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Ed. note: This article was originally published on Barbara deWilde’s blog and has been modified slightly for this forum.
an interactive poll Tony Chu and I designed to provide a space for people to
display their feelings about the changing form of books. The site was created
in conjunction with the AIGA
“50 Books/ 50 Covers of 2010” exhibition, an annual showcase of the best in book
design. Visitors select AGREE or DISAGREE to seven statements that relate to
the function of physical books and ebooks in various scenarios that touch their
lives. The statements are as follows:
A virtual book is added to a shelf to register the response.
In the gallery of the National Design Center in New York, I designed an actual
12-foot-wide bookshelf with fellow grad student Michael Yap, where visitors
respond to the same statements by shelving a physical book: red books for AGREE
and black books for DISAGREE. The data is collected over time and the shelf
gets reset after it can hold no more books.
Without question the most difficult part of designing the
gallery exhibition and interaction was writing the statements. I worked with
Paul Pangaro, my professor at SVA where I’m earning an MFA in interaction
design, to gather a list of attributes that a successful statement would
possess. First, each needed to be simple but not obvious. Second, the content
had to touch upon physicality and its effect on functionality within James Bridle’s temporal model of the book. In his
model, the book is first an advertisement, next a reading experience and
finally a souvenir. Printed books work well at all points along the timeline.
Ebooks, however, make lousy advertisements, so-so reading experiences and
terrible souvenirs. Still, with technology digital books will evolve and
improve. Ebooks are more easily distributed, written and published. They are
the future of the industry and yet people have mixed feelings about the change.
The “50 Books/50 Covers” exhibition and WhatTheBook.org try to capture
the excitement as well as the unease surrounding this topic and to display it
as a means of opening up a conversation.
At the end of the interaction on WhatTheBook.org there is a
prompt to write a new definition of “book.” Once submitted, the definition can
be read and shared. In the gallery, a large chalkboard provides a place for new
definitions to be written, edited and displayed as well. The website feeds
definitions to the gallery at the beginning of the day. Today we have collected
nearly 1,500 book definitions on the website. The exhibit is open through the end of April,
but WhatTheBook.org will remain online through the end of 2012. The second phase of
the project will be to analyze the data and share it. You can read the
definitions by filling out the form and submitting a definition or by going directly to WhatTheBook.org/definition.
Your ideas for sharing, preserving or displaying the data are welcome.
Barbara deWilde is currently an M.F.A. candidate in Interaction Design at the School of Visual Arts and the author of whatthebook.org. She works as a designer and art director, teaches graphic design and lectures widely.
Johnny Meah is the end of the line—the last painter of carnival sideshow banners. His story is a kind of parable for many other jobs that are rapidly vanishing. Phil Patton writes about this rich artistic tradition.
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