Gutenberg the 3rd – A guide for digital books design – is officially launching.

Together, we aim to discover – can a right design for digital reading environment save book reading?

Project Introduction

To this day, the most familiar form of books are ink-printed paper sections, bined together. With the release of Kindle and Amazon’s e-books in 2008, “print is dead” was announced and the new era of digital reading was born. 10 years later, the transition of reading from paper to digital as a standard measure is still far from being accomplished. 

In the transition from printed text to the various digital reading environments, all eyes are focused on finding technological solutions for the constantly changing possibilities of the different reading devices. In this process, a key component has been neglected – the old art of book design.

The ‘digitalization process’ of various publishers, magazines and libraries offer online solutions of PDF files, originally designed to be printed. For many devices, this solution is not only minimal in design and possibilities, but is often not optimal for reading.

The almost endless possibilities that the new digital technologies can offer are barely used in the existing digital books. The young generation, who has the greatest potential for the new way of reading, reads mainly briefly and fragmented. The thorough reading disappears. 

Gutenberg I

The design process of a book is classic art. The history of typography is known since the Gutenberg Bible, the earliest mass-produced book who would change the face of society.

Until 1450, all existing books were copied manually or using wood-curved blocks. Gutenberg’s most influential invention was creating a set of individual pieces of moveable metal type that could be set up on a printing press, and then be reused for endless printed copies. 

The 42-line Gutenberg Bible holds an iconic status. The combination of content, design and revolutionary technology has made it the marker of the education revolution, the scientific revolution and laid the corner stone to mass communication as we know it today.

Gutenberg II

‘Project Gutenberg’ is the name of the first digital library of e-books, established by Michael Heart and named after Johannes Gutenberg’s famous invention. In his project, Heart aims to allow free access to cultural and historical books on a digital platform – the Project Gutenberg website. More than 55,000 printed books have been scanned and uploaded for the sake of perseverance, education and enjoyment.

Blessed as the idea is, the result had unfortunately very little influence on an actual shifting to digital reading. The readability of designed-for-print books on mobile devices is poor to erelevant, due to the extreme change of formats. In addition, due to copyright laws, the focus of the library’s content is set on older works, for which copyright has expired.

What this project demonstrate the most, is the need not only for a digital existence, but a complete digital approach – from content, through design and to the ultimate technological output.

Gutenberg III

This project’s goal is to make reading fit for the new reading era. The project, supported by the @stimuleringsfonds creative industry, is seeking to find out – can a right design for digital reading environment save book reading?

“Digital books are still painfully ugly and weirdly irritating to interact with.  They look like copies of paper, but they can’t be designed or typeset in the same way as paper… And the advantages of having a book in digital form have been ignored in favour of a weak simulacrum of paper. Until a digital book is a magical object… there’s still a need for shiny, gorgeous, satisfying books.  And when those things happen, …we will have lost nothing in the transition.”

Nick Harkaway, The Guardian

In our research, we drill into the process of book’s production, design and sales in the digital era – from the point of view of publishers, designers and technology providers.

In the following articles, we will keep discussing and demonstrating the development of reading, the importance of typography and the role of technology on our way to re-define the new form of books.

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