On A List Apart, Craig Mod has a totally spot-on inquiry into the different ways of looking at content on an iPad, and the different metaphors for book, magazine, newspaper, and so forth. This is something that I’ve always found fascinating, and it’s not just electronic publishing.
This may sound like it’s out of left field, but the first time I ever saw vinyl siding, I sort of looked at it and wondered why on earth it had to look like wood. You had plastic, and you could pretty much shape it any way you wanted, make it look like anything, it being plastic, and you made it look like wood, and in a way that wood didn’t even look like wood. I understand, of course, that you want a product that people will buy, but if we are no longer talking about wood, which as wonderful as it is, has limits to its plasticity, and in the form of siding is pretty much going to look like wood. So why not re-imagine what the siding of a house could look like?
Tablets are in many ways just like physical books—the screen has well defined boundaries and the optimal number of words per line doesn’t suddenly change on the screen. But in other ways, tablets are nothing like physical books—the text can extend in every direction, the type can change size. So how do we reconcile these similarities and differences? Where is the baseline for designers looking to produce beautiful, readable text on a tablet?
Which, however inelegantly, brings me back to ebooks and metaphors for reading. Does it have to look like a book? Given that it can pretty much look like anything we might want it to, how can that be imagined, or re-imagined? Does it have a spine? Do the pages turn like Apple’s iBook pages? Or do the pages skate right and left like those in Stanza? or do they scroll continuously?
Yes, you need to give your reader a means for knowing where he/she is and how to get from there to the next bit. And Mod has done a great job of providing a way of looking at how we look at text on a tablet. He also provides a gorgeous template for experimentation. Check it out.