The digital realm is immediate, interactive and contextual, the printed realm being physical and experiential. Both, increasingly social, serve different functions and are not only valid, but essential.

I was the kid that, once my allotted 20 library books had been picked, would steal the remaining credit on my sister’s card. There was a brief reading hiatus in my late teens when I discovered life outside the boundaries of the printed page – a fortunate period that vastly increased my social awareness and made me the relatively normal member of society that I am (bar the few standard oddities). Currently I have seven novels, four journals and an inextinguishable stash of bookmarked articles begging my attention.

All this to say, in short, I love books. I love the physicality of them. I love the brief but amiable conversations shared with booksellers assessing my selection. I love walking home heavy-laden with a tote-bag full of surprises. I love the satisfaction of finishing a book and wondering who best to pass it on to. I love that, when our world is compressed to a 140 character fragment, books teach us to be patient.

As a young graphic designer, I dreamed of making all the tedious decisions that forge a well-designed book; constructing the perfect balance between design and content. Simultaneously, the rising digital age instilled uncertainty surrounding the resilience of the printed book.

In an article for Forbes, David Vinjamuri identifies three distinct technological advances that have revolutionised the publishing industry;

1) e-readers
Despite my initial horror, these things are alright – super-light, great battery life, and conveniently storing enough books to keep you from befriending coconuts should you find yourself suddenly deserted on an island. For authors, they bring a flatter playing field; niche books have unlimited ‘shelf-time’ and the quality gap between independent and mainstream books is diminished. Services like store your eBook library allowing you access from anywhere on almost anything with a web browser.

2) Social Media
Bob Stein of The Institute for the Future of the Book New York, declares the social nature of books ‘as the foundational cornerstone of reading and writing going forth into the future’. Twitter, Facebook and review sites like GoodReads make it easier to make recommendations to lots of friends at the same time. For authors, networks connect them directly with their readers, allowing them to share their process, promote work and gauge the response.

3) Low-Cost Self-Publishing
Self-publishing has become simple and relatively cheap. PressBooks is an online service allowing you to create and distribute ebooks for any device, connecting users with Kindle, Apple iBooks, Nook and other retailers. Paperight connects published works with print-on-demand services for consumers across South Africa.

So, within this context, how are innovative designers approaching the form of the book?

1) Visual Editions
Working closely with authors and designers, the visual language isn’t extraneous, but integral to the story being told. In their second edition, VE worked with Sara de Bondt and Jonathan Safran Foer to (literally) cut a new story, out of an existing book. You can watch the making of ‘Tree of Codes’ here. Foer’s welding of narrative and materiality rival the dynamism of the digital realm – offering a unique, almost antidotal alternative.

VE utilise Twitter to for multiple purposes: direct contact with readers, offering updates, garnering feedback and revealing an insiders view into publishing; they also use it to connect with potential collaborators – artists, designers and authors. Promotional videos shared via Youtube offer depth to the experience of discovering their work online.

As an exploratory exercise, IDEO identified a number of new opportunities for readers, publishers and authors to discover, consume and connect across digital formats. One of these concepts, ‘Coupland’ makes book discovery a social activity within the workplace. Businesses can assign book budgets, building a collective library through a group-licensing model. Personal recommendations, aggregated reading patterns and the ability to follow inspiring individuals/groups make it easy for busy professionals to stay on top of industry must-reads.

This concept assesses the environment in which a book is presented, offering opportunities near impossible in the physical realm. It could be implemented in any business, large or small, providing new ways for senior management to mentor their staff with very little effort.

3) Irma Boom
I could discuss the work of one of the most awarded book designers in recent history, but she does it better herself. Watch an interview here.

In summary, the digital realm is immediate, interactive and contextual, the printed realm being physical and experiential. Both, increasingly social, serve different functions and are not only valid, but essential.

– Rebecca Worth


Posted by