Sunday, November 27, 2011

eBooks & Experience Design

The paper based book has a very simple User Interface. A story created for today's tablets has to have an interface design that allows the reader to navigate through the content without getting in the way. You want to experience the story and not the interface.

Digital story telling is more about experience design than it is about story.  Of course, you need to start with a great story, in the same way a movie needs to start with a great script. Yet if you look at the overall costs of movie production, the script is a small percentage of the overall budget. An interactive story is more like a movie and less like a book. In terms of developing Digital Literature products, the process will be more aligned with movie production than book binding. The key role in developing interactive stories is 'The Director / Experience Designer.'

I have spent much of my career involved in film and television. I've worked on major movies, television commercials, network shows, etc. Most of the time, the people creatively in charge of those events are well studied and highly skilled with regard to their craft. Beyond their own expertise, there are often huge numbers of people involved in the production; art department, electrical, camera, wardrobe, make up etc. Once a script is written, a director takes over and he or she is responsible for bring the words to life on the screen. And that is precisely where books are headed, to the screen.

In my last post, It Takes A Village To Tell A Story, I was alluding to the number of people that need to be involved in bringing an interactive concept to life. As the traditional publishing world collapses, the role of the author is going to be transformed as well. This isn't going to impact Tom Clancy or any of the current A listed writers who have deals with top publishers. It will definitely impact future writers as it impacts the future of the publishing business. This is a huge opportunity for those willing to engage the risks.

Reading as an art form, as a joy and as a luxury will remain for several more generations. The novel isn't DOA just yet but it is being transformed by the forces in the environment. There is going to be an Interactive Experience that is as successful as Harry Potter and Twilight. It is just a matter of time. That work, whatever it is, will not be produced soly by a writer. We will take a team of people and a significant amount of capital to produce. I strongly believe there is a business there and there is a case to be made of how to do it.

While we have built the foundation of our digital publishing platform, we have only produced the first round of interactive picture books. There were a lot of reasons for beginning with picture books. They have very little functional requirements while being able to deliver the framework of an interactive story; pictures, text, audio and animation.

One of the things we have been discussing internally is how much time do we need to allow for designing the experience. One of the key factors here is tuning. You build something and then you keep iterating on it until it feels right. This happens with almost every element whether it's a button or the overall experience of the story itself.

We built really simple experiences and we've spent an enormous amount of time building and rebuilding pages so that they are easy to use and fun to engage. Our next story will be out shortly, we've added a new feature to improve the user experience. Not only are we learning how to make a great interactive story, we are also learning what people want in a product.

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