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.”

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Inventing the Medium–Trying to Find the Words

Inventing the Medium Cover

For the past two weeks I’ve been reading Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice by Janet Murray.  And I’ve been really struggling to find the words to discuss this book in a formal post.

It’s a much slower read than the books I’ve gone through up to this point–in large part because I’m so afraid I’ll miss something important. Murray does such a wonderful job of connecting ideas about design, the creation/consumption/use of text, changing mediums, Human-Computer interaction, information architecture, and usability.  But as I read, a part of me becomes frustrated because even though the content itself is clear as I’m reading it, I don’t know that I could actually explain those same ideas to someone else. (Another part of me has been stuck in a succession of “Ah-ha!” moments, where I find myself saying, “That’s what I’ve been thinking all this time but haven’t been able to articulate in words!”)

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