Designing for the iPad

The day after. This is a book design blog, so you’d expect me to write about iBooks, the dazzling ePub reader built into the iPad. But I’m not. (Well, I will a bit). And I’m not going to write about what features are lacking in iPad (first generation, after all) or if there’s even a market for this type of device: duh. And I’m not going to waste time debating the backlight. There are a lot more important things to do, such as figuring out how to design content for this new device. Notice: I said designing content, not designing e-books.

iBooks is a response to the market-driven phenomenon of people wanting to read hundreds of pages of text on a computer screen. Is that the best we can do, read text on a screen? Personally, I want to use an ultra-modern computing device for engaging with content in ways not possible merely with text. (Of course, I’m talking primarily about non-fiction here. I love literary fiction & the interplay of words, sentence after sentence, though I still prefer my novels in print. But that’s just a personal preference.)

And I’m not talking about enhanced e-books, which often mean no more than just some multimedia tacked onto the end. Adherents of e-books are constantly stressing the importance of breaking away from the concept of the printed page. Yet, the ePub reader on iPad uses a page concept & strongly reinforces the concept of the physical book (transplanted to the screen).

I’m interested in breaking away from the concept of the page & the physical book. But I’m not too interested in a lengthy stream of re-flowing text. The page, the physical book, & even the re-flowing text are all great in their own ways if you want is to read 80,000 words on a topic. But I seldom have that much time. But I am interested in learning. And don’t we read non-fiction because we want to learn?

Maybe I only need a stimulating 10,000 words arranged in even smaller, bite-sized chunks seasoned with imagery for obtaining an overview of a topic. A multi-touch screen allows me to interact with the content, furthering my retention of ideas. A playful, game-like component pulls me further into the narrative. (Remember, narratives don’t have to be linear or even textual.) I would buy such a product, a content app that started me along the journey of exploring an unfamiliar topic. I love to learn, I love to read. So what’s next: I would then purchase a more in-depth book on the topic (either in print or as an e-book).

Listen up publishers: you just sold me two separate products. Think about that.

How can digital media aid in learning about a topic in a visually engaging manner? That’s the challenge we should address in designing for the iPad. The iPad gets us a big step closer.

As I think about designing content for the iPad, I’m not thinking so much about ePub. I want to breakout of whatever constraints & restrictions imposed by the ePub rendering engine. The iPad provides a robust canvas. When I think of paid content on the iPad, I’m not just thinking e-books. I’m also thinking apps.

The app development environment for iPhone is superb and is the basis for the iPad SDK. There’s an NDA around the iPad SDK beta. So, no specifics here.

Here at sorodesign we are working to develop some apps for the iPhone & the iPad that revolve around content but are not at all what one would think of as e-books or even enhanced e-books. We’re experimenting. Designing for the iPhone & the iPad requires creativity. That’s exciting.

And what is required from all of us for devices like the iPhone, the iPad, & similar products from other vendors that will come along: new ways of writing, editing, designing, publishing, & reading.

By |January 28th, 2010|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |20 Comments

e-book DESIGN (some Q & A)

We’vet just finished the e-book guide 4 Perfect Days in Buenos Aires. It was a process full of questioning many things that are, should or could be different from printed books. (Another post will address why PDF and not some other format for this e-book.)
Here I’ll share some of the topics that we came across while working:

ORIENTATION: portrait or landscape?

By thinking that we are designing a ‘book’ the impulse is always to go with a known book format (portrait), but since the screen is landscape, it’d be useful to follow that format if the e-book is intended to be read on screen.
However, when we read a print book we are always looking at a landscape format from the moment we open the book: the double page. So finally, I decided to go landscape, but as double page to keep the book familiarity and avoid the feel of a PowerPoint presentation.

Should we use COLOR or B&W?

Should we do it full color? We can! So why not?

A full color e-book can be done for the same price and will be more attractive since it’s full of graphics… ok, let’s think about the audience: what if the people want to actually print it and take it with them? Remember this is a tourist guide!
WHAT TO DO? We decided to work on 2 versions: a screen version with images & full color for people to enjoy, read and look at while planning the trip; and a print version that is B&W with a simpler layout. So by printing 11 letter-size pages of the print version then the reader can have the complete text to go.
Here an example of the screen version and the print version:

One complicated part we encountered was a double page with an architectural walking tour that included buildings photos: in this case we just left the map in the print version with references (so people could find the buidings) without images and included the text of that section:

To keep the feel of the book, the print version has the same text orientation (landscape), so by slightly modifying the original grid it was ready:

TYPOGRAPHY: screen font or book font?

I wanted a font family that could be used for the whole project, including the print version. The Rotis family was the choice because of the maximum readability and many options to combine the different levels of hierarchies of headings and text. The main text is set in Rotis Sans Serif and the headings are Rotis Serif & Rotis Semi Serif.

With or without LINKS?

I find it useful when a multi-page document (e-book in this case) has anchors from the Table of Contents linking to the corresponding pages in the e-book. Also since this is an e-book all Web sites mentioned in the e-book are actual links embedded in the document.


To be consistent with the landscape look of the whole project, the cover was done in the same style, so when opening the document all the pages are the same size, including the cover.

By |February 23rd, 2009|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |3 Comments


I’m convinced that e-books eventually will replace printed books as the world’s primary reading material.

And before you say it: just because you don’t want to cuddle up in bed with an e-book, don’t assume, don’t assert, that others share that attitude.

Wide acceptance of e-books largely depends upon functional reading devices but limited distribution of printed books is an even larger issue. Sure, print-on-demand offers a solution but what happens when the quality of e-books are better and more affordable and more accessible than books printed on demand?

