June 17, 2014 Last Updated 11:15 am

New interactive eBooks show that sometimes simplicity can work, too

New eBooks published by many publishers, such as Lonely Planet and Phaidon, wisely concentrate on design and readability more than they do tech wizardry

Being involved in digital publishing in the Chicago area can be a pretty depressing occupation. The Tribune’s media reporter ignores anything involving digital media, and the book publishers – and there are quite a number of them – will lecture you about how readers are only interested in good narratives. Leave all that digital hocus pocus for the folks on the east and west coasts.

Rams-iPad-chapterTrying to convince media folks and publishers here that digital media does not have to mean lots of HTML animation and video, and that good digital design actually adds something to many, many book projects is a Sisyphean enterprise.

But interactive eBooks do not have to be production projects such as the brilliant The Mozart Project, filled with video and audio, discussion areas, and animations.

A quick look at three eBooks, all built with iBooks Author, show that simple works, too.

Dieter Ramms: As Little Design As Possible by Sophie Lovell is a good, and ironic example. The new book is expected to be published in mid-July, but readers can download a sample now to get a flavor.

Designed in portrait orientation, its emphasis appears to on the text and graphics. So why do the book as an interactive eBook? Because only by designing for a fixed layout can you get the same freedom to create as you can in print. In other words, if you are going to publish digitally, why handcuff yourself by creating an ugly Kindle edition or ePub book that ends up ruining the reader experience?

In fact, it is an insult to print to treat digital so poorly.

The new eBook is published by Phaidon who is getting lots of help from Apple in promoting their books as they use iBooks Author. An eBook that has already been published that provides a good example of keeping it simply, but elegant is Fäviken by Magnus Nilsson. Fäviken is a restaurant in a remote farm in northern Sweden run by Fäviken Magasinet – so this is one of those chef cookbooks that readers so like.

This iBook is designed in landscape, but again the design is simple, with the emphasis on the pictures, as well as the recipes (and the restaurant’s story).

That print publishers wouldn’t understand that building an eBook such as this takes nothing away from the text is a bit hard to understand. But then again, the problem may lie in their familiarity with what is being published, rather than simply stubbornness.

More complex eBooks that use iBooks Author come from Lonely Planet. Their series of travel books use much more of the wizardry that digital can supply, but still allows for easy navigation, and plenty of room for words.

In the gallery below, the last slide shows an example of the use of a scrolling text box, a widget that saves designers who find, to their horror, that the text simply won’t fit onto the page they are designing. The two slides before that one show a bit of interactivity that makes total sense on an eBook.

There is an enormous amount of excellent publishing being done, it is such a shame that getting some media types (and other publishers) to take notice is such a chore.

[tribulant_slideshow gallery_id=”35″]

  • Mark D'Antoni 4 years ago

    I don’t know about Chicago, but it’s a big wide world out here. You’ve made some excellent points about designing digital publications. Good design works (or doesn’t) for digital, as well as print books. A title can be over-designed, ugly, or great!

    I think many media types dismiss digital at their professional peril. With fixed-layout EPUBs, iBooks Author, and Adobe making advances in books, magazines and digital apps, there is a tide upon us — a wave of innovation exploiting exciting new advances in technology which will change publishing as we know it. Pretty cool.

    Thanks for the article, D.B. Hebbard.