NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

Member of International Council of Design ico-D

English | فارسی

Neshan 29



Matthew Terdich

Just as mechanical printing devices revolutionized access to information hundreds of years ago, the rise of digital technology and electronic publishing now challenges our definition of books and the role they play in society. In a rudimentary sense, a book functions as an object—to contain, present, and share information and ideas through the use of words and images. Technological advancements for digital books enable readers to explore and interact with these same elements as well as video and interactive content, in a singular, multi-sensory experience. As the digital platform begins to surpass print and become the dominant method of consuming content, it is worth considering the relationship between these two formats and the criteria used to define books.

A compelling example of a book that has been translated into an immersive application is “Our Choice”, published and developed by Rodale Media, Push Pop Press, Al Gore, and Melcher Media. “Our Choice” serves as an exploration and a persuasive analysis of the history of our climate crisis and its possible solutions. The rich multi-media content features a documentary video, interactive information graphics, and both audio and written narratives. All of which allow the audience to explore the issues, the science, their politics, cultural perspectives, and methods that manage climate change. The variety, depth, and nature of the information presented in “Our Choice” integrates formats from the persuasive essay, encyclopedia, and science exhibition to establish the groundwork for a multi-sensory approach for content-engagement. One particularly intriguing example is when the reader is invited to gently blow over the microphone to generate power, in a feature that explores wind energy. The captivating degree to which interactivity has supplemented “Our Choice” foreshadows the direction immersive applications may take as they translate the printed page to the digital environment.

Another example that demonstrates how technology can augment the experience of reading literature is a recently released app called “The Sonnets by William Shakespeare”—developed by TouchPress, in collaboration with Faber, Illuminations, and Ardent Shakespeare. “The Sonnets” presents all of Shakespeare’s poems (total of 154) with interactive annotations, which assist readers in understanding Elizabethan dialect and their historical context, as well as written commentaries and analyses of each work. In addition, a reproduction of the 1609 quarto allows for the study of Shakespeare’s manuscript as it was originally published. Each poem is further supplemented with videos featuring performances of notable actors and Shakespearean scholars—available in either full screen view or in split screen format where a written copy displays in sync with what’s being read. The immediate manner in which one can access this wealth of information establishes a clear difference from the printed book. Both “Our Choice” and “The Sonnets” raise the question of whether or not we can consider these immersive environments an extension of the printed page or a new experience altogether.

While the focus of both apps is on the original content of their respective authors, the supplementary information and the nature of the digital environment requires an approach to content organization that resembles a website more than the linear narrative of a book. The inherent characteristics of virtual space allow the narrative experience to assume a non-linear profile that is much more fluid and immediate than print. Furthermore, by adapting the printed book to a digital environment, enriching the written content with interactivity and multi-media becomes inevitable. This process transcends the original intent of the book and transforms it into a highly specialized digital encyclopedia that augments, complements, or expands the experience of the subject.
As mobile devices become ever more ubiquitous and a method of content consumption, one can surmise that likewise, the printed page will become increasingly more rare. While some may lament these developments as the death of print, it is precisely because of the fact that these two experiences are distinctly and substantially different, that they can coexist. The recent establishment and success of print-on-demand and self-publishing sites indicate that an audience remains for printed books. Such companies offer the possibility to create, print, sell, and market one’s work without the production costs of traditional publishing models. These businesses are successful, partially because people enjoy creating and collecting physical documents of meaningful events, images, and publications.

While apps offer exciting opportunities to engage and explore myriad types of content, the tactility and constancy of the printed page provide a physical manifestation of literary and experiential journeys. As more books are translated into immersive apps, it will be interesting to observe if authors will begin to develop content exclusively for this environment, and if so, what forms would they take. Although the printed book may no longer stand as the primary means in which society consumes and distributes knowledge, it will continue to be important as a physical and temporal record of our individual and collective experiences.

Matthew Terdich

is executive creative director of the Chicago Design Museum. He has previously worked as a visiting assistant professor of design at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been recognized by AIGA, the Society of Typographic Arts, the Type Directors Club, Communication Arts, and the Trvanna Poster Triennial. He holds a BFA and MFA in graphic design from the University of Illinois at Chicago and an MAS in visual communication from the Basel School of Design in Switzerland.

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