what we’re most interested in is modular publishing, to rethink the book as a format. To break the content into building blocks, on the smallest possible level.

Pia Pol, Deputy Publisher and Editor at Valiz Publishing, Interview February 2019.

The best thing about the physical book is its natural way of binding content together. Combining text and images on the static paper will grow in the digital realm to combining various additional content, such as moving images, sound files and clickable links.

In this chapter, we will shortly review content elements and ways for them to be re-gathered in the digital arena.

The digital metamorphoses of text occurred when computers evolved from calculating machines to word processors, during the 1960s. By now, Microsoft’s Word software is default to millions of users around the world and being taught in primary schools. Texts are being created and edited almost entirely in digital ways.

Since the use of chats and e-mails in the late 1990s, texts are also being transferred digitally. The World Wide Web has taught us to consume texts on digital devices daily.

“The digital textual medium constitutes a more level form of cultural transmission: democratic, fluid, tending towards disorder, consisting of endless chunks of textual matter, connected actively and deliberately through links, and passively and potentially through search queries, allowing endless permutations and recombinations.”

Adriaan van der Weel, Changing our textual minds – Towards a digital order of knowledge, Manchester University Press, 2011

Text for books defers much from other current digital texts in a few ways. The first and most prominent is their length. Another significant difference would be its continuity. Books’ texts are edited in linear reading order, depending on each other. A challenge for digital reading will be to re-order them in non-linear manners.

Another difference is that printed books’ texts are becoming an unchangeable, long-lasting perpetuation of ideas. On a digital platform, texts can be endlessly revived and re-ordered, and the containers’ design will need to keep that in mind.


“I think in most of the times the story is told through images and design as much as through text. Many architects confess to us that normally they just look at pictures and don’t read the text. We heard that very often.”

Eelco Van Welie, Director of Nai/010 Publishers. Interview, March 2019.

Books’ visual content varies from non to only, depending on the character of the publication. Images can include photography, illustrations or data visualisation.

While on paper images remain static and are limited by numbers and functions, the digital presentation of visual content has many possibilities that can create an interactive connection with the content, such as image galleries, pop-ups, camera interaction and more.

In the following phase, we would deepen with those possibilities by testing various content.

From the auctioneer reading out the king’s orders, through Kanye singing psalms in the church quire – written stories had audio versions since long. Their digitalization process began with the radio. One of the British BBC’s highlights was Orson Welles reading ‘War Of The Worlds’ in 1938, causing panic among listeners. Recordings of books readings were printed on vinyl records, and later on magnetic tape-cassettes.

The cassette tapes, followed by cd’s, allowed a more extensive usage in libraries and also generated the creation of a new commercial audiobook market. The audiobooks, marketed initially for visually impaired people, became very popular for other target audiences such as working people listening in their long driving hours and as children’s bedtime stories. There are few apps today offering libraries of audiobooks.

Introducing MP3 – compressed audio format – at the beginning of the 1990s enabled audio stories to be transferred and downloaded in large scales through the web. One of the most popular forms of audio storytelling today is the podcast – short audio stories of a journalistic sort. Spotify intends to invest half a billion dollar the coming year in developing its podcast range alone.

Audio can be part of the new digital reading content in many different ways – background music, readings and more.

From entertainment animations through live news, TV series, documentaries and music videos – the moving images are currently the most consumed medium by men. Accordingly, it has multiple technological platforms for creating, editing and distributing. Those platforms are available in many forms and are suitable for professional making as much as for amateurish use.

Videos, animations and infographic motions can contribute a lot to support and explain ideas. They can add another layer of interest and interaction with the content. In the next phase of creating content containers, we would test the best ways to combine motion images in a way that won’t interfere with the required reading attention.

“The evolution of the book״ by Julie Dreyfuss for TED-Ed

From a technological perspective, we would test various motion files, embedded and linked, in a way that won’t affect the frictionless of the experience.

The 3rd dimension.

