Digital Reading: A Designer Deploys His Left Brain

Anne KostickBy Anne Kostick, Partner, Foxpath IND

One gift of the Web era is the flowering of interaction design as a professional discipline. The insights and lessons of experimentation in just those areas we book publishers need now are available to us: its practitioners have modeled mind-opening approaches to books and reading that we should absorb.

For more than a decade Web designers have found a practical, code-savvy, design-centered voice at A List Apart, founded in 1997 by Jeffrey Zeldman of the Web design firm Happy Cog. ALA (now a multi-platform publisher) showcases some brilliant thinking in a number of areas. A recent article entitled “Cross Platform Scalable Vector Graphics with svgweb” reveals its geeky foundations. Another recent feature offered a compelling demonstration of Web design practice applied to iPad reading.

Craig Mod, a talented writer, designer and developer, wrote “A Simpler Page” earlier this year, outlining how the concept of the book page can burst open when reconstructed on an iPad screen.

A New Design Model and a Tool to Make It Happen

Mod (who is leading a workshop on the same topic at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conference in New York on February 14) shows how print design assumptions based, for example, on the kinetic properties of the book spine can hinder optimal text display on an iPad or tablet. He calls for a rethinking of the properties of the screen beyond the single page. Mod’s contribution to this process, a set of optimized-for-the-iPad type templates called Bibliotype, (demo’d here), just released, makes it possible for publishers to follow his lead.

Other seriously analytical e-book critiques by Mod effectively pry open some dead-end thinking by e-book producers and replace them with solid suggestions for improvement, as well as the optimistic sense that it all can be done, and for the greater future glory of digital reading. I can’t wait.

Meanwhile, publishers have diverging paths to follow. One is the task of emulating the print book on a digital device; of recreating that experience with software and hardware. The other is marshaling 20 years of experience with digital screen reading, display and navigation to point us toward a new way of seeing the book, and a new way of experiencing it.

NOTE: DBW has launched an Editorial Forum on LinkedIn, a sub-group specifically for editors working in trade publishing to discuss standards, workflow, best practices, and the general Qs that most print people feel when confronted with terms like “workflow.” The Forum is moderated by Anne Kostick and David B. Schlosser.

Anne Kostick is a partner in Foxpath IND, a digital-print-web consulting and services company specializing in the transition to and from traditional content development, management and publishing. She is also the editor in chief of Dulcinea Media, an online publisher in the educational market, and is the current president of Women’s Media Group.

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