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Ebooks

26 Jul

So far, with the exception of the Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, I’ve only looked at print books in this scrapbook, but I think that it’s really important to give some consideration to ebooks and how they are designed. While I think that, for nostalgic reasons, ebooks will retain a lot of characteristics of print books I also think that there are a number of things that will and should change.

I’ve got a couple of examples from ebooks I’ve downloaded myself here and there are a few aspects I think I can discuss now.

The first, and most obvious, is what the role of covers will be. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and the more that I think about it the more I think that a strong and uncomplicated image with clear text will be the key to a good cover. If you think about it, when you’re shopping for books (be they e- or otherwise) online, you’re choosing them from thumbnails which are literally the size of the tip of your thumb. What is the point going to the in having a whole lot of tiny text espousing the good critical reputation of the book when nobody is going to see (or probably even read it) anyway? Something that’s eye-catching on a small scale will be what works, I think. In a way I think this is opening up cover design to a whole lot of new possibilites. Think about the Paperclip cover I talked about: something like this could be hugely effective online because it’s simple, clear and intriguing.

Anyway, that’s enough about covers. The internal design of ebooks needs to be negotiated differently to how it is in print. At the moment, it seems like a lot of ebooks are retaining the extra pages at the front (imprint, half-title, title, dedication, etc) that are traditionally in print books but there is no reason that ebooks need to follow this format (all these extra pages are included in the examples I’ve downloaded at least). As a number of speakers and other members of our class have mentioned, it’s actually just annoying to have unnecessary front matter in an ebook because it means you have to scroll or flick through it. Why can this information not be included in one section that’s at the end of or even separate to the ebook document? There’s no reason that just because books have always been set out according to a certain set of rules that ebooks also have to be set out according to the same rules: an ebook on an ereader is a completely different format to a print book. What is nice or pleasing in a print book is not necessarily going to be so in an ebook.

Then there’s the whole aspect of contents pages. One of the examples I downloaded has a contents page with the first sentence of each chapter hyperlinked. This is great: it makes it a lot easier to flick to the chapter you need and is making the most of one of the advantages of ebooks. It’s not very attractive though. The question for me here is, do you need to still make the contents page ‘pretty’ or is it simply enough to provide a list of links? I’m no authority, but I definitely lean towards the pretty side (although that’s probably just my inner nostaligic speaking).

I also ask myself what the deal is going to be with page numbers, headers, footers and the like. Surely they’re not necessary in an electronic document? But it seems like a lot of current ebooks, like the example I’ve included here, are retaining these features.

Something else I’ve also been thinking about is how we’re trained to read things on a computer screen or other electronic device. We’re used to scrolling down, but is this necessarily the best way to present a whole lot of text on a screen? The reason I’ve been thinking about this is because of one of the links that Matthew posted on one of our digital publishing discussion forums about websites and online documents designed to be read horizontally. I know that ereader devices (like kobo) scroll across, in the same way as a print book, but so far all the books I’ve downloaded for my computer scroll down. Still not sure what my preference is here, but I think it’s something to keep in mind.

Anyway, I think that my general feeling is that there are some crucial aspects of book design that are being renegotiated. So, knowing about and being aware of design in print books isn’t necessarily going to equal being aware of design in ebooks. I guess what it comes down to is being aware of how a book is intended to be used and making sure that its design facilitates that use at the same time as making it attractive.

Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand

10 Jul
Visit Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand online.
Visit and compare the 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand online.

With the developments in technology that have happened with computers and the internet and ebooks (and yaddayadda), there are some books that it really makes no sense to keep as ‘books’ anymore. Encyclopedias are a good example: why would anyone own five tomes that are stuck on their bookshelf when you could carry all that information around with you all the time on your computer? And, indeed, as is the case with Te Ara, you don’t even need to ‘carry’ it in your computer: all you need is the internet and you can access it.

I think Te Ara is an excellent example of how the internet and computers can make books even more accesible than what they were, but being in a different format to what they traditionally are, there are a whole lot of different design issues that arise. Luckily, we had Jock Phillips from Te Ara come and speak to our class, so I don’t have to try and be smart and come up with them on my own. According to Jock, the benefits of having a publication like Te Ara as a website are:

  • you can include multimedia resources that relate to and reinforce the text. Te Ara aims to have 1 resource for every 1000 words of text.
  • nationwide links! You don’t even have to provide all the information, you can simply link to other places you know provide it. Again, these links relate to and reinforce the text.
  • searching a website is much easier: you can find specific information instantly.
  • websites are easy to update as information changes (Jock also mentioned that this allows the audience to engage with what they’re reading, I guess by making suggestions).
  • there are many audiences: the website format can appeal to and be used by anyone from an ESL learner to an international scholar.

So, do I think it works and does the design reflect these intentions? Totally. I think it’s really easy to use, it’s made obvious where to find everything. Having the ‘What’s Inside’ menu directly below the introductory image is good, because it’s the first place you scroll to look for more information. And having the images helps to indicate that these are ‘main’ sections of the site.

Overall, I really like the ‘horizontal’ feel of the site. It’s great to land on a slideshow on each new page and I think the landscape format works really well with the format of a computer screen. There’s not too much text (which I find really overwhelming when I’m first trying to find information) and the text that’s important (like links to new pages) are made really obvious and not clouded by too much surrounding text.

It’s good to compare the layout and design of Te Ara with the 1966 Encyclopedia. The 1966 Encyclopedia is still set out in very much the same way as a traditional book encyclopedia would be which works but is not anywhere near as user-friendly or as accessible on a computer as Te Ara. Te Ara is a good example of how you can take an existing text and re-adapt it and enhance it in a different format.