker, knowing that they can either press "delete" or "back" if their answers are wrong, or knowing that they can just begin a new puzzle from scratch at a moments notice. This leads to more guessing (reacting) and less thinking and defeats the purpose of the puzzle.
So, the covers of my two puzzle books are white. As are the pages inside, clean white not dirty white. The paper I use in these puzzle books is of better quality than the paper used in typical puzzle books (not too nice, though, I don't want a glossy paper of an art book. That becomes too precious). Why bother with nicer paper for a disposable, momentary entertainment? Because one of the reasons I like pen-and-paper puzzles is the tactile pleasure they offer. I enjoy marking the paper with my pen or pencil. It is a small pleasure, I know, but one that no digital version of a pen-and-paper puzzle can offer. And a nicer paper increases the pleasure of making marks on it. It increases the pleasure of solving the puzzle.
And once I solve the puzzle I want to know whether I solved it correctly. I need a solution. How to present the solutions has been a struggle for me in designing my puzzle books. The usual way is to reduce them and bundle them together on the last few pages of the book. This is a very efficient and effective solution to presenting the solutions. It is based on school textbooks where questions are presented throughout the book and answers given at the back. This technique minimizes the space that is used for solutions and maximizes the space that is used for the actual puzzles.
This technique also ruins the experience. How? By eliminating the "journey" that a puzzle book creates. This journey begins with the first and simplest puzzle and ends with the last and most difficult puzzle. Thus a puzzle book becomes like a story book that has a beginning, a middle and an ending. A puzzle book is a story of a personal struggle to reach your goal of completing all the puzzles.
But having to "skip" pages and going to the end to see if your solution to the first puzzle is correct destroys this feel. The physical experience does not correspond with the spiritual, intellectual, experience.
In the two Kids Puzzle Books, I decided to sacrifice efficiency. The solution to each puzzle is placed following the puzzle on the next page. Specifically, each puzzle is presented on the recto side (odd numbered pages), and each solution follows on the verso side (even number pages). This way, the player always moves steadily forward toward the end, from the simplest puzzle to the most complicated.
This design choice has a consequence in that fewer puzzles are contained in the 48-page books. Rather than jamming everything together to offer more puzzles, I choose to let the puzzles breathe, giving them ample negative space. I belive by reducing the number of puzzles, increases each puzzles importance. Now, players rather than skipping puzzles they get stuck on, or choosing puzzles at random, take the time to do each one in order. Amplification by reduction.
And the solution are the same size as the puzzles. While this does waste space, because these two puzzles (Visual Sudoku, Pattern Squares) are visual puzzles, the solutions have a visual appeal of art. And as such, they can be colored like an abstract coloring book. In showing the solution, I do not show the whole completed puzzle. I only show the answer parts. The solution is a negative of the puzzle itself.
I should also mention the shape of both books because they are not the shape of traditional puzzle books. Traditional puzzle books are rectangular, more or less approximating the golden rectangle or the root 2 rectangle. The Visual Sudoku Kids Puzzle Book and the Pattern Squares Kids Puzzle Book are square. They are square largerly because the puzzles themselves are square. But I feel that the square has an appropriate feel for a puzzle book. Its shape alludes to geometry more so than a rectangle does. And geometry brings to mind problems, figures, puzzles.
In addition, I wanted to create a more episodic feel to these two puzzle books. I did this by breaking the puzzles into stages. Each stage is more difficult then the one that precedes it. And to visually express this, the puzzles get physically bigger as they get more complicated from one stage to the next.
When I say bigger, I don't mean that I simply scale the puzzles to make them bigger. That would be cheesy and easy. The two puzzles, Visual Sudoku and Pattern Squares, are designed on a grid of columns and rows. With each new stage, I add more columns and rows to make the puzzles bigger and more complicated. Thus the puzzles grow alongside the child's growing abilities to solve the puzzles. Or maybe: as the child's mental acuity grows, the puzzles grow to provide new challenge. Something of the sort (it's a poetic metaphor that needs a poet to express properly).
This technique enhances the journey and makes it more satisfying. You can visually determine from the size that one group of puzzles is more difficult than another group of puzzles. Moving to the next stage is like crossing a threshold. Of course, the puzzles also get more subtly difficult within each group without "growing".
I think this visual "cluing" is especially important when it comes to kids because they get a more visceral satisfaction from seeing the puzzles get bigger as they get better at solving them. And this visual cluing begins on the cover. The first puzzle of the book and the easiest one is on the front cover. The last puzzle of the book and the most difficult one is on the back cover. So the covers present, and become part of, the intellectual (is that a bit much? Mental, maybe?) journey that players take through the puzzle book.
Now for the practical, bottom-line, question that every publisher, that every businessman and businesswoman must ask: Will the beauty and appropriateness of the design increase sales and profits? Will this design make more money?
While I would like to think so, my honest answer has to be no. I think the vast majority of people who buy sudoku puzzles and other pen-and-paper puzzles do not care about the design of a puzzle book. In fact, the template for the puzzle book is so universal that most people looking for a puzzle book may miss seeing this because it does not look like a tradition puzzle book. All heil to the omnipresent gaudy covers, dirty-white paper and sardined solutions.
The Visual Sudoku Kids Puzzle Book and the Pattern Squares Kids Puzzle Book are currently being printed. They will be available from my website (www.konokopia.com) by January.