The Future of the Book, you say? [2013 edition]

Reading ahead
In 2010, we conducted a public-facing study about the future of books and reading, called Reading Ahead. We raised many fascinating questions including the design implications for the digital book experience: which elements of the traditional experience should move forward and which should be left behind.

Looking at the issue a few years later is the New York Times, with Out of Print, Maybe, but Not Out of Mind

Some functions of physical books that seem to have no digital place are nevertheless being retained. An author’s autograph on a cherished title looked as if it would become a relic. But Apple just applied for a patent to embed autographs in electronic titles. Publishers still commission covers for e-books even though their function — to catch the roving eye in a crowded store — no longer exists.

What makes all this activity particularly striking is what is not happening. Some features may be getting a second life online, but efforts to reimagine the core experience of the book have stumbled. Dozens of publishing start-ups tried harnessing social reading apps or multimedia, but few caught on.

Much of the design innovation at the moment, Mr. Brantley believes, is not coming from publishers, who must still wrestle with delivering both digital and physical books. Instead it is being developed by a tech community that “doesn’t think about stories as the end product. Instead, they think about storytelling platforms that will enable new forms of both authoring and reading.”

Reading Ahead: Focusing Your Story

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While we “delivered” our project’s results in an earlier post, in our client engagements we often have the experience of revisiting the same material for another audience. We might deliver a 3-hour interactive presentation with our core team, and then come back weeks later and share the highlights with their management team. And while we might panic at compressing the 3 hours into (say) one hour, it’s a really powerful editing activity when forced to do that. What is the core of the story? What do people need to know about? What have we learned in giving the presentation already? What has changed since then?

For Reading Ahead, we’ve been sharing this work with friends at Adobe, Blurb, UC Berkeley, and the Savannah College of Art and Design. And that’s given us a chance to revisit the presentation. We’ve refreshed it visually, focused the core message, and expanded it to include some things that came out since our initial research was conducted (i.e., Amazon’s advertising campaign for the Kindle and the launch of the Nook). We haven’t recorded a new narration (check out the full deliverable if you want that), but you can see how we’ve focused our story in this presentation.

Reading Ahead: Design Challenge Winners

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Our work is about understanding and acting, so our engagements typically include workshops where we facilitate client teams in using our research findings to generate concepts and start prioritizing ideas for further development.

For our self-funded Reading Ahead project, we had no client, so we took this action step by partnering with Industrial Design Supersite Core77 to put our research findings out to the global design community as the basis for a 1-Hour Design Challenge.

We worked with the Core77 team to review all the contest submissions received over the last month, and today are pleased to announce the contest winners.



(via Core77)

The latest 1 Hour Design Challenge, The Future of Digital Reading was based on Portigal Consulting’s Reading Ahead initiative-recent research around books, reading, behavior, and technology. There was great interest in this competition-it’s a hot topic these days of course, with introductions of new e-readers and a constant stream of “end-of-print” articles-and we had tremendous participation from design schools, individuals, and professional design firms.

The research provided for this design challenge was infused with stories about real people, so entries that referenced people and their habits were the most successful. Indeed, entries that embraced story-telling as a way to get their concepts across were much more compelling than those which simply presented a comprehensive list of features. (Yes, we get that the future is OLED displays!) It was daunting to see the number of submissions that were essentially a Kindle with feature statements that did away with the acknowledged limitations, so entries that ran the other way had a good chance of standing out. Still, there was great design thinking here, and a ton of design innovation here, and we were thrilled to see people (and teams) digging deep into the research and trying to refract it through the lens of artifact and experience.

This 1 Hour Design Challenge was a tough one to jury, but here (in suspenseful order…the Winner’s at the end) are the judges’ selections and comments. Congratulations to the Winner and Notables, and thanks to everyone who participated! Portigal Consulting and Core77 will each be donating $300, in the name of the prize winner, to 826 Valencia (a nonprofit that helps kids with expository and creative writing, and San Francisco’s only independent pirate supply store). 826 Valencia will put together a celebratory gift bag (i.e., pirate booty!) to honor the winner.

And now for the results:

Notable: The PaperBack
Design: Stephanie Aaron, Kristin Grafe & Eric St. Onge (SVA MFA in Interaction Design, Class of 2011)
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The PaperBack provided several nice design solutions in one package. We were charmed with the notion of displaying the cover of the book on the back side of the device for others to see (of course, we’d expect a “hide cover” option in the preferences!), and the flip-the-book-over action to turn the page is something we liked from a couple of the entries. The user’s ability to customize the form factor to modify the book-from paperback to novel-was a great start, but we felt that it perhaps didn’t go far enough. Maybe combining this with the next Notable entry, “The Page,” would make for the killer concept.


