Designing the Perfect Table of Contents: 50 Examples to Show You How

Anyone who’s ever read a book is familiar with the infamous Table of Contents.

Rumored to be one of the most boring design elements of all time, it’s often neglected despite its obvious importance. It is, in a sense, vintage UI that allows readers to simply navigate through a book.

Traditional design solutions for Tables of Contents play it safe. They get the job done. They don’t look too shabby, are functional, and easy to use. But they also turn one of the first pages readers see into an eye-bore.

It’s time to breathe a little more creative life into your own Table of Contents. Below is a curated selection of 50 outstanding Table of Contents examples that totally kick the usual layout to the curb.

01. Use A Gradient

The Still Life Universe spices up an otherwise traditional layout by using a beautiful gradient. Sweet and shot. It covers still lifes and is quite beautiful. Check out the rest of the book on Behance.

02. Create a Tabbed System

Westerdals 2010 does a pretty neat thing: it creates a tabbed system that serves as a Table of Contents. Colorful tabs help you quickly find sections contained in the publication. Granted, it’s a pretty slim booklet, but an interesting option to explore.

03. Try a Type-Centric Approach

A clean, type-centric layout isn’t a bad option at all. Jeopardy Magazine lists its content and uses a color accent to arrive at a sophisticated Table of Contents.

04. Use a Grid

Dale Magazine’s Table of Content is printed on black paper using a cool blue ink. The neat grid layout has a bit of an electric feel. This is a sweet magazine, worth keeping an eye on!

05. Create Icons Each Chapter

Thaimani features beautiful, little icons representing the content each section of the book features. Don’t want to create an icon collection to represent each chapter in your own Table of Contents? Try using them as details.

06. Feature Beautiful Photography

Pure Magazine condensed its Table of Contents into one column and accompanied it with a beautiful photograph framed in white space. It’s balanced and elegant, like the rest of its spreads.

07. Combine Type and Images

Dale Magazine tried a completely different layout for its No. 0 Edition. It uses large type, sections of images featured in each segment of the magazine, and a bold color on an asymmetric grid. An interesting way to give readers a peek into the visuals of each story.

08. Use A Bold Typeface

Chapter names set in big, bold type. A stunning contemporary solution by The Design Society Journal. If you have longer chapter titles, give it a shot.

09. Use Columns

Using a column grid might do the trick! Checkout Artworks’ Table of Contents featuring 4 big columns that use an image representative of each section and large page numbers.

10. Spice Up A Conventional Approach

Type Spatial airs on the conservative side but does so wonderfully. Its Table of Contents makes use of tasteful type, set simply. It pairs wonderfully with its lovely stitching.

11. Create a Graphic Visual System

This report created a sweet visual system. Each chapter has its own graphic, all which stack together to produce the larger one on the counter page.

12. Go Retro

Le Contact goes slightly retro, with illustrations and type that speak of a time past. Both elements are paired with loads of whitespace to present a classic and elegant Table of Contents.

13. Give Readers a Preview Using Beautiful Images

Sink details its contents in type but inserts interesting images paired with the page number they are found on. Kind of like a sneak peek. Give it a try.

14. Use An Entire Spread

How about a Table of Contents that isn’t constrained to one page but uses an entire spread? Orbe Magazine gives its readers a grid with titles and page number on the left and images featured in each chapter on the right. Pretty cool, huh?

15. Create Hierarchy

Not all chapters are created equal. Try creating hierarchy for chapters in a Table of Contents like Volta does by giving sections with featured articles visual emphasis. You can set them in larger type or even try a color accent.

16. Integrate It To Your Cover

Isn’t this a cover? Yup! But its top right corner is a Table of Contents. If you have a small number of chapters, it might be worth exploring integrating your Table of Contents to your cover or an interior title page, like The Outpost.

17. Turn It Into Your Cover

Here is a second take on creating a Table of Contents that integrates into your cover. Mapping Rua Do Almada contains a few more chapters than The Outpost but still manages to pull it off.

18. Use A Photo Background

Interfaces Magazine gives the same trick a shot but overlays it on a great shot of a leaf. It ties the whole composition together and offers a sophisticated solution.

19. Use Large Typography

Big, bold page numbers and titles set tightly together, like in Obsession’s Table of Contents, can be beautiful but are sometimes tough to read. Use different weights to create visual pauses and rhythm to increase readability and navigation.

20. Give It a Shape

Not a huge advocate for giving a block of type shapes but this Annual Report does an excellent job of giving its Table of Contents a meaningful shape, tied to the subject of the publication.

21. Play With Alignment

Turris Babel centers its page numbers and sets authors and titles on either side. It creates an eye-catching layout, easy to navigate.

22. Keep It Simple

Transgenics created a layout that is simple and to the point. Its heavy use of whitespace makes it feel modern and fresh. Its interior pages are also pretty cool, have a look on Behance!

23. Use Top View Photography

Top view photography has been super popular this year! Try integrating it into your Table of Contents, like this lovely example in Martha Stewart Living.

