“It’s really about the experience of reading or experiencing in general, it may not be reading, depending on what kind of content you’re working with. It starts with the content.”

Peter Bil’ak, editorial and type designer at Typoteque, Interview March 2019

More valuable than the technology itself is the change that occurred in society following the invention of printing 500 ago. It may be hard to imagine what the advent of the art of printing brought about, but the technological invention of Johannes Gutenberg in 1455 has profoundly changed the way people think and act.

Researches show that reading is still of high importance to human development and a cornerstone for our project. In our conversations with publishers and designers, the question of the suitable content rose frequently. Therefore, the first step in creating new digital reads will be choosing the right content for it. In this chapter, we will shortly review the first printed content and the effect it brought to society, to be used as a foundation for digital content possibilities.

Religion and State.

Gutenberg is seen as the inventor of the printing press. Even though there were books already before that time, those were handwritten or printed using wood engravings, and their distribution was limited. Since 1438, Gutenberg was already looking for a way to multiply the indulgence letter and the holy card in large numbers. The card was easy to reproduce using wood engravings. The letter of cancellation asked for a different process because the text was too difficult for wood engraving. Motivated to solve this problem, Gutenberg came upon the lead.

Gutenberg invented the moveable lead letters setting so that separate texts could be used to build a page. In addition to the individual letters, he also developed the printing press, metal moulds to cast the letters, the right alloy for the lead setting and the casting tool. Even a box for all 290 printing forms that are needed for the Latin 26-letter alphabet and the correct printing ink for printing.

Furthermore, he had to develop a font. He chose a Gothic letter, from the various manuscripts that were available. He created a complete manufacturing system to produce a bound document of information – the book.

Gutenberg’s invention quickly spread throughout Europe, and in 1473 the printing press entered the Netherlands via Utrecht.

The first page of Gutenberg's bible
The first page of Gutenberg’s bible

The first use for Gutenberg’s invention was a Bible, known since as The Gutenberg Bible, which was completed in 1455. Design-wise, the Gutenberg Bible is difficult to distinguish from the variant written at the time. Its letters were based on handwriting. The pages were partly coloured by hand and decorated with ornaments and hand-made initial capital letters. The revolutionary effect was in technology, enabling a massive spread of information to people who did not have access to it before. The new Bibles were published with commentaries and annotations, which allowd the readers to confront the words of God. The middle class could, for the first time, form an opinion about religion and politics. As a result, power relations changed in society and church.


Initially, the books that were planned for Gutenberg’s new printing technique were religious literature and textbooks. But the technology spread throughout Europe and the religious content was followed by many other types of content.

Country descriptions were printed for travellers, forms and model books were put to use for notaries, lawyers and city authorities. The first encyclopedia was printed in 1472, followed by the first dictionary. The first book to be called ‘Atlas‘ was published by Gerard Mercator in 1595.

Atlas by Gerard Mercator, 1595

Euclid’s Elements is a series of 13 mathematical books based on ancient Greek mathematicians, who formed the basis of mathematical education. Marco Polo’s ‘Le Livre des Merveilles’ (The Book of Wonders) was a research base for Christofer Columbus’ discovery expeditions.

The knowledge, that was until this point reserved for the few who had access to it, was now available for every researcher. Learning could be based on previous information, allowing an accelerated process of development.


Parallel to the progression of the press printing and bonded to it was the beginning of a new era – the Renaissance. The word “re-birth” applies to the end of the Middle Ages, who was typified as a time of war, ignorance, hunger and plagues to a new era of European cultural, artistic, political and economic thrive.

Some of the greatest thinkers, authors, scientists and artists in human history rose during this era, while global exploration opened up new lands and cultures to European commerce. Traditional Greek and Roman culture and values were printed and distributed to the masses. The Humanistic approach was born.

Looking at the printed content that changed society – history, philosophy, science, art, geography, economics and literature – will be the foundation of the catalogue for the new digital reading experience.

A Content Catalogue
What is the right content for digital publishing? The first step for starting a new digital reading experience will be defining a suitable content catalogue.

Looking at the technological invention of the print, it had the greatest effect on spreading knowledge and encouraging wider thinking.

For starting a new digital reading experience, we would begin with that type of content.

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