Notable: The Page: Adaptive Delivery Device
Design: Manny Darden, Jae Yeop Kim & Scott Liao (Graduate Candidates, Media Design Program, Art Center College of Design)
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It was irresistible to conflate “The PaperBack” device above with this concept, taking the form factor all the way to a newspaper-scale object. And self-supporting no less! The Page embraces some of the graphic conventions we’ve grown to love (in this case The New York Times) but then brings some live navigation and hand gestures into the mix. The photographs make for a compelling presentation, and again, made us dream about a device that folds all the way from a paperback out to a newspaper. Utopian? You bet.


Notable: Gutenberg
Design: Cameron Nielsen
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Cameron’s Gutenberg Local/Global Bookmaker considered a novel solution (pun intended): at-home book-making. Companies like Blurb have sprung up to address this as a service, but could print-on-demand happen in the home? We have the technology to print paper, but we don’t have the ability to make actual books. Provocative, with a sweet rendering, this entry made us think about revisiting a low-tech artifact rather than running immediately to an e-reader device.


Notable: Flipit
Design: Jdouble
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While the thrust of Jdouble’s flipit is (gulp) a Kindle with a different (and better UI), the brilliant innovation was the Tamagotchi-like feature: As the user reads more, the device gives positive feedback (in this case, a facial expression). The design research identified how social the act of reading can truly be, so it was a nice touch that the designer considered how the device itself could participate in the social behavior (a theory that is well supported by the work by Nass and Reeves at Stanford).


Notable: Booklight
Design: Kicker Studios
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Kicker’s Booklight rethinks where the digital data is. The classic solution for an e-book is that the data resides inside the device and comes to us up through a screen. The Booklight form factor, in contrast, is an embodiment of their rethinking: the content is projected down onto any blank book, decoupling the content from the presentation of the content. The Booklight lets the user select the size, heft, and feel of the surface they want to read on, giving back the tactility of the bound book many have grown to love. We were also amused to note that Kicker, known for phrases like “Tap is the New Click,” didn’t fall into the touchscreen swipe-to-turn-the-page interaction ubiquitous in the other submissions. Such restraint!


Notable: Mocks
Design: Stacey Greenebaum
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Stacey Greenebaum’s Mocks doesn’t try to solve everything; it takes one piece of the ecosystem and offers a provocative solution. People need to display their identity through their books, but as books move from atoms to bits, why not have a product that simply displays book titles in the home? The question of whether those titles represent actual or aspirational reading strips the identity issue down to its core: in that social moment at least, it’s not about the content.


WINNER: SuperFlyer 5000
Design: Hot Studio

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And, we have a winner! Hot Studio and Friends, with their concept for shared living room reading, takes the grand prize. There was a serious case of kitchen-sinkism on this (massive entry), but perhaps this was understandable given the large team they convened for the effort. While life in the living room is increasingly fragmented across devices, and media content keeps upping the hyper in order to grab some fraction of our attention span, Hot has a big idea a la Slow Food: bringing reading back into the media room so people can spend time together…with books. This concept reconsiders the entire reading gesture, going from hand-held/one foot away, to hands-free/10 feet away. Research participants told us that they saw books as a respite from their over-connected, screen-based lifestyles; here’s an application of those digital technologies that has the potential to engage people with reading in a new way.

The team also deserves special mention for the quality of their effort. They illustrate their solutions in a variety of ways, showing the power of quick-and-dirty paper and Photoshop prototyping.

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In bringing people together to create and inspire each other, they’ve generated a best-in-class artifact that reveals great process, uses scenarios based on research participants, and a demonstration of how humor can help sell an idea. Hot Studio modeled how it really should be done. Kudos!

Reading Ahead: Design Futures presentation

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Last week we presented Reading Ahead at the UC Berkeley Design Futures speaker series. Since we conducted this study without an external client, this was our first time sitting down with a group of people and talking about what we found and what the opportunities are. In most client situations we’ll meet people from across departments within the same organizations; here we met people who represented many different aspects of the book industry, from antiquarian booksellers, to experts in the digital reader space. Since our emphasis had been on the consumer side, this exposure to the diversity of the producer side was really enlightening, and the result was a really provocative discussion.

Thanks, Liz, for the opportunity. We look forward to the next opportunity we have to share this work with a live audience!

Reading Ahead: Research Findings

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(Updated to include slideshow with synchronized audio track)

We’re very excited today to be posting our findings from the Reading Ahead research project.

