Think about the book of the future. The possibilities are endless . . . and tempting. We can add video, multiple narra- tive paths and in-book commentary. My own fantasies revolve around the touchable terrain of content you browse visually. It’s the reader’s version of synaesthesia.
But all these enhancements will fizzle if they don’t address the pain points of large numbers of readers. If we don’t focus on readers’ needs, our flashiest design innovations will suffer the same fate as most digital book design experiments to date: neat, but no thanks. So, what kinds of problems are book lovers up against today? How about:
- Information triage. Everyone whose “to read” list is too long needs help sorting through options and increasing their consumption velocity.
- Recall and reuse. The value in most great books lies in how we deploy their insights after we have read them. How can we equip books to better help with this task?
- Immersion. To ward off distraction. To focus in a sustained way on what is meaningful. That blissful communion between book lover and book is something that many readers are fighting to regain in their information-cluttered day.
- Delight. That highly subjective but distinctly recognisable feeling you get when the author casts a spell that puts a smile on your face.
The chance to use digital technology to assist—and entertain—readers is real. The challenge is figuring out how to do so in the service of authors and their audience. Put another way: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
The workshop I will be leading at this year’s FutureBook Conference is a guided tour across this kind of reader-centric design thinking. My goal is to help attendees reframe their approach to e-book content design. In 2015, everyone knows how to make a fairly satisfying digital replica of a print book. The newer, more pressing challenge is to figure out what comes next.
I will use two main questions to guide what I hope will be a highly participatory discussion: What do readers need? What can be done today? We will then apply the group’s collective wisdom to some of the most fertile opportunities for innovation:
- Markets and channels. What new audiences and outlets are available to digitally savvy publishers?
- Merchandising. How can books be showcased in new and enticing ways?
- Product design. How can the innards of the book itself change to accommodate readers’ new media consumption habits?
The title of the workshop, “Breaking the Page”, suggests the kind of “blank canvas” thinking required to imagine big changes to the book. To use an old cliché: to make an omelette, you need to break a few eggs.
My hope is for us to have some brainstorming fun thinking about how to break the book apart—without losing sight of the people who most need our care and attention in these wildly changing times: the readers. After all, they are the ones we are trying to get to buy these new kinds of books.
Peter Meyers will be running “Breaking the Page”, an interactive workshop, at FutureBook 2015. His book, Breaking the Page: Transforming Books and the Reading Experience, is out now.