Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Book Covers, online resources and iPad stuff

Hi all,

Sandy invited me to post some stuff related to what I'm doing with books on the iPad, or as I like to call them 'AppBooks'.

Book Covers

First up, I'd like to share the following site I think you'll appreciate:

It's an online archive of book covers spanning more than a century of art. Hours of fun and inspiration for all.

A couple of websites

If you're looking for one of the many social media/sharing design sites that are all the rage at the moment to get feedback on your own or comment on other's work, I recommend dribbble.com and forrst.com. Dribbble's been around for a while. It's hard to get an account with them and it's pretty exclusive, but you can at least browse the content. Forrst on the other hand is one of the new start ups catering to both designers and developers. You can't view the content without an account, but you can sign up for an invite. I think there's a 2-4 week wait as Kyle (who runs the site) is scaling conservatively in terms of members and also tweaking and guiding the general content and character of the community. Forrst is less prestigious than dribbble, but is a friendly and encouraging network of people who will often post helpful suggestions on ideas and designs you are working on. I'm really enjoying it.

iPad stuff

I've been making iPhone apps for a couple of years and am now working on iPad apps with Appbooks. We will soon be releasing a fun iPhone/iPad app of 'Animalia' by Graeme Base.

My current passion is trying to come up with a solution to creating AppBooks for the iPad, and - as they come on the market - other 'tablet' devices running other OS like Android, in the belief that the future is an inevitable one in which digital books outsell printed books (and where printed books still exist but the market is smaller and has adapted somewhat... but that's a post for another time!). If you don't believe me, I can testify that I already purchase many more digital books than printed books - to the extent that sometimes I won't buy a book if it's not available in digital format.

Lately, I've been working on developing a cross-platform solution for AppBooks with the possibility (where appropriate) of some audio, video and/or animation enhancements. I've played a bit with ePub and Kindle books, but I find them quite boring right now and very limiting in terms of what you do with formatting (bugger all, unless in-line photos and the same fonts you had on your Apple 2E are your thing).

It's been a bit of a challenge as the industry is still very much in transition and moving a lot slower than I anticipated. While there is a certain interest in and anticipation for digital books, one can be quite confused trying to make sense of it all at present. And sadly, in Australia there seems to be in a 'wait and see' attitude that lets the US unnecessarily take the lead on this stuff.


A few years ago, Sandy Cull designed my book 'Darby' - she did an amazing job - you can see a couple of examples of the design here. Over the past week or so I've started playing with it as an example of what is possible on the iPad. With apologies to Sandy's design - although I am being guided by the design principles she implemented - I am adapting the book to the iPad and attempting to support both portrait and landscape orientations as per Apple's recommendation. Of course, I may decide that's too hard and lock it to landscape ;-)

It's been a bit of a challenge. One of the issues with supporting two orientations - and what are likely to be different dimensions to a book that was designed for print - is deciding whether to crop full page images for both orientations or decide on one for full screen and the other to display as a smaller image with white or black space either side.

For example, if a book was full screen in portrait mode, then in landscape you could choose to centre the portrait image leaving 'white space' either side. I may not do this with my own book - as I can make the creative decisions about its presentation - however when presented with adapting someone else's book design, I see this as a potential solution that maintains the integrity of the photos and without having lengthy discussions with the original designer, author or photographer.

For those familiar with HTML coding, in order to reformat for both orientations you run two different CSS files which show/hide on an orientation change.

I've been stoked to finally work out how to embed fonts on the iPad last week - so theoretically, an AppBook could look very similar to it's printed cousin. I see it as a valuable way of setting AppBooks apart from eBooks and thereby working towards a well designed reading experience on devices like the iPad (although I am beginning to think of it more as a 'guided' experience of the story that is being told).

I'm also excited about the possibilities of dynamic moving text, fading it in and out, adding audio as 'atmos' tracks or 'on tap' events, or including video and slideshows. Basically most of the things you can do with a website (without Flash which doesn't run on the iPad) you can probably do on the iPad. The challenge of course is not to go overboard. Sandy referred to the Alice app on the iPad in her first post on this site. I think that's a great example of restraint and often refer to it when talking about what a good enhanced book experience can be on the iPad. I could imagine using it to lull my nephews to sleep as a bed time story. Unfortunately, there are also many other examples that are more like watching a movie (see the Toy Story app on the iPad). On the other hand there are other iPad books that encourage the reader to engage and interact with the content - tapping here or there, solving a puzzle, looking for a hidden element - and that do it in a way that opens the reader's mind to explore further the creative intent of the author.

There is much I could add, but feel free to contact me if you'd like to discuss any of this stuff (via my website www.tootable.com). Always keen to do that!

In the meantime, I hope to share some of my thoughts and progress on the 'Darby' AppBook and post some links to examples of how it is looking in the coming weeks and get some feedback.

I would also welcome debate on the future of book design with you on this blog. I'm not a book designer. The closest I come to that is wearing my hat as a mobile developer or author. I'm fascinated to see how the publishing and book design industry is going to develop to embrace digital books. I'm also excited about how authors, illustrators and storytellers are going to approach a hybrid future where books, video, audio and websites are all formats that are available as storytelling mediums of entertainment, study, manuals, 'cookbooks', 'novels' and biographies... the stuff that we know as books now.

The book publishing industry is in transition - we've already seen it happen with music, photography and a number of other industries. I don't believe it's the death of books as some have tried to convince us - it's an adaptation to a new medium - an extra one - in our continued desire to consume, learn, engage and contribute to the age old tradition of telling, sharing and enjoying stories.



  1. A great and generous post thanks liam. I'll be very interested in your progress and terrific to have input from a developers pov. There seems to be a lot of fear and trepidation out there so your posts should help and educate. thanks again.

  2. Thanks Sandy. It's an exciting time to be a designer and a developer no? We get to stick to our core business but also have the opportunity to explore new ideas? We can all adapt while embracing an additional medium and some of us have the opportunity to contribute to the changes. Will I be a part of it? Will you? Will others who read or follow this blog? I hope that we in Australia have the guts to try, maybe fail, but get up again and blaze a trail prepared to be open minded about what the future might hold for our industry. Personally, I'd like to see the Australian publishing industry step up to the challenge more than they have done so far. Forget the wait and see attitude. In the wise words of Yoda... Do or do not. There is no try.

    I am frustrated that Australian publishers have been so slow to move on digital. I don't want to buy my books from US publishers. It's time to bite the bullet and jump in. Not just dip your toe in the water and send a few titles over to India to get converted to ePub and then when they don't sell point to them as an example of how digital books don't sell. The publisher that thinks big, invests in digital, takes on and solves the inherent problems of DRM and delivery, is a publisher that is investing in the future survival of their business.

    Well that's my two cents anyway.