What Percentage of a Core Book Should Be Art?

An aspiring game designer posted an odd question to Twitter: What percentage of a core book should be art? The answers were interesting, and from a design perspective, a little frightening. There was an assumption that there was a universally correct answer. People seemed to feel there was a magic formula. Some started pulling out core books from their collection and counting pages. If that’s what such-and-such publisher did, then it must be the correct answer. This approach, of course, completely ignores why the publisher chose to include that amount of artwork in that specific book.

What I found frightening were the people who said books without pictures were “difficult to read.” They didn’t expand on that. There was no clarification. Were they talking about diagrams to make tactical maneuvers easier to understand? Did they need random pictures of spellcasting elves and roaring dragons? I have seen people state that they find books without pictures “boring.” All I can do is look over at the stack of novels sitting next to my desk and weep.

No, I’m not going to link to the thread or individual replies. My intention isn’t to shame people. I don’t want to get into another argument with people who invoke the widely debunked “learning styles” myth.┬áIt’s no secret that language and literacy in America are declining. Illiteracy is a dangerous plague and a mostly preventable one. Clinging to pictures as a need, not a personal preference, feels deeply disturbing to me.

I’ll get down off of my soapbox now.

What Percentage of a Core Book Should Be Art?

Some people think that I’m anti-art. To be clear, I’m not. My answer to the question isn’t a knee-jerk zero. My answer, which I steadfastly believe to be the only correct one, is this: How much art do you need to explain the rules?

The books that DXP publishes don’t have art (so far) because they don’t need it. Yes, I understand that people like art. So do I. Pretty books are pretty. It’s possible to draw inspiration from illustrations that enhance the look and feel of a setting. Just sticking in a bunch of art because that’s what everyone else does isn’t thoughtful design, though.

Art is expensive. The expectation that a percentage of pages will be art creates a barrier to entry for designers and publishers. It increases the price of a book for customers. If a book needs less art or no art at all, that should be considered a viable design choice.