Lots more in the deck below, but here’s the executive summary

  • Books are more than just pages with words and pictures; they are imbued with personal history, future aspirations, and signifiers of identity
  • The unabridged reading experience includes crucial events that take place before and after the elemental moments of eyes-looking-at-words
  • Digital reading privileges access to content while neglecting other essential aspects of this complete reading experience
  • There are opportunities to enhance digital reading by replicating, referencing, and replacing social (and other) aspects of traditional book reading

We sat down yesterday in the office and recorded ourselves delivering these findings, very much the way we would deliver them to one of our clients.

Usually, we deliver findings like these to a client team in a half day session, and there’s lots of dialogue, but we tried to keep it brief here to help you get through it. (The presentation lasts an hour and twenty minutes.)

It’s been a great project, and we’ve really appreciated hearing from people along the way. We welcome further comments and questions, and look forward to continuing the dialogue around this work.


Audio

Reading Ahead: Building models

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We’ve been hard at work synthesizing the Reading Ahead data. There’s a great deal of writing involved in communicating the results, and sometimes it makes sense to develop a visual model that represents a key idea.

Here are several partial models evolving through paper and whiteboard sketches, and finally into digital form.

We’ll be finishing synthesis soon, and publishing our findings on Slideshare, with an audio commentary.

Stay tuned…

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models

Reading Ahead: Managing recruiting

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There’s always something new in every project. Often we encounter a bit of process that we may not know how to best manage it. So we’ll make our best plan and see what happens. We learn as we go and ultimately have a better way for dealing with it next time.

In a regular client project, we write a screener and work with a recruiting company who finds potential research participants, screens them, and schedules them. Every day they email us an updated spreadsheet (or as they call it “grid”) with responses to screener questions, scheduled times, locations, and contact info. It still ends up requiring a significant amount of project management effort on our end, because questions will arise, schedules will shift, people will cancel, client travel must be arranged, etc. etc.

For Reading Ahead, we did all of the recruiting ourselves. Although we’ve done this before, this may be the first time since the rise of social media: we put the word out on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, email to friends, and here on All This ChittahChattah.

While Dan lead the effort, we both used our own networks, and so we got responses in a number of channels, sent to either or both of us, including:

  • @ replies on Twitter
  • direct messages on Twitter
  • Comments on Facebook posts
  • Messages on Facebook
  • Emails (directly to either of us, or forwarded from friends, and friends-of-friends

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A private dialog on Facebook

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Comments on a Facebook status update. Note that Dan is able to jump in and make contact directly

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Direct Messages in Twitter

Some people were potential participants, some were referrers to other potential participants, and some were both. And given the range of platforms we were using, with their associated restrictions (and unclear social protocols), we had to scramble to figure out who could and should communicate with who to follow up and get to the point where we could see if the people in question were right for the study. We didn’t expect this to happen, and eventually Dan’s inbox and/or his Word document were no longer efficient, and as some participants were scheduled or in negotiation to be scheduled, he ended up with this schedule cum worksheet:

schedule

Being split across the two of us and these different media, eventually we were interacting with people for whom we had to check our notes to trace back how we had connected to them, which was great for our sample, since it meant we weren’t seeing a group of people we already knew.

It was further complicated when we had finished our fieldwork and wanted to go back to everyone who offered help close the loop with them, thanking them for help. Technically, and protocol-wise, it took some work (who are the people we need to follow up with? Who follows up with them? What media do they use), basically going through each instance one-by one.

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We haven’t figured out what we’ll do next time; we won’t forget the challenges we’ve had but there’s just not time or need right now to plan for the future. If I had to guess, I’d imagine a Google Spreadsheet that includes where we got people from, who owns the contact, whether they are participant-candidate or referrer, etc.). Despite being very pessimistic about the demands of recruiting, we still underestimated the time and complexity required for this project.

Reading Ahead: Looking for the story

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I started today by typing up all of the Post-it notes you saw in our recent blog post on Synthesis.

This activity created a 6-page Word document of bullet points.

The next part of the process is something I always find challenging: taking an incredibly detailed list of observations, particpant statements, hypotheses, and ideas; figuring out what the Big Ideas are (there’s a point in the process where many of them seem Big!), and putting those into a form that tells a cogent story.

First step: make a cup of tea.

Ok, then my next steps were:

  • Categorize all those bullet points
  • Synthesize those categories a bit further
  • Write down in as short a paragraph as possible what I would tell someone who asked me, “what did you find out?”

