Best Examples of Table of Contents Designs

table of contents designs

Creating a table of contents may seem like a simple task, but once you get started, the traditional form that you’re accustomed to may not fit your work. Here are a few tips for creating unique table of contents designs that will draw the eye of any reader.

Best Examples of Table of Contents Designs

The traditional table of contents is a tried and true form that has helped readers navigate through countless pages, both digital and physical. This simple design implementation provides a roadmap through literally and metaphorically bound texts and creates a fantastic tool for pinpointing specific locations in longer works. While the utility of the table of contents is undeniable, the form in its current state may be a bit stale. If pages upon pages are going to be dedicated to this information, then why not present it in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion? If you’re attempting to spice up your table of contents designs, here are some of the best examples of fresh takes on table of contents designs.

Using Color

Using color in your table of contents designs can breathe new life into the information. A clever incorporation of color to identify key components can make your table of contents visually appealing as well as more useful to the reader. Even simple decisions such as adding colored text for page numbers or color-coding the titles of chapters can enhance the ease of use of your table of contents and give the reader more than simply the utilitarian design that they are accustomed to.

Using bright and vivid colors can help draw readers’ attention to your table of contents, but the use of color doesn’t have to apply just to your text. Adding a gradient that fades slowly from one color to another to the page beside your table of contents can help your design pop. Couple this with colored text in your table that matches the most noticeable color in the gradient for a standout design. Try adding a solid color background behind your contents with mood-matching text colors for an even more intense effect.

Using Visual Cues

Combining visuals with your table of contents designs can really augment the feeling that the reader has when viewing the table. If your intention is for the readers to have an understanding of the sections of your text before they even begin to read, adding visuals is a great way to catch their eyes. This is a particularly useful implementation in table of contents designs for magazines, as it affords the reader an eye-catching opportunity to glance at the content that is available throughout the issue. Incorporating visuals into your design can be done in a number of different ways:

table of contents designs
  • Use a high-resolution photograph as a background for your table of contents. As long as the text of your content is still legible, the inclusion of a background photo can demand attention. Minimalistic photography works best in this case and can provide a great opportunity to surround your table of contents information around one center focal point.
  • Highlight certain content with pictures. Adding pictures along with the title of specific chapters can help you showcase specific content in your publication as well as draw more readers to that section of featured content.
  • If your publication doesn’t have many chapters or sections, using photos alongside section names can help to give your readers a further glimpse into what they can expect before reading.
  • If you know an illustrator or your publishing house has one on its staff, adding original illustrations can also be a fun and unique way to present your table of contents.
  • Create simple icons for each section in your publication. Another visual identifier that modern society has grown accustomed to is the icon, and incorporating this little design into your table of contents help give information by association. Choose simple representations that really get at the heart of your content. Using regular icons works particularly well with weekly or other recurring columns.

Rethinking Text

Along with using pictures to create visual cues, revisiting how the text is presented can drastically alter the presentation of your table of contents. If you’re interested in ASCII art, this is a fantastic way to put those skills to use or pick up a new graphic designing tool. For those who are unsure, ASCII art is created using the American Standard Code for Information Interchange standard, or the typeable characters that you have on your computer. Using the text in your table of contents, you may be able to arrange the information such that it resembles a picture relevant to your publication, such as a logo, or even into simple geometric shapes.

Keep in mind, however, that arranging your information in such a way can become extremely messy in a surprisingly short amount of time. If you’re able to pull it off with your text’s meaning still intact, though, it can provide an engaging way for readers to peruse the overview of your publication.

ASCII art can be difficult to create and certainly isn’t for every publication. If that’s not your style, it’s okay. Here are a few other ways that you can rethink your text to spice up your table of contents designs:

  • Use a grid layout to arrange your content into blocks for each chapter or section. This can help the reader to visualize each how each section is arranged throughout your text. You can do this without any actual grid lines.
  • Bold the text that you want to stand out. Building in uncomplicated choices such as bolding chapter names can help readers find the information that they are looking for faster. Along with bolding text, using a large typeface is another great way to grab readers’ attention and draw their eyes to the important information that you would like them to receive first.
  • Similar to the grid layout, making columns across the entire spread is another way to organize your table of contents. Using columns can allow for blurbs about chapters or sections and let you go into greater detail about what each section is about. It functions as a minimalistic, visually appealing way to present your information.
  • Use alignment to your advantage. Alternating alignment can break up contents in a great way that allows the reader to easily recognize separations of sections. By this same token, a combination of alignment and geometric ASCII art, like a simple block of text centered on your page, can look fantastic.
  • Recycle necessary information into design elements. Highlighting information such as the page number for each chapter can also guide readers easily through your publication and can even give a quick glance at how long each chapter is.

