Storytelling in the mid-century

My daughter Mila, born on the second day of this year, will grow up in an era dominated by multi-touch tablets, with ever decreasing thickness and ever increasing capabilities. (Her adulthood likely will be spent with even more flexible devices for consuming information.) Eagerly I will introduce her to reading. Already she hears my voice babbling as I read aloud what she will one day read for herself. Her generation, however, is poised to encounter the stories of the world in manners that are as yet only partially known.

She will come of age in a time when writing is not simply textual (though the careful use of words will persist…must persist). The world of 2030, when Mila is in college, will view one form of writing as a composition elegantly mixing many elements, among which will be words, images, sound, and video. A critical aspect in the coming decades is that the careful use and mixture of those elements must exist.

What do we call these compositions?

Those are not the books we cherish today Those are not e-books. They most definitely are not enhanced e-books. Neither are they documentaries. Technically, the compositions will be contained in some type of app. Maybe they’re just websites. Ultimately, they’re simply stories: narratives for examining the themes that engage civilization, compositions through which we learn and share our experiences of the lives around us.

(And the twenty-first century form of storytelling is as much about the reader as it is about the author.)

A word loosely tossed around these days by media companies is content. Content is often defined by the container. Book necessitates text, perhaps joined by the occasional image. What about other containers? For instance, documentary films necessitate motion images joined with voice-over narration. With the iPad possibilities exist for a hybrid exhibiting capabilities not found in either print or film.

Feeding the reading space of 2030, through whatever magical hardware brand dominates the delivery of digital media, will be apps that are hybrids of books and documentaries.

If we think of the iPad, though, as supporting a new genre then we should step back to examine the whole experience of reading, even asking what is non-fiction? (For the sake of this discussion I leave fiction for another day.) Why do people read and spend time with non-fiction books? Ultimately, I suspect the answer revolves around learning. The desire to learn prompts us to read and, preferably, have an enjoyable experience while doing so. Similarly, that desire to learn in a satisfying manner drives us to view documentaries.

The challenge is in exploring how to leverage the tablet platform for storytelling. The iPad brings a new way of reading. Likewise, it carries forward a new way of writing.

While the publishing community scrambles for today’s solutions, the real burden is on all of us to ensure that tomorrow’s writers & editors understand the elements of style required for creating the publications that will dominate the mid-century. My daughter will be less than forty years of age in 2050. Aspects of the world will be unthinkably different then. Much will remain the same, but the way humans communicate through media will continue its long trajectory. Perhaps what we’re doing now with apps will someday appear as quaint as magic lanterns or the early years of cinema. Undoubtedly, the techniques of writing and composition in a tablet-based digital environment will evolve with time, eventually forming accepted practices that support different types of reading experiences.

By |July 5th, 2011|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |1 Comment

A Q&A about book design amid the changes in publishing

Katie Peek over at A Canary in the Data Mine: Explorations of Data Analysis and Information Display blog posted an interview with me on the topic of book design and the changing world of electronic publishing.

By |March 11th, 2010|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , , , , , |Comments Off on A Q&A about book design amid the changes in publishing

How Book Design can Enhance Non-Fiction

Everyone wants an engaging book. Creating that engaging book is never a solitary endeavor.

Every writer needs an editor. Every book needs a designer.

Fiction narratives in print are generally all about text, unless it’s a graphic novel, a children’s book, or a novel by Sebald. (Actually, we recently did the illustrations for a work of literary fiction to be published by Holt in June 2010, but that’s another post). In designing a book of fiction, the book designer’s job is to present the text on the page in a way that is highly readable and without interrupting the reader’s experience of the story, or, in John Gardner’s words, “a vivid and continuous dream”.

But non-fiction almost always benefits from making the narrative more visual. Absent the hands of an extraordinary writer, non-fiction books often transport the reader not into a glorious dream but to a snoozefest (where the dream is probably something other than the book).

Making the narrative more visual doesn’t necessarily mean the use of images. It’s also about the use of white space & visualizing blocks of text on a page. (You’ll notice that writing for the Web is about much the same thing). Of course, decisions about chapter lengths, section sizes, etc., are the domain of the writer & editor, but book designers have a lot of latitude in how to present the text.

A friend recently gave us a set of three great books by Edward Tufte that came out in the 1990s: Envisioning Information, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, & Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative.

tufte

Tufte gets to the heart of what book design is all about without talking specifically about book design: the arrangement of information on the page (or, increasingly, the screen as in the case of e-books).

By |December 29th, 2009|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |3 Comments

DESIGNING BOOKS: why we do it?

The end of year approaches, bringing that time to reflect on what it’s all about.

It’s easy to let the production aspects of any job overwhelm your daily work, whether it’s the deadline of completing tasks to deliver a book on time, mastering a particularly challenging feature of InDesign, selecting the best typeface for a specific project, or devising an attractive layout that presents the information on the page in an engaging manner. These are all elements that comprise the day-to-day occupation of a book designer.

Ultimately, our greatest satisfaction in designing books doesn’t come from any one activity. It’s all about the whole thing: the book, obviously. But it’s not about holding the book in our hands, viewing our design. For us, it’s all about providing the author with a superbly designed book, a book that the author loves, a book that brings the author’s vision and words to life on the page.

We’re thankful to our great clients who give us the opportunity everyday to design books.

Book layout that we're currently working on!

By |December 4th, 2009|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , |2 Comments