This project started in 2006 at the Royal College of Art as a MA project that looked into books as a general area of interest, thus the book itself as an object as well as everything else associated with it. What made this area interesting was that the book as a product is associated with a large number of familiar notions, emotions, habits, memories and activities, while with the exception of graphic designers, industrial designers have been rather silent concerning book design.

The challenge laid in the underlying conflict between the archetype human perception of what books are, how they are manufactured, distributed and used and the dawn of the e-book era. Digitalization offers numerous advantages and countless possibilities, but can it be utilised without alienating the reader from his century old habit of reading?

That raises a question:

Are there new design approaches to the book that will make it still relevant in the future? Does it make sense to introduce a change in the format of the book, like the transition from the scroll to the codex and is it possible to change people’s perception about what a book is and how it is read? What would be the benefits of doing that?

Judge A Book By Its Cover

The book in its current form is a device comparable to any other electronic device. It comprises of different elements and materials, the right combination of which, is an old craft and is a requirement for the book to work efficiently. From a product design point of view, the materials used for making books are much more intimate than the plastic casing of electronic hardware. In fact, as books get older they become more attractive; years of use often add to the book’s appeal and the user is proud to display them and pass them on to the next generation. In comparison, digital devices like e-readers have a lifespan similar to the ones found in mobile phones. Technology and industrial design soon becomes outdated and the reader will soon replace them with a newer models.

It can be argued that the medium of the information shouldn’t be important, since it is the content that counts in the end. However, such an argument neglects the emotions human develop towards objects and the direct correlation the design of the book might have on the perception of the actual content. We do after all judge a book by its cover.

First concept sketch of interactive paper book.

Book = Interface

It is, however, the book’s functionality, that kept its format unchanged for centuries. A simple test of reading the same text from a book and form a screen reveals how difficult it is to find a piece of information in the latter case. Flipping pages in an e-book doesn’t give any intuitive indication of the reading position within the whole piece of work. In comparison, a book always indicates to the reader of whether he is at the beginning, half-way or the end of the book.

Testing reading the same text from paper and from screen.

Through evolution the brain has developed a highly sophisticated spatial map. A reader familiar with a textbook can find information that he is looking for with high accuracy, as evidenced by their ability to remember whether something that was seen only briefly was on the right or left

 

side of a spread. Furthermore the tactile connection with the brain's spatial map comprises a highly natural and effective interface, when such information is embodied on actual multiple physical pages. Another aspect of embodying information on multiple pages in sequence is that of serendipity and comparison. We may leaf through a large volume of text and graphics, inserting a finger to bookmark those areas of greatest interest for comparison [*].

It is for those reasons that this project argued the superiority of the book as an interface to access information. On the other hand its limitations are obvious: it is not possible to link printed content with digital content whether multimedia or online text, whether stored in the proximity of our desk or remotely on the Internet.

While printed media coexist physically with digital ones on every studio, lab, office or home, they do not coexist harmonically. Thus, they are not connected with each other.

Can these two worlds, the digital and the physical, coexist in a product that would offer the benefits of both these worlds..?



[*] The last book, by J. Jacobson, B. Comiskey, C. Turner, J. Albert, and P. Tsao, 1997, I.B.M.