Using the Physical Aspect

Typically, for physical publications, the table of contents is on the interior of the work and is generally located after some housekeeping pages that lay out the publisher and copyright information. If you are creating a table of contents for a publication that is not digital, consider using that detail as a part of your table of contents. A perfect example of this would be to abandon the standard table of contents form altogether and replace it with a colorful tabbed page system that indicates when new sections or chapters of your work begin. This isn’t ideal for every publisher or publication, but for art and literature magazines and the like, it can be a great way to give your printing a unique look while also providing functionality.

table of contents designs: eyeglass and a book

Externalizing your table of contents design by removing it from the inside of the publication is another way to provide a fresh look for your work. Use the front or back cover to showcase content that is inside to give readers quick access to the information and draw their interest. As a designer, some clever maneuvering may be required on your part in order for this style to work, but if you can manage to do it without the cover feeling cluttered or appearing like a tabloid, moving your table of contents to the outside of the work can be a refreshing and distinctive approach.

As already mentioned in a previous tip, using the entire spread for your table of contents can make it really stand out when readers open the work. This can work well even if the text for your table of contents doesn’t require the full two pages. In fact, this could prove to function even better, and it also offers you the chance to play with negative space in your design.

Staying Standard

The last example that we have to offer about table of contents designs is to stick with the tried and true format. The stark layout that you’re very familiar with is unequivocally the best way to present your table of contents in some situations. For more serious or scientific publications, overdoing it with graphic design detail may end up having the opposite effect that you want, and staying closer to the traditional style of table of contents designs may be the way to go.

That doesn’t mean it has to be thoroughly uninteresting, though. You can still invigorate this old format by making wise choices with your typeface and matching it to the content. Slim sans serif fonts can elicit feelings of elegance, while serif fonts generally can give off an air of academia. The timeless table of contents setup can also be used for publications with an audience uninterested in flashy design who would simply like the information to be present in a readable manner. Knowing when to stay standard and when it’s time to venture out to try different table of contents designs is an important thing to consider before you start giving way to your creative side.

Designing for Your Online Publication

When creating your table of contents designs, one of the starting points should be to plan for your type of publication. There are many obvious differences in digital versus hardcopy publications, as well as how users interact with them. In this way, the table of contents for each medium should adjust to fit its form.

A table of contents for an online publication could take the shape of a navigation bar on the side of the webpage that follows along as you scroll, possibly highlighting your current section. This easy access design allows for a smooth user experience, and any time readers need to jump to a different section or reference upcoming or previous sections, they need but glance at the side of the screen.

Of course not every page has room for sidebars, and navigation bars at the top of the page can easily take their place, whether they are designed to stay with the user during scrolling through the page or if they stay in their designated spots at the top. Standard table of contents pages can certainly be found on the web as well, but these enhanced versions sometime contain hyperlinks that take users to different chapters or sections of the publication. The page’s table of contents can also be situated at the top of the page with links that guide users to different parts of the same pages, as is the case with Wikipedia articles.

table of contents designs: publication preparation

Your own individual table of contents designs should be unique to your publication and be representative of the information to which it is directing its reader. Matching style for style is the primary rule when designing your table of contents. However, when you are allowed a little more creative leeway, turning the necessary elements required of the format into design elements can be a compelling and fun challenge that leads to great user experiences. Creating and implementing standout table of contents designs will gain the focus of the readers and draw them further into the work that this information encompasses.

If you’re having issues creating a table of contents that reflects your work, implementing a few of these tips and even combining tips can help you to overcome that hurdle. Take a close look at what your publication is trying to say, and convey that to the readers as soon as they open up the book or load your page. Creating a table of contents isn’t the most glamorous task in the world, but achieving a functional and tasteful table of contents that looks great and points the reader in the right direction can add untapped value to your publication.