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A chance meeting with an acquisitions editor at the 2005 AIGA
Design Conference, in Boston, propelled me into my first book
publishing experience. Since 2000, my colleagues and I at Oregon
State University have emphasized writing in our graphic design
curricula, and I wanted to apply some of these ideas to a book—not
to reiterate traditional skills and methodologies of basic writing
courses, but to approach writing from a different perspective: a
visual one. My informal “pitch” for a book on the subject of
writing and design came back with an enthusiastic reply from the
publisher. “Yes, we are very interested—but we want it to be an
e-book.” Wait, did you say an e-book? When I saw that word staring
back from the screen, I felt my elation quickly fade. In my mind, I
had just been handed the publishing world's consolation prize.
As excited as I am about new technology and all it has to offer,
I had a hard time mustering enthusiasm for an electronic book.
Perhaps my reticence had to do with the clunky e-books I had seen
to date, some nothing more than a scanned print book, with little
or no interactivity. And call me old fashioned, but I really love
the sensation of flipping through the pages of a printed book. An
afternoon spent at Powell's Books (a great independent bookstore in
Portland) is one of my favorite pastimes. “Flipping” through an
e-book equated to tapping arrow keys on the computer. My first
reaction was disappointment, but then I started to rethink the
possibilities. What else could the “e” in e-book stand for besides
An expandable book—with the addition of links and other
An educational book—encouraging learning through
An economical book—costing nothing to print and
An environmental book—no paper, no waste.
An ear-friendly book—one that could be heard by the vision
impaired, thanks to Read Out Loud software capabilities.
An exciting book—not only fun to create, but enjoyable to
read and experience.
And the more I thought about engaging the 18-24 target audience
I was writing for, the clearer it became that an e-book was the
perfect medium to talk about writing. The result is Writing for Visual Thinkers: A Guide for Artists and Designers, exploring the
potential of writing as a way to better understand the process of
visual communication. Since there are already excellent books that
focus on traditional writing and grammar conventions, I used the
format to begin a dialogue, in particular with undergraduate art
and design students, about the many exciting ways that writing can,
and should, be part of their creative lives.
Sample page highlighting the work of Warren Lehrer, including
Writing a book as an interactive PDF offers some interesting
challenges. Whereas a print book keeps a reader engaged within the
confines of the book, a PDF e-book allows the reader to click on a
link and leave the book anytime. I pondered the ramifications of a
reader moving dozens of links away from the original link and
ultimately the book itself. An interactive book by its very nature
is meant to allow the reader to explore the subject matter in
whatever way they choose. The fact that a reader may be dozens of
links away from the original book link is a good thing and allows
the reader more freedom to explore the subject. The links also
allow for easy expansion of content—for example, a reference to
Jack Kerouac can result in a video link showing his On the
Road scroll being unrolled.
As with many subjects, I realized that a book about writing
could grow into a 500-page tome and I wanted the PDF to be no more
than 120 pages. Narrowing and shaping the content was challenging,
but again I found the links added a level of detail to the content
that would have been impossible to include in the book.
A page on collabortive works, such as Portland-based magazine
As the content for each chapter unfolded, I began to color code
potential links in the text—and ended up with over 500 throughout
the book. Deciding on which sites to link to seemed daunting and an
initial criteria I set was that a link had to move the reader to a
quality site, both visually and verbally. There may be exceptions,
but I find verbal content suffers when a webpage is visually
challenging—too many colors, too many typefaces with a poor
hierarchical layout. I tend not to trust information I can't
Wikipedia presented another issue. This site has become the
first and possible last site many students go to when researching
anything, and many Wikipedia sites are not accurate. Was I
perpetuating the idea that Wikipedia is the be all, end all to
subject understanding, by having so many Wikipedia links in the
book? I wrestled with this question for a while and in the end saw
the Wikipedia links as jumping off points for further reading.
An e-book allows for a variety of media and I was interested in
adding audio interviews to the book. The interviews allow the
reader to hear leading artists, designers, educators and writers,
discuss their thoughts on writing, reading, editing and making. My
participants spoke to me via Skype through their computer and I
recorded the podcast interviews remotely onto my computer using an
inexpensive and simple piece of software called Call Recorder.
Overall this worked well, though background noise such as traffic
and trains can sometimes be heard. The advantage of an e-book is
that future interviews can be easily added and sent to those who
have already purchased the book, thus keeping the dialogue about
writing alive. To that end, I have come to realize that an e-book
can be an ever-changing book, where readers voices can help shape
future content that can be added simply and inexpensively.
My venture into e-publishing has been exciting, educational and
exhausting. Upon completion, I started to think about how
Writing for Visual Thinkers would work as a print book. As
much as I love print, I now can't imagine the book in any other
Listen to Andrea's interview with Warren Lehrer from the
Download an excerpt from Writing for Visual Thinkers.
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