24. Try Black and Yellow

Use bold colors and big type to make information super accessible, like 99U Quarterly Magazine does with its page numbers. Its use of large numbers and classic black and yellow make its Table of Contents quite navigable.

25. Turn Chapter Numbers Into Design Elements

Szotska alternates the alignment setting for each of the chapters in its Table of Contents. Visually interesting but when working with layouts that attempt to do similar things, beware of sacrificing a Table of Contents functionality for good looks.

26. Use Big & Bold Chapter Numbers

Geiger Magazine turns its chapter numbers into design elements by making them very large. Set in black, it gives this Table of Contents a modern vibe. Browse through the rest of the redesign on Behance, it is stunning.

27. Make It Easy To Navigate

Monogram combines photography with large chapter numbers to make this Table of Contents’ column layout visually interesting without making it difficult to use. Nothing more frustrating than trying to dig up information from a cluttered page or layout!

28. Try A Stark Layout

Tradition Transformed features a stunning Table of Contents. KISS never looked so good!

29. Foreshadow Content

Ornament and Design Process is a catalogue designed for a cooperative exhibition. Giving its Table of Contents a gallery feel definitely seemed fitting!

30. Use Killer Type Pairings

Designing for a magazine? Check out Rika Magazine featuring a Table of Contents that uses the edition number as a design element and features excellent type pairings.

31. Create Design Elements Based On Actual Content

Consider transforming imagery and elements featured in the publication you are designing for into decorative design elements, like this redesign of Time-Life’s Flight. Don’t the arrows remind you of flight paths?

32. Weave Type & Photographs

Seed cleverly integrates photography to its Table of Contents, referencing the kind of imagery readers will find inside.

33. Arrange Chapters Around a Focal Point

Another great example from Martha Stewart Living of top view photography used in a Table of Contents.

34. Turn Text Blocks Into Meaningful Shapes

Try using shapes in your typesetting, like Mainstudio does for this interesting Table of Contents. Be careful when transforming text blocks into shapes, it can get ugly really quickly!

35. Use a Clean Grid Based Layout

Take a stab at a clean, grid based layout. You can arrive at a beautiful solution like the one this Portfolio Book uses to detail its content.

36. Use Expressive Typography

Use expressive typography, like Hanno. It does not have to stop at a big title for the entire Table of Contents but can be used in chapter titles as well.

37. Add Chapter Descriptions or Summaries

The Plot pairs its chapter headings and page numbers with short descriptions of each. It is an interesting way to brief readers on what’s ahead, what might be immediately interesting, and what might not be.

38. Use Letters As Design Elements

Turn your type into design elements, like this lovely publication on architecture does.

39. Add A Personal Intro

Introduce yourself! Pair the Table of Contents with an editor’s note or a brief intro, like Frost Design.

40. Highlight Important Content

Payload combines a variety of typefaces in its Table of Contents, building hierarchy within sections. The entire composition revolves around one point, in this case a beautiful woman, likely the subject of the feature article of the magazine.

41. Go Modern

This redesign of Time-Life’s Ecology book uses type and photography and overlays them to create an interesting modern take on the Table of Contents.

42. Create A Timeless Table of Contents

43. Use Black & White Only

International Designers’ Network uses big typographical elements throughout the entire magazine. It seemed only fitting to do the same with its Table of Contents.

Don’t hesitate to use elements you’ve used in the rest of the piece you’ve developed, it will make your layouts feel cohesive.

44. Give Each Chapter A Different Color

The Biolan uses color, big numbers, and lots of whitespace to create a great Table of Contents. Each chapter has a color it uses as a theme. Check it out here.

45. Design Unique Numbers For Each Chapter

Damn Good creates unique numbers for its Table of Contents. Giving an old design element a facelift can go a long way, just like this example shows.

46. Big, Black & Beautiful

Black and white and big, bold and beautiful. Always a winning combo, like the Hyphen Press Catalogue shows.

47. Play With Negative & Positive Space

Leap Of Faith Magazine keeps its layout simple but plays with negative and positive space to create a super interesting visual that opens up its Table of Contents. Try creating an appealing graphic with typography or elements associated with the content you are designing for.

48. Use A Bright Color

Have just a few chapters to layout? Try using bold color, like this annual report, to add visual appeal to your Table of Contents.

49. Signal the Beginning & End of Each Chapter

Garanza Magazine lays big beautiful numbers parallel to images and its chapter headings. While vertical type isn’t always the easiest to read, making the numbers big makes sure they retail their readability.

50. Try A Minimalist Approach

There you have it! 50 inspiring examples to have you well on your way to creating your very own stunning Table of Contents. Throw the old and tired usual layouts out the window and give creating a different, exceptional Table of Contents a shot!

Your Turn

There you have it! 50 inspiring examples to have you well on your way to creating your very own stunning Table of Contents. Throw the old and tired layouts out the window and give creating a different, exceptional Table of Contents a shot!

Maria is a professional designer and social media devotee. After a few years of working in boutique agencies in New York and Boston, she decided to trade in her morning runs for morning dives and moved down to the warm Caribbean. She is currently working on becoming a scuba instructor in order to find a way to merge her two loves: design and the ocean.