Digital Reading: Thinking on Both Sides of the Screen
By Anne Kostick, Partner, Foxpath IND
User experience professionals know what we want. Their research and testing of every detail of interaction design has, over the years, determined what our experience on the Web and on mobile devices is today.
When they turn their attention to digital reading and e-books, they tend to see both forest and trees. Whitney Quesenbery, principal at the research and consulting firm WQusability and a usability expert as well as a devoted e-book consumer, talked about how reading books could be transformed by going digital.
Books Should Be Accessible to the Buyer in All Formats
Quesenbery got right to one of the main points in the e-book discussion—the subject of multi-format accessibility. “I want to buy the book [once] and go back and forth between modes [of reading]. I’d even want to sync my audiobook version with my text version.”
Like most good interactive design practitioners, she prefers to streamline the user’s path to the content—fewer clicks, subscriptions, and versions. “The New York Times should be able to customize my subscriptions and digital delivery. I don’t want to have to subscribe to five different versions of the Times, and I don’t want to have to reduce my options.”
Quesenbery’s recent book, Storytelling for User Experience, from the innovative publisher Rosenfeld Media, is a model of her multi-format philosophy (the book can be purchased in two different multi-format packages that include print or printable, mobi, e-pub, and Adobe).
Her book carries the subtitle “Crafting Stories for Better Design.” For the purposes of digital reading, she may as well reverse that line to “Crafting Design for Better Stories“: The book’s story (the experience) is inextricable from how the book is experienced; the book’s design.
Kindle Gets It Almost Right
When it comes to digital platforms, Quesenbery is a Kindle fan.
“It was love at first sight,” she said. “Reading is an immersive activity, so Kindle is good: when reading a book, I’m not multitasking. When I read on an iPad, there are all sorts of distractions.”
Other design choices seem particularly user-friendly and accessible, which are qualities of high importance: “It feels right in the hand, and not too heavy. The screen, with its soft gray instead of bright white background, is not as hard on the eyes; I can read the Kindle forever. And the power cord is industry-standard.” Quesenbery stores 60-70 books on her device, sends documents for screen reading, and uses it as a clippings file.
But her ideal reading device is still over the horizon.
Although she says, “I have the timing down so I can push the ‘forward’ button before I finish the last sentence of the page,” she’d really like something better optimized for nonfiction: scaling graphics for diagrams and tables; travel-book features that combine GPS with dynamically served text; and (most important for frequent users of the Kindle’s text-to-speech feature) “a ‘dead-man’s switch’ to turn off the book when I fall asleep.”
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.