eBook Design: Designing for the Media v. Designing for the Medium

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how eBooks can be disorienting for the reader (and by “reader” I meant me.)

I have a difficult time “finding” my place when I’m reading an eBook. This isn’t really a problem when I’m reading a novel, but it becomes very frustrating when I’m reading a textbook or doing research. When I read a novel, I usually read from the beginning of the book to the end. I don’t flip back and forth. I don’t refer back to an earlier section. It’s a very linear expereince.

When I’m researching or studying, however, my reading practices are very different. I read a section, make highlights and notes, put the book aside. Pick up another text. Highlight. Take notes. Put my reading materials away and try to write for a while. If I get stuck while I’m writing, I pick my reading materials up again. I’ll flip through the text, looking for a quote that seemed important.

None of these “reading” (I use scare quotes because I’m clearly doing more than just reading) practices translate very well to an eBook.  The navigation on an eBook is clunky. It doesn’t really use the affordances of the technology. As the reader, I can progress forward one page at a time, as fast as my finger can swipe across the screen (which isn’t all that fast). Or, I can click on chapter or section links from the Table of Contents, which is really only useful if I know the exact chapter or section I’m looking for. And even then, this only takes me to the first page of the chapter. From there, I’ll have to start flipping pages again…

Annoying, to say the least.

Well, the folks over at KAIST Institute of Information Technology Convergence are prototyping an eBook design right now that certainly expands the navigation experience of the eBook. (Thanks, John, for sending me this video.)

While I am over-joyed that someone is working on improving eBook design, I’m also a little discouraged. I can appreciate that this design solves the page-flipping problem. But it feels like a band-aid solution to a gaping wound. And I have to question whether we are wrong in trying to fit an old technology form into a new medium.

It’s like the Romans saying, “We don’t like the codex book because we can’t roll its pages up like a scroll.”

I think IDEO was closer several yeas ago with their proposed designs for the Nelson, Coupland, and Alice reading concepts.

(Unfortunately, I still can’t find any updates on whether IDEO is continuing to develop this design into some sort of working prototype.)

The difference between IDEO and KAIST’s designs is that IDEO focused on the affordances of the digital medium, while KAIST is focusing on the affordances of the media. KAIST is looking at the book and how it functions when it becomes digitized. They are trying to reinvent an experience that is better-suited for the physical world of ink, paper, and binding. They are trying to recreate the book.

In contrast, IDEO proposed a design that is not the book. They looked at the digital nature of the medium itself and started asking questions about what the digital medium can actually do. What does the digital medium afford?

  • data tracking and analytics
  • linking of ideas and concepts
  • interaction and communication among readers
  • information sharing
  • multi-linearity
  • layers of meaning
  • instant feedback
  • currency
  • information mapping that provide multiple perspectives
  • filtering and sorting
  • networking
  • customization and personalization

Then they created designs that took advantage of these affordances. The resulting designs look nothing like our traditional idea of “the book.”  But in many ways, they are better (or at least better suited for the medium). The designs allow us to use and interact with the information in ways we couldn’t in traditional book form.

Are IDEO’s designs perfect? I’m sure they’re not. (And I’m not really sure how their navigation would address my problem with feeling “disoriented” within the text.) But these designs at least move us in the right direction: AWAY from what we’ve always thought the book to be.

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2 thoughts on “eBook Design: Designing for the Media v. Designing for the Medium

  1. Pingback: Book Apps: Why are we still calling them books? | Laurissa Wolfram

  2. Pingback: We Don’t Buy Products. We Buy Experiences. | Laurissa Wolfram

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