Digital Reading: User Experience Is the New Focus of New Media

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The rest of the media world is beginning to see the light about UX. Advertising agencies are hiring UX professionals to help design campaigns, and just last week, author Brian Solis started a short series at FastCompany.com about the need for UX knowledge in new-media strategies. His main point, in his first column entitled “Why User Experience Is Critical to Customer Relationships,” is that producers must design “the customer journey … regardless of platform.” As part of the media world, book publishers need what UX wisdom and practice can offer. After all, a reading journey is exactly what we want to give our customers.

In the past year the publishing industry has wrestled with issues of transforming their product from print to digital. Beyond issues of pricing, distribution, efficiency, marketing, and protection, we’re learning to apply our industry’s creative strengths to making the best possible publishing product.

And in the past year I’ve been writing about this “science-plus-art” discipline of user experience design, or UX or UXD, which overlaps boundaries with Interaction Design, Usability, and a few other agglomerations of initials. Here at Digital Book World, UX professionals have talked with me about how they find out what users really want, and how they approach the particular challenges of ebooks. We’ve looked at the page, the device, and the outside world for inspiration and fresh ideas about how to improve the digital reading experience. We’ve drawn up reading lists; informally researched readers’ likes and dislikes; and shown how UX principles can apply to ebook design.

Technology (meaning the makers of e-reading devices) took temporary control of the reader’s experience; in order to regain it we need to learn about UX now.

Yes, it requires us to think about our books in a different way from their presentation in print. For example, figuring out what readers want to see first, second, or third; alerting them to where they can find the material they want; doing what we can to either choose reading platforms or create digital files that offer a more intuitive, (not necessarily print-analogous) reading experience. There are far more possibilities than we have yet considered.
Most publishers have now dealt more or less effectively with backlist title conversion. The next step is to think creatively about new titles (either digital-first or simultaneous print-digital), new platforms and the possibilities contained in the new standards. Learning and applying UX design is the way to improve the publishing product: as Brian Solis has it, “UX packages efficiency and enchantment to deliver more meaningful, engaging, and rewarding consumer journeys.”

Why bother to cultivate consumers who may or may not come back to us? Because the way we market and sell books has been changing and will change even more in future. The conventional wisdom always held that customers didn’t shop by brand when it came to buying books (with exceptions for some series). But brand and publisher should gain importance as consumers are directly marketed to by interest area, genre, or professional focus. There are plenty of other good reasons to have our readers identify us as producers of great digital reading experiences, for which they will be happy to return for more; and maybe even to pay a bit more.

Quoting Solis: “The primary function of UX is the development of an architecture that creates a delightful, emotional, and sensory experience.” In book publishing, we have barely begun to explore the sensory/emotional experience in ebooks and digital reading. That sounds delightful to me.

Anne Kostick

About Anne Kostick

Anne is a UX fan girl and a partner in Foxpath IND , specializing in the transition to and from traditional content publishing and online content development, management, and publishing. Her clients include trade book publishers; technology and financial services websites; and arts and cultural institutions. Her occasional column, Digital Reading, discusses user experience and related topics in ebooks and digital reading. Anne is emerita president of Women’s Media Group, an industry organization, program director of the Digital Book Awards and a member of BEA Conference Advisory Board. She is the author of several books for children and a definitive collection of jokes.

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One thought on “Digital Reading: User Experience Is the New Focus of New Media

  1. Fascinating. Shows a maturing of the ebook industry. And your final paragraph answered a question about my own reading preferences I had never been able to satisfactorily answer. You mentioned exploring the emotional/sensory experience in digital reading. I suddenly understand why, although I enjoy reading on my Nook, there are certain books I always want to read in print. It’s the emotional experience. If I’m more emotionally attached to the story, I’m more likely to want to read it in print. What a revelation. And it proves your point – there’s work to do there!

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