Designing for Content

eReaders. eBook apps. The 2012 cohort of the HCId program at Indiana University had an assignment where they had to make a digital textbook design and I was invited to be an external resource, acting as the CEO of a company that wanted to pitch an idea to Apple. I was reminded of this because I have been watching the Do Lectures, specifically the one below about the role of books as an artifact vs books as a method of telling a story vs publishing and people.  Craig, the speaker, used Kickstarter to fund his book, the same way I did for my book. In fact, I used his project as inspiration to ensure the success of my book.

Bear with me as I work through my thoughts. The assignment for the HCId class bothered me and I couldn’t figure out why. Another alumni accused me of not liking the different concepts of digital apps for reading books because I’m an author and I have a specific model and expectation of how a book ought to be experienced. At the time, IDEO had come out with some iPad concepts that just rubbed me the wrong way and my being an author was the reason why my hesitance to accept them was dismissed out of hand.

Suffice it to say, I was annoyed by this comment because he was operating on his assumption of what it means to be an author, and how an author relates to the artifact that contains their work, but that’s beside the point.

Watching Craig’s talk finally sparked the reason, for me, why I don’t like these different eBook concepts. It’s because the digital artifact has little to do with the content of the book. Craig pointed out how encyclopedias were thrown into the digital realm in a superficial way, like Encarta, which no one used. Because the wrong question was asked: how do we shove books into digital? Rather than: how does digital affect books? Enter Wikipedia, where the model of an encyclopedia becomes crowd-sourced.

The IDEO concepts bothered me because I felt as though the concepts had nothing to do with the stories they were telling. They are about information, about processing and gathering and keeping up with it. It isn’t about the experience of reading or enjoying… Of the concepts of course I liked the narrative one best simply because it treats the book the way a DVD has additional content about a movie.

I don’t like eReaders and eBook apps because they assume that every book is the same. They aren’t. You can make generalities across genres, sure, or authors, perhaps. But a historical romance, I feel, requires a different treatment from a biography. Just because the content is digital doesn’t mean it is generic.

I have no idea what I’m saying, really. I just had to get these thoughts out.