Skeuomorphism is a funny word, isn’t it? It refers to making new things feature non-functional design elements of older things—most notably in things like making iBooks have page-turn animations, or making a “Save” icon look like a floppy disk that hasn’t been used in ten or twenty years. But the funny thing is, it works in reverse, too.
Blogger Brian Solis has been studying user experience, user interface, and visual design for over three years. He has written a book about user design, called X: The Experience When Business Meets Design—and it’s apparently a big, important thing that he designed the book to be shaped like an iPad Air. An article on Laughing Squid quotes him as saying:
The shape of the book is an iPad Air. I had to re-learn how to write sentences and they’re grouped in blocks to fit attention windows before white space or imagery is introduced. This is done to promote learning and page-turning. I also translated paragraphs into visuals that mimic what you would see in popular apps. You swear you can swipe and pinch/zoom as you’re reading it. The whole production required a new process for printing. …If I could do this for a book, anyone can do anything. It’s a physical example of what happens when you question everything and re-imagine what else can re re-invented for these crazy times.
Solis talks a little about the writing process for the book in this entry from his blog, and discusses a stay at Disneyland that he considered to be an example of the perfect user experience.
The book looks a lot more square than an iPad in the photo that goes with the article, but if I go to Amazon and click “Look Inside The Book” it does seem to be iPad-screen-shaped there. It seems designed to be read in the shape of an iPad in landscape view, and has various design elements including pages with colored backgrounds, inset graphics, and so on. (An example page can be seen at left.)
I’ll grant that the design is fairly slick-looking—for a physical book. But if I view the Kindle sample on my Fire’s Kindle e-book reader (seen at right), the interface is a little less compelling. It does manage to have the same font colors and background colors for some areas of text (impressive, I’ll admit—I hadn’t known it was possible to do that with a Kindle e-book) but the section of header font that takes up only half the page in the print version now takes up several screens, and is a little distracting to page through. But when you want to read a coffee-table book on the size of a small clipboard, you have to make some sacrifices.
For that matter, I imagine that even reading the book on an iPad Air would cause some eyestrain, if you tried to view the exact content and design of the print edition. The book might be shaped like an iPad air, but it’s also larger than one. Someone trying to view it on a standard-sized iPad would probably need to zoom in.
The print edition seems reasonably well-designed for print, and might even have a shot at that Design Observer competition for well-designed books. The Kindle edition seems to be about as well-designed as a Kindle edition can be, and manages to carry over more design elements from the print edition than I would have thought it could.
I haven’t actually tried to read the whole book itself, of course, nor have I looked at a copy of it in person. I imagine it might be fun to read. I suppose I could make fun of the “make it look like an iPad” design idea, but honestly, it doesn’t look any better or worse than a number of other glossy book designs I’ve seen. There’s not really anything about it to suggest the idea of an iPad to me, and I wouldn’t have known that was the intention if he hadn’t outright said so. I imagine he said so in the hope of stirring up more coverage of and publicity for the book. (And here I go giving him what he wants.)
When you get right down to it, the idea of design is to make things more attractive and easier for people to use. In the case of a book, that means easier to read. I don’t see anything about the book that looks especially hard to read.
What I also don’t see is any attempt at incorporating multimedia elements into it, like a movie clip of Disney to show why their customer service is so great. And that’s fine. A book is a book; designing it for maximum readability in print is a fine idea, but there’s no reason it needs to be “improved” in order to be fit for its purpose.