I already live in a part of the world where 95% of the English-languages books I want to read are not easily available. That scenario, the lack of printed reading material, really adjusts your perspective about e-books. (Meanwhile, fortunately, I am surrounded by a wealth of Spanish-language books). But I still feel the necessity of an e-book reader. Unfortunately, international shipping to Argentina is not reliable and there’s a huge import tax on electronics. So, my e-book reader will have to wait until some future visit to North America.

What is the future of book design in an e-book world? Very healthy.

Book design, layout, and typography will continue to play the same role in producing e-books as in printed books. Indeed, one could argue that readability may be an even more important factor with e-books. New possibilities with layout and presentation also may be presented through e-book readers. Of course, there will be limitations and some books just will not be as presentable through e-book readers as in their printed counterparts. Essentially, book designers already produce every printed book as an e-book anyway. In all cases, the final production files delivered to the printer are digital files and almost always in PDF. So, there is still plenty need for book designers in an e-book world.

What about book cover design? Very healthy.

The cover image will continue to play an important marketing role in helping people select which e-books to read. Just as with printed books, e-books need some way of standing out in the crowd.

And what about printed books in an e-book world?

People will still want to buy books, but my thinking is that people will be more interested in spending money on specialized books, books not available digitally, books that offer an experience, books that involve a high degree of design.

So, we may be book designers but that doesn’t mean we’re traditionalists. Of course, in a sense, book design is not so much about the book but about the ways that text and images are conveyed to the reader.

By |January 17th, 2008|Categories: Book Design, e-book design, publishing|Tags: , , , |2 Comments

BLOG, E-BOOK, now what?

For almost three years I’ve been writing about the cultural heritage and social history of Buenos Aires, Argentina on my blog Buenos Aires, City of Faded Elegance. Since it’s a blog by an American living in a foreign country it tends to get grouped in the travel category. I do write a lot about how to experience travel on a more meaningful level than just a cursory visit to the sights that are in every guidebook. But in my blog I purposefully avoid most mentions of restaurants and hotels. I’ve always wanted to write much more than just a traveler’s account of a few days or even a few months in one locale.

Like all blogs my own now has an extensive archive. Whenever I come across a new blog I read the latest postings and, if I like those, I add the site to my news reader. I always intend to go back and browse the archived postings but I rarely do so. Figuring that a lot of visitors to my site also never make it too far into the archives, I decided to pull together a selection of postings from my archives and create a free e-book. It was a challenge to distill so much material down to 50 pages, which is the length I had in mind. I ended up with 57 pages.

Buenos Aires free e-book

So, I’ve taken my blog and made an e-book. What’s next?

In my blog’s archives I have enough text that could be converted to approximately 175 more pages. With some editing and arrangement there is certainly more than enough material to produce an insightful book on Buenos Aires. But no one wants to read a 225 page e-book. I certainly don’t (unless I have a nifty e-book reader) and am not intending to release a PDF like that (and definitely not for free).

There’s always the self-publishing route and a lot of our clients here at sorodesign take that approach. I know enough about self-publishing that it wouldn’t be difficult to produce some sales directly from blog.

I was just calculating the year-end stats of my blog for 2007 and it amounts to about 80,000 unique visitors a year coming to my blog on Buenos Aires. Argentina’s weak economy has resulted in a tourism boom so I’m always getting a lot of new readers to the blog seeking out things to do in Buenos Aires.

My inclination is to query literary agents and see what type of response I get. I’ll post updates on this blog about my own success or failure in going from blog to book.

BTW, Cecilia did the page layout for the e-book and she will be posting later about the actual layout.

By |December 8th, 2007|Categories: publishing|Tags: , |2 Comments

TRAVEL GUIDES by the chapter

If you travel a lot then you know the problem of carrying around guidebooks: they can be large and you often don’t use half the chapters in the book. A travel guide friend of mine actually recommends ripping out the pages that you don’t want from a guidebook in order to make it lighter, easier to carry around.

Lonely Planet is introducing downloadable chapters of its guidebooks. The price of each chapter varies but it seems to be around $2.50 or so. It reminds me of the TravelFish guides to southeast Asia that we wrote about last month.

lonely planet

So far, Lonely Planet only has chapters from its Latin American guidebooks available for download. This concept is particularly good for travelers on the road. In many countries it’s very difficult to find English-language travel books.

By |July 25th, 2007|Categories: e-book design, publishing|Tags: , |3 Comments


Yesterday we talked about some of the problems with the current generation of e-books. And by e-book we’re not talking about the types that require a proprietary hardware reader. We mean just digital files (usually PDF) that can be purchased online.

Travelfish is a company that specializes in producing downloadable guidebooks (eGuides) to travel spots in Southeast Asia. Each guide is available in PDF and costs around $2.95 – $3.95. For each eGuide book Travelfish tells the prospective buyer exactly how many pages and maps are included as well as other relevant information to help make your purchase decision.

And one of the things I like the best is that Travelfish provides screen snapshots of the interior layout of the eGuides.

travel e-book

That tells potential buyers that Travelfish isn’t trying to hide anything, isn’t attempting to rip someone off with a crappy e-book. Travelfish just put a little effort into making what appears to be a quality product.

I also like the low pricing of the Travelfish guides. I see a lot of e-books that charge the same as a printed hardcover volume. I think that a smaller page count along with a smaller price creates a better e-book product. Most books, even in print, don’t need to be 300 pages and an e-book certainly doesn’t need to be that long. Also, the low pricing should make the purchase an impulse buy for many people.

We think that Travelfish has a good model for the ways that e-books should be developed and marketed.

By |June 1st, 2007|Categories: e-book design|Tags: , |6 Comments