“Among the few who had a vision… was a young sociology student by the name of Theodor Holme Nelson. With the programming project that Nelson started as an M.A. student at Harvard University in 1960, he had in mind nothing less than the creation of a word processor with exactly the kind of functionality that the world is now accustomed to. What he wanted was ‘a text handling system which would allow writers to revise, compare, and undo their work easily’. Unfortunately, though Nelson had the vision, he lacked the means to realize his idea. A few years later, … he abandoned his first project to address an even more ambitious one: the concept of hypertext.”

Adriaan van der Weel, Changing our textual minds – Towards a digital order of knowledge, Manchester University Press, 2011

The term ‘hypertext’ was coined by Nelson in 1965 and was the first concept to create a third dimension to the written text: hypertext offered a non-linear reading experience by referring to another layer of information – written or visual – and by that expanding the ideas of every mainframe. The establishment of the internet and it’s becoming the world’s most significant archive of information made the hypertext a hyperlink – allowing a connection to all desired data by a click on a blue word.

Looking at hyperlinks for the new digital reading experience opens up opportunities for many classic features of book content such as clickable footnotes, links to extra information, related topics and more. Design wise, it offers working with multiple layers in one format. In the next phase of the research, we would experiment with various options of layering information, to be described in the guide for the new digital reading experience.

Combining Mediums.
Currently, there are 3 common ways to combine various mediums. The first is to keep all mediums separate and link them by the assistance of external codings, such as hyperlinks, or QR codes.

The second will be the content-container hybrid – the PDF, or in its slightly more advanced feature as XML-based e-pub. The e-pub’s goal is to bring the bundled content to digital reading devices. To do so, it is using the familiar print-oriented software, layouts and functions, adjusting them with few features taken from the digital arena: flexible structure (adjustable per device) and hyperlinks.

Another current option for combining content are websites. Based on code languages, websites have the natural abilities to combine various content mediums on one platform while giving it a designable form. Their downside regarding complex publishing content is in their way of usability, commonly used to present short-to-medium length of content.

Creating e-pubs has already exposed many content creators – both writers and book designers – to ways of transforming their content into digital files with basic digital features. Currently, there are no developmental skills required to create an epub, and it can be done from standard text editing software such as Word and Indesign. Building websites on a basic level has also become much more simplified in the past few years, thanks to platforms such as WordPress and Wix.

In creating the new content-containers, we find it important to test more case-studies with the existing technologies and detail the ways to use them in the guide for designing the new digital reading experience.

Digital Content-Containers.
We believe the solution for the best digital reading experience should allow maximizing the digital possibilities in the best way relevant to the content presented. Editing the content with a digital outcome in mind should be reflected in the ability to design and construct it as such, without the limitations of print-based technology.

“In print, there are sort of rules for the design, but they allow so much room and space that the variations are endless. You can play with those rules. I think that is hard to translate to the digital environment because if you take those conventions of physical books into a digital environment – what do you do with it? Those conventions haven’t established yet.”

Eelco Van Welie, Director of Nai/010 Publishers. Interview, March 2019.

Flexible design methods within clear guidelines can create unique designs as well as systematic designs. In the following phase, we wish to supply designers clear guidelines on creating the containers for the new digital reading experience. We would define guidelines for the content’s layout, usability and files technical requirements, to further to allow editors and designers to express their content in the best way they see fit.

We would test creating content-containers with various software and programming methods, in a wide range of code-needed knowledge to be able to set the best conventions for designing for the digital arena.

Creating the Digital Content-Containers.
The classic content elements of books receive new options in the digital arena. Outside the book’s world, all those elements have become known to people on platforms such as websites, social networks and short-to-long digital publications such as newspapers and magazines.

For the new digital reading experience, we would test combining the various content mediums of in-depth reading texts, multiple images types, sound and motion files in one container. We wish to deepen our research and expand it to more technological options that currently exist in the market.

next article: Creating a Shared Platform