Then I went into PowerPoint, which is what we use when we present findings to our clients. I’ll continue bouncing back and forth between Word and PowerPoint; each piece of software supports a different way of thinking and writing.

I dropped my synthesized categories into a presentation file, sifted all of the bullet points from my Word doc into the new categories, and then started carving and shaping it all so that it started to follow the paragraph I had written. (I’m mixing cooking and sculpting metaphors here.)

I printed out the presentation draft, and laid it out so I could see the whole thing at once.

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Steve came back from a meeting and I asked him to read over what I’d printed out. He started writing notes on my printouts, pulling out what he saw as the biggest of the Big Ideas.

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We talked about what he’d written, which led to an energetic discussion in which we really started to breathe life into this. Tomorrow, I’ll start the day by iterating the presentation draft based on our conversation.

Reading Ahead: Secondary Research (part 2)

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Here’s some more articles, projects, websites, and other online ephemera that we’ve come across since we posted part 1.

  • A series of humorous videos from Green Apple Books comparing the Kindle to a book
  • Books and Browsers (audio link) – Dave Gray (IDEA2008)

    The book as a form factor has been around for about 2,000 years, since Julius Caesar first decided to fold up a scroll, accordion-style, and mark the pages for later reference. In 1455, Aldus Manutius was the first to publish the portable paperback, and it has remained relatively unchanged since. XPLANE Founder and Chairman Dave Gray explores several questions about the future of the book and the web browser.

  • Sony has launched the latest salvo

    a sub-$300 touch-screen “Reader Touch Edition” and the $199 “Reader Pocket Edition,” which features a 5-inch display. The company is also lowering prices of ebooks. New releases and best-sellers will all be $9.99, matching Amazon’s price point for the first time.

  • NPR Science Friday broadcast exploring Who Owns Your Digital Data?
  • NPR on Amazon removing Orwell books

    Lynn, you cover books and publishing for NPR, so do you have a Kindle or an e-book Reader?

    LYNN NEARY: Actually, I don’t, Linda. In fact, my cubical at NPR and my night table at home are loaded down with good, old-fashioned books because even though I’ve actually seen the Kindle work and I’ve talked to a lot of people who love it, I still can’t imagine reading some of my favorite novels on the Kindle. What about you?

    WERTHEIMER: I love it. It’s especially nice for traveling. I really do not leave home without it. But I did have a very peculiar experience with Kindle. I was reading a book and all of a sudden, I was back at the beginning of the book. So I thought I’d punched some button somehow. But no, what I had was a book in two pieces.

  • CHART OF THE DAY: Most People Still Have Never Seen A Kindle

    Some 40% of North Americans who responded to a Forrester Research survey in Q2 2009 had heard of, but had never seen, an e-reader. Another 17% had never heard of one. But ownership more than doubled year-over-year to 1.5%.

  • A short piece from Steve Haber, who developed the Sony Reader
  • Where there are bookshelves, there will be books!

    When Eddie Bernays, the father of modern publicity, was asked by a group of book publishers to increase book sales, he said, “Where there are bookshelves, there will be books.” And then he went on to convince architects, construction companies, and interior designers to install bookshelves in new homes. That helped to launch the modern day publishing and selling of books. (thanks to Joshua Treuhaft)

  • Cathy Marshall’s publications about reading, interaction, electronic periodicals, and ebooks
  • Smarter Books – Envisioning the uses & future of print, electronic, & new media books

    This site is dedicated to design thinking for re-envisioning books, publishing models, and the cognitive activity we call reading. The many markets and models for books and distribution are changing radically and continuously. We, authors and designers, need to share what we have learned and are doing to recreate the forms, meaning, and thinking of books of all kinds. Sponsored by Redesign Research

  • The unbook is a concept originally developed by Jay Cross. The concept evolved based on discussions between Jay and Dave Gray
  • The Diamond Age is a postcyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson. The Primer in The Diamond Age is a complex and highly elaborate descendant of today’s hypertext.

    Unlike the very static version we are familiar with today, the Primer is fully interactive. It not only offers the reader an open-ended narrative, but it also changes to the reader’s demands, among many other features.

  • Vogon Heavy Industries is proud to make the The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy available to Earth Internet users under licence from Megadodo Publications, Ursa Minor.
  • Visualization of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book
  • Fore-edge painting – Pictures along the page edges, hidden behind gilt
  • Exhaustive list of book terminology
  • Digital Book 09, a conference put on by IPDF (International Digital Publishing Forum)
  • Wholesale eBook Sales Statistics

Reading Ahead: Analysis and Synthesis

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Synthesizing field data into well-articulated, data-driven patterns, themes, and opportunities is a big part of our work, but it’s an aspect that generally has less visibility than the fieldwork.

