Historical insights for ebook design

Published date21 November 2016
Date21 November 2016
AuthorHyunSeung Koh,Susan C. Herring
Subject MatterLibrary & information science,Librarianship/library management,Library technology,Information behaviour & retrieval,Information user studies,Metadata,Information & knowledge management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Historical insights
for ebook design
HyunSeung Koh and Susan C. Herring
Department of Information and Library Science,
Indiana University Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to provide ebook designers and researchers with design
insights by promoting historical knowledge about books and reading as sources of ideas to implement
in current and future ebooks.
Design/methodology/approach The authors review historical features of books and practices of
reading that have been implemented, weakened, or lost over time, referring to historical texts and
resources, and relate them to ebook viewers (software) and readers (hardware) that are currently on the
market. In particular, the review focuses on the physical form of the book and the practices of reading,
annotation, and bookshelving.
Findings While some older forms and reading practices have been implemented in ebook devices,
others have been forgotten over time, due in part to physical constraints that are no longer relevant.
The authors suggest that features that constrained print books and print reading in the past might
actually improve the design of ebooks and e-reading in the present.
Research limitations/implications This review is necessarily based on a limited set of existing
historical sources.
Practical implications Translatinginsights into noveltangible designs is alwaysa challenging task.
Ebook designers can gain insights from this paper that can be applied in a variety of design contexts.
Originality/value No previous work on ebook design has foregrounded historical aspects of books
and reading as viable sources of ideas to implement in ebooks.
Keywords Ebook, Interaction design, Book history, Ebook reader, Interface design,
Reading history, Bookshelf history
Paper type General review
The modern era is characterized by rapid technological innovation. Recently new
technologies such as electronic ink and electronic paper, for example, have been developed
for displaying contents in ebooks, and ebook readers such as the Amazon Kindle and the
Sony Reader have already adopted and released eink technology (Cavanaugh, 2015).
These new technologies combine the advantages of classical print books and the
computer screen specifically, the portability of print books and the rewritability of
the computer screen. More generally, they open wide the doors to possibilities for new
forms and capabilities of ebooks that go beyond the classical form of either the print book
or the computer screen. Among other advantages, they enable ebook designers to focus
less on the constraints of printing techniques and physical hardware and focus more on
the nature of reading itself in the design of ebooks. The current rapid speed of
development of other innovative technologies e.g., 3D printing, wearable computing,
virtual reality, robots should further encourage designers to think outside the box
regarding the design of ebooks (e.g. Carroll et al., 2003).
This paper proposes, somewhat paradoxically, that history is a rich source of insight
for modern ebook design. It reviews historical knowledge about books and reading and
relates that knowledge to issues in ebook design, with the goal of providing ebook
designers and researchers with design ideas. The ideas in many cases are not new in
Library Hi Tech
Vol. 34 No. 4, 2016
pp. 764-786
©Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/LHT-06-2016-0075
Received 30 June 2016
Revised 14 August 2016
9 September 2016
Accepted 16 September 2016
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
themselves, and some have been implemented in ebook devices, but others have been
weakened or forgotten over time. In reviving this knowledge, we argue that in order to
support optimal reading experiences in diverse modern reading contexts, it can be
fruitful to re-examine and re-evaluateolder forms of the book and olderreading practices.
The paper first briefly surveys literature on what kinds of ebook research has been
done so far and how the insights that inform the design of ebooks are usually obtained.
The main body of the paper then describes and illustrates historical forms and
practices associated with books and reading; discusses recently developed ebook
viewers (software) and readers (hardware) in which historical features have been
implemented, weakened, or lost; and makes recommendations for ebook designs that
draw on historical insights. In concluding, we call on the imagination and creativity of
ebook designers who read this paper to apply historical insights in their designs.
Ebook design literature
In order to create or enhance ebook viewers and readers, ebook design researchers have
tended to conduct empirical studies involving target groups of people (for a review, see
Koh and Herring, 2014). Forexample, user studies have often been conducted to identify
the needs of ebook users(e.g. Adler et al., 1998; Henke, 2003; Jamali etal., 2009; Marshall,
1997; Marshall and Bly, 2005; Marshall et al., 1999; OHara et al., 1998; Su, 2005).
User studies have also been conducted to evaluate existing or newly developed devices
(e.g. Chen et al., 2008; Dyson, 2004; Dyson and Haselgrove, 2001; Egan et al., 1989;
Hornbæk and Frøkjær, 2001; Malama et al., 2004; Marshall and Ruotolo, 2002;
Morris et al., 2007; Öquist and Lundin, 2007; Toms, 2000; Waycott and Kukulska-Hulme,
2003; Wigdor and Balakrishnan, 2005).
Findings from these empirical studies have typically been transformed into ebook
design insights by drawing ideas from the unique properties (features or affordances)
of different media. For example, some research has led to new forms of ebooks through
borrowing features from current forms of print books, such as page-turning animation
(e.g. Chu et al., 2004). Other designers have adopted dynamic features that are unique to
digital media, such as hypertext and virtual reality in ebook design (e.g. Carroll et al.,
2003; Golovchinsky and Marshall, 2000; Grasset et al., 2008; Melchior, 2001; Steichen
et al., 2009). Yet another line of research has resulted in new forms of ebooks, such as
interactive print books, that combine features of print books and digital media (e.g.
Back et al., 2001; Guimbretière, 2003; Norrie et al., 2005; Schilit et al., 1998a,b).
In short, design researchers have thus far usually obtained ebook design insights by
borrowing features from current forms of print books, adopting dynamic features that
are unique to digital media, or creating combinations of features from both print books
and digital media. No ebook design research has looked beyond the properties of
different media to evaluate historical aspects of books and reading as potential sources
of ideas to implement in ebooks. In contrast, this paper argues that numerous useful
design insights can be obtained by foregrounding historical perspectives and
identifying hidden historical gems.
Drawing ebook design insights from history
In the current interdisciplinary research climate, it seems appropriate to seek out ebook
design insights from various sources. In this section we trace historical aspects of
books and reading back to their early days and discuss aspects that have been lost or
weakened but that might still usefully inform the design of ebooks. Scholarship on the
insights for
ebook design

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