Impressive Digital Book Designs and Innovations

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

DBW is keen to discover the most impressive digital book designs and innovations, especially since the 2014 Digital Book Awards (formerly known as the Publishing Innovation Awards) are now open for nominations.

Peter Meyers, VP of Editorial & Content Innovation at Citia, spoke with me by phone about the some of the greatest digital-book designs that he has seen lately. Here’s a short list and some of the reasons that these particular titles impressed Meyers:

Petting Zoo by Christoph Niemann

– Responsive Content
“In Petting Zoo, Christoph and his team have programed in a wide range of responsiveness that corresponds with how we interact with objects in the real world,” explained Meyers.

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 3.32.20 PM
– Co-Performance
Without telling the reader, “he turns the book into an opportunity for the user to co-perform with the book.” For instance, the crocodile’s teeth behave as keyboard, each producing a unique tone when tapped, and this is something the reader simply discovers by engaging with the book.

– Digital and Analog
Petting Zoo is “a beautiful combination of digital and analog values,” said Meyers. So often in digital publishing, we assume that “everything beautiful is digitized….we forget the 90% of our world that’s analog.” Meyers went on to explain that, “Christoph brings in analog art objects, [realistic water sounds, and photographs] that remind us we live in both ways.”

The Good Man by Pedro Ivo Hudson

– Multimedia
This web-based short story is “a highly multi-media production, including graphics, animation, text, narration, [and sound].” And, all these “media elements are integrated in a harmonious fashion,” said Meyers. “You don’t have this sense that one person led the charge, and the other content is add-on.”

– Quality Writing
“The writing is beautiful; it’s a beautiful compact short story…that really makes you think about who your heroes are and your values,” said Meyers. Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 4.19.54 PM

– Figurative Graphics
“The graphics that he includes are suggestive rather than literal.”

“Literal is limiting; it doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity to address the audience in multiple ways,” Meyers said. And, here’s a for instance: One line of the narrative is, ‘I want to build a house in the countryside and go fishing.’ Accompanying this are “beautiful concentric circles that fade apart in opacity, suggestive of ripples in the pond if you’ve cast your line into the water.”

– Contemplative
The narrative of The Good Man concludes with “a looping ending; [Hudson and his team] use the audio playing in a loop and the visuals on screen are undulating bubbles…it’s mesmerizing. He’s putting a visual and a sound composition in front of you to encourage contemplation in a really purposeful way.” As if to say, “stay here and think about what you felt.”

Meyers went on to say that most “digital publishers aren’t getting readers to stop.”

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 4.19.25 PMFish: A Tap Essay by Robin Sloan

– Platform
In this case, the Tapestry app, shares the credit for the title being an innovative digital creation, said Meyers. For Fish, a strong platform and someone cleaver enough to write for it came together.

“The platform enables writers to write on digital flashcards…mainly meant for viewing on the iPhone.…because of the limited amount of display space on a flashcard, authors are encouraged to limit and focus what they want to say.”

“Tapestry uses principles of sequential art and…the dynamics of the author-audience relationship in the world of comics.”

– Pace
This is another title that effectively slows the reader down, according to Meyers. “The composition is mainly made of words…on the first screen is a phrase, the next tap is the first list item; tap, the second one appears; tap…”

“It’s hard to speed through a text [like this] very quickly; a reward for someone looking to slow down”

– Progressive Disclosure
Progressively revealing list items and other content “slows down the reader’s attention, in concert with the reader’s participation,” explained Meyers.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

– “I worked on this at Citia,” Meyers disclosed.

– Good Non-Fiction Content
Meyers described Predictably Irrational as “a very compelling treatise about why we do stupid things over and over again.”

– Avoids Information Overload
Not all prospective readers will consume a complete non-fiction title, cover to cover. “We took a look at the core characteristic of a book—all ask readers for 10 – 20 hours of their time.” Then Meyers and his team asked, “What would it be like to create a 2-hour version of a book? “What do books look like when we reconfigure, redesign them for people to navigate in different ways?”

Meyers believes that there is “non-diluted value in shorter versions of non-fiction [works].”

– Building on the Success of Other Media
For this redesigned books, the team at Citia “split everything up into cards, one idea per card.” The cards use the principles behind advertisements and movie posters. Each component on a card has a particular job, and together the cards “track the ideas of the book,” said Meyers. Notably, the cards “can be navigated in a non-linear way.”

As we wrapped up our conversation, Meyers was eager to point out that print books will persist. All the same, he believes that digital innovation at its best does not show the “roots of a printed text.”

The Digital Book Awards celebrate innovation in apps and ebook publishing. Submit your nominations today!

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