An essential early step in the synthesis process involves going back over the fieldwork sessions. An hour or two-hour interview creates an incredible amount of information. By going back into a record of the interview, we make sure not to leave anything significant behind.

We go through and make notes on interview transcripts (done by an outside service), watch videos of the sessions, and look over photographs, sketches, maps, and participatory design pieces.

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Annotated interview transcript

We made a bulletin board of the people we met, so they’re ever-present while we’re working.

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Yesterday we came together to share the points we’d each pulled out. We present each interview, like a case study, to the team. Sometimes it’s just us, and sometimes our clients join us for part of this process.

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While one of us presented, the other captured the essence onto Post-its. We had a lot of discussion and debate while we did this, pulling together multiple viewpoints.

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When we were done presenting the interviews, the board looked like this:

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Our next step is to take these notes and start grouping them. We’ll look at different ways the information can be organized, and from there, will start refining our work and writing it up clearly and succinctly into a report.

Reading Ahead: Photo Diaries

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In addition to our in-person fieldwork, we often ask research participants to do some kind of task on their own. In past projects, these assignments have included a range of activities, from workbooks and journals with specific daily prompts, to fairly open-ended photo diaries.

For Reading Ahead, we asked people to do a short photo diary, and send us five or so digital pictures (before the interview session) that would help us get a sense of how reading fits into their lives.

Diaries like this accomplish several things. They give us access to a person’s world beyond what we might be able to get in just a face-to-face meeting. We’re able to see what they do in more locations, at more different times, and in more situations.

We probably won’t be there to see someone actually reading in bed before they go to sleep at night, but they might well ask a family member to take a picture of it for their photo diary, as Tracy did for this project.

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Diaries also help us build rapport more quickly with the people we’re meeting, by giving us a common set of stories to begin the conversation with. There’s often a bit of back and forth dialogue between us and the participants during the assignment as well, which helps us establish a relationship.

Having some shared knowledge and possibly interaction prior to the interview means that when we are face-to-face, we can jump right in with that person at a deeper level, which can free up time in the interview session for exploring more areas of the research topic.

When you look at the pictures people sent us for this project, you’ll see that they’ve responded in a variety of ways. Some focused on objects, some took pictures of other people, and some photographed themselves or had other people photograph them. It’s useful to see the different ways people interpret the topic area, and the connections they draw. It helps us understand how each person sees the world, and can point us to additional lines of inquiry.

Below are the photo diaries for Reading Ahead.

Erica

Peter

Tracy

Julie

Reading Ahead: Participatory Design

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Tracy and her younger son thinking about possibilities for books and reading devices

Our fieldwork sessions often include a piece in which we ask participants to brainstorm and fantasize about the future.

In an earlier post, we talked about the simple models we were building for the Reading Ahead interviews.

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Book and device models for participatory design activity

We wanted to put something in people’s hands to help them show us what the “book of the future” and “reading device of the future” could be and do. (This fieldwork approach borrows from participatory design.)

We’ve had clients come out in the field with us and say after an interview, “That person didn’t give us any ideas,” so it’s important to clarify that we don’t expect this kind of activity to directly produce marketable ideas. Rather, it gives people another mode for expressing themselves, and it’s great for helping them communicate things which may not always be easy to verbalize, like:

  • Their desires
  • What they think should exist
  • What problems they are trying to solve
  • What seems acceptable and what seems outlandish to them
  • Preferences and in what ways they would like something to be different

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Chris uses the device model to help express his thoughts about navigation

Often for us, the very act of making the props for an activity suggests new ways of using them. In this case, while making a blank cover for the “future book” model, we realized that we could also make a blank inner page spread.

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Holding the “book of the future” model

As it turned out, this meant that when we were done with the sessions, people had created very nice book models for us, with a cover and inner spread.

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Erica’s “telescoping shopping bag” book with digital annotations, hyperlinks, and built-in dictionary

Part of the preparation for each interview session was to get the models ready with new blank paper. Here I am on the trunk of my car, prepping the models before an interview in San Francisco.

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Now that the fieldwork is done, we have a great collection of models made by the people we interviewed.

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Artifacts from participants’ “future book” ideation

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The last section (copied below) of our Topline Summary synthesizes some of what we gleaned from this part of the fieldwork. These are just quick hits; we’ll develop any themes and recommendations that come out of these activities much further in the analysis and synthesis phase of the project.


Excerpt from Topline Summary: Participant ideation about the “book of the future” and “reading device of the future”

NOTE: The first thing a number of the participants said when asked about what the “book of the future” could be and do was that it’s pretty hard to improve on the book-it works very well the way it is. In addition to all the qualities already mentioned, books are

  • Instant on-off

  • Durable
  • But people did have ideas. Here are some of them:

  • Interactive
  • Put yourself in the story
  • Leave the story for more information
  • Choose from alternate endings, versions
  • Size-shifting
  • Able to morph from bigger size for reading to smaller for transporting
  • Retain the book form while adding functionality
  • Book form with replaceable content: a merging of book and device, with a cover, and page-turning but content is not fixed-it can be many different books
  • Books that contain hyperlinks, electronic annotations, multimedia, etc.
  • Privacy
  • Hide what you’re reading from others, hide annotations, hide your personal book list and lend your device to someone (with content for them)
  • Projecting
  • A device that projects words that float above it, so that the reader doesn’t have to hold the device in their hands
  • Reading Ahead: Topline Summary

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    As soon as possible after concluding fieldwork, we write a Topline Summary, in which we capture our first impressions and the ideas that are top-of-mind from being in the field.

    We’re always careful to be clear about what the Topline is and isn’t. There’s synthesis that happens from the fieldwork experience itself (which the Topline captures), and synthesis that happens from working with the data (which we haven’t done yet).

    In the Topline we go a step further than the field highlights and start to articulate some of the patterns we think are emerging, but these ideas may change once we do a detailed analysis and synthesis of the data we’ve gathered.

    In a client project, we’ll have a discussion with the client team around the Topline Summary. We encourage members of the client team to come out in the field with us, and the Topline discussion is a great opportunity for everyone who did so to share their experiences and tell stories. The Topline discussion is also a good time for our clients to let us know if there are any specific directions they want us to pursue as we analyze and synthesize the data we’ve gathered.

    We’ve now finished our fieldwork for Reading Ahead. We conducted six in-depth interviews, with photo diary and participatory design activities (more in our next few posts about these methods).

    Here’s our Topline Summary:



    Portigal Consulting: Reading Ahead Topline Summary

    1. Reading is not just a solo activity; there are significant social/interpersonal aspects for many people
    • Recommendations, book clubs, lending

    • Books facilitate the interpersonal aspects of reading

    • Can be easily lent or given away
    • Given as gifts
    • People can use a book together: parents and kids, showing someone a passage or illustrations, etc.

    • Reading can be a big part of family life

    • Childhood memories, passing books between generations, reading with one’s own children.

    • Connection between home life and outside world (school)

    1. Reading and Books are not always one and the same
    • Erica buys some books because she likes them as objects. She knows she may not read all of them. “I love books. I almost like books more than reading.”

    • Jeff says if you love to read, you’d like the Kindle. If you love books, you should try it out before you buy one

    • The Kindle facilitates types of reading beyond books: blogs, articles, periodicals

    1. Books do more than carry content
    • Books engage the senses: they are tactile, visual objects, with specific characteristics like smell and weight

    • Become carriers of specific memories

    • Develop a patina that carries meaning
    • An inscribed book becomes a record of an event, interaction, relationship

    • There is an art/collector aspect to books (which is absent in the Kindle)
    • First editions
    • Signed copies
    • Galley proofs
    • Typography
    • Pictures and illustrations
    • Quality of paper, printing, etc.
    • Books say something about a person
    • Others can see what you’re reading; like clothes, etc., this carries meaning
    • “Looking at someone’s bookshelves when you go to their house” (Jeff)
    • When people give books as gifts they are deliberately communicating something about the relationship, the event, themselves, and the recipient

    • Books can create a physical record of someone’s reading activity
    • Chris used to line up all the books he had read to get a sense of accomplishment
    • Annotations, bookmarks, tags all convey the reader’s personal history with that book

    1. Books are easily shared
    • Pass them along to others

    • Donate to library

    • Sell or buy at used book store

    • Borrow from the library rather than purchasing

    1. How books are stored and organized carries meaning
    • Emotion, sense of pride, expression of personality, record of engagement

    • Erica organizes her books by how the content/type of book feels to her: “dusty” classics, modern classics, etc.

    • Julie’s extensive shelves are organized alphabetically to reinforce the idea of library

    1. Libraries and bookstores provide specific experiences
    • As a little girl, Erica visited different libraries with her Mom. This was their daily activity, and Erica retains strong and specific memories

    • Julie and her housemate recreated a library atmosphere in their home

    • A quiet, comfortable space
    • Good lighting
    • Alphabetized bookshelves
    • A unified décor

    • For Jeff and others, spending time browsing in a bookstore represents having leisure time

    1. The Kindle
    • For people whose love of reading is bound up in their love of books, the Kindle loses much of the reading experience; it is only a content carrier

    • Julie has a history of wanting to read on electronic devices as well as from printed books, so to her, the Kindle is a big evolutionary step from her old Palm, the iPhone, etc.

    • For Erica, the Kindle signifies “computer,” so it does not let her “unplug” from the fast-paced connected lifestyle that books provide a refuge from

    • Several people described the kinetics of page-turning as an important aspect of reading books that is absent in the Kindle

    • Books afford ways of navigating content that the Kindle does not: flipping, comparing non-sequential pages, looking at the recipes at the end of each chapter, etc.

    • Peter finds it frustrating that when he buys a Kindle book from Amazon, he can’t share it. When he started working in an environment where people were passing books around, he went back to reading printed books

    1. Participant ideation about the “book of the future” and “reading device of the future”
    • NOTE: The first thing a number of the participants said when asked about what the “book of the future” could be and do was that it’s pretty hard to improve on the book-it works very well the way it is. In addition to all the qualities already mentioned, books are

    • Instant on-off
    • Durable

    • But people did have ideas. Here are some of them:

    • Interactive
    • Put yourself in the story
    • Leave the story for more information
    • Choose from alternate endings, versions

    • Size-shifting

    • Able to morph from bigger size for reading to smaller for transporting
    • Retain the book form while adding functionality

    • Book form with replaceable content: a merging of book and device, with a cover, and page-turning but content is not fixed-it can be many different books
    • Books that contain hyperlinks, electronic annotations, multimedia, etc.
    • Privacy

    • Hide what you’re reading from others, hide annotations, hide your personal book list and lend your device to someone (with content for them)
    • Projecting

    • A device that projects words that float above it, so that the reader doesn’t have to hold the device in their hands

    Reading Ahead: Fieldwork highlights – Julie

    Reading ahead logo with space above

    During the fieldwork cycle, we write quick summaries of each interview session and send these immediately to our clients so they can start to circulate stories. At this point in the process we strive to stay descriptive; our goal is just to get stories about the people we’re meeting out to the extended team (us, our direct clients, and their stakeholders).


    Our interview with Julie (not her real name) was the last session in the fieldwork for this project.

    Julie and her housemate have an amazing library in their San Leandro home, with three walls of alphabetized floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. With the bookshelves and quiet ambiance of the space, being in this part of their home feels just like being a library.

    Portigal-Consulting_Julie1

    The whole downstairs of their house has been optimized for reading; they have great lighting, and comfortable sofas big enough for two people to stretch out on simultaneously.

    Portigal-Consulting_Julie2

    Of the six people we met, Julie was the person who most seemed to have integrated printed book and Kindle reading. For Julie, reading a book and reading on the Kindle are both equally positive experiences; in fact, she will sometimes go back and forth between a printed book and the Kindle version of the same book, depending on whether she is at home, traveling, etc.

    While some of the people we met described the Kindle as less-than-satisfying compared to a printed book, Julie has a long history of reading on electronic devices, and finds the Kindle a big step forward.

    In the following clip, Julie talks about how her electronic reading has evolved, from her first Palm Pilot up to her current Kindle 2:

    Reading Ahead: Fieldwork highlights – Jeff

    Reading ahead logo with space above

    During the fieldwork cycle, we write quick summaries of each interview session and send these immediately to our clients so they can start to circulate stories. At this point in the process we strive to stay descriptive; our goal is just to get stories about the people we’re meeting out to the extended team (us, our direct clients, and their stakeholders).


    Jeff (not his real name) is in the midst of a big remodeling project at home so we met with him in his Silicon Valley office. He was the second Kindle user we saw in our fieldwork, and had a lot of positive things to say about reading on the device.

    Portigal-Consulting_Jeff1

    Jeff says that he’s not a “flipper” but does tend to be reading 3-4 books at a time, as well as newspapers and blogs. These various pieces of content require differing levels of attention and serve different moods, and Jeff likes that on the Kindle he can have all of this material at his fingertips, especially when he’s doing a lot of traveling.

    Jeff uses his Kindle for not only for personal reading but for work as well, and sometimes publishes documents he needs to read to the Kindle. He and his team have also experimented with using the Kindle as a platform for delivering presentations.

    Portigal-Consulting_Jeff2
    Demonstrating a business presentation on the Kindle

    Jeff says one of the things he feels Amazon has done really well is to develop the “device ecosystem.” Between his job, the remodel, and a household that includes 4 kids and several dogs, cats, and chickens, Jeff is extremely busy, and he likes the ease and efficiency of the book-buying experience the Kindle supports.

    In the following clip, Jeff tells some quick stories about using his Kindle to buy reading materials:

    Reading Ahead: Fieldwork highlights – Chris

    Reading ahead logo with space above

    During the fieldwork cycle, we write quick summaries of each interview session and send these immediately to our clients so they can start to circulate stories. At this point in the process we strive to stay descriptive; our goal is just to get stories about the people we’re meeting out to the extended team (us, our direct clients, and their stakeholders).


    Chris (not his real name) is a software engineer in his early thirties. He lives in an apartment in Mountain View with his wife and their small dog. They moved here a couple of months ago, after returning from an extended stay in Europe.

    When they left the US for Europe, the couple got rid of many of their possessions, including their books. Now that they’ve settled in again, Chris says he’s still trying to keep from accumulating too much stuff, and has been buying fewer books and using the library more.

    Reading-Ahead_Chris1

    Chris says he used to focus more than he does now on finishing books as a form of accomplishment. He described how he used to line up the books he had finished in a row, so he could see a physical record of his reading.

    Chris reads a lot of technical books. Since he uses many of these as reference materials, often annotating and bookmarking them, he generally finds it useful to own them in print, rather than borrowing them from the library or using PDF versions.

    Reading-Ahead_Chris-2
    One of Chris’ bookmarked reference books

    Chris showed us the various ways he navigates through printed books, including “flipping” and going back and forth between non-sequential pages.

    In the following clip, he talks about the flexible navigation afforded by printed books:

    Reading Ahead: Fieldwork highlights – Peter

    Reading ahead logo with space above

    During the fieldwork cycle, we write quick summaries of each interview session and send these immediately to our clients so they can start to circulate stories. At this point in the process we strive to stay descriptive; our goal is just to get stories about the people we’re meeting out to the extended team (us, our direct clients, and their stakeholders).


    Peter (not his real name), the first Kindle user we’ve interviewed, works in web production. When describing himself, he says,”I like gadgets.”

    Reading-Ahead_Peter1

    We met with him at his home in Vallejo. He describes doing several types of reading: instructional reading to expand his knowledge about topics of interest like photography, fiction as a “form of engagement with a piece of art,” and non-fiction as a way to vicariously experience other places and lifestyles.

    Peter’s had his Kindle for a couple of years. He says when he first got it (as a gift from his partner), it “got him” buying books right away, and he used it almost exclusively for around a year.

    He says serious limitations of the Kindle are that you can’t have two books open at once (if you’re using a reference book, etc.), that it is unable to “capture” the act of flipping through a book looking for a passage, and that it still doesn’t create the same quality of experience as “the whiteness of paper” and crisp black text.

    When I ask Peter if he has any emotions about his Kindle, he calls it “neutral.”

    Reading-Ahead_Peter2

    The biggest frustration for Peter is that he can’t share Kindle books.

    In the clip below, Peter tells the story of how this desire to share led him back to printed books:

    Reading Ahead: Fieldwork highlights – Erica

    Reading ahead logo with space above

    During the fieldwork cycle, we write quick summaries of each interview session and send these immediately to our clients so they can start to circulate stories. At this point in the process we strive to stay descriptive; our goal is just to get stories about the people we’re meeting out to the extended team (us, our direct clients, and their stakeholders).


    Erica (not her real name) is 28 and lives by herself in an apartment in San Francisco. She described growing up without a lot of money but in a house where there were “walls of bookshelves.” When she and her Mom had free days, they would visit different libraries, and Erica still remembers physical details from some of these places.

    She had been planning to open a cookbook store, until the recent economic slump. She’s working now as an office manager at a software startup and regrouping.

    Erica talked about buying certain books just because she likes them as objects: “I love books. I almost like books more than reading.”

    Reading-Ahead_Erica1

    She says that lately she’s really been noticing how “the computer lifestyle has seeped in so deeply,” which she feels is making her attention span shorter. She says that on the computer, “everything is fast,” and that books are a way to “unplug” and slow down.

    Erica has different types of books for different weather, moods, and reading situations. On public transit, she reads books that can be easily stopped and started; something she says is difficult to do with complex works.

    In the clip below, Erica talks about how she organizes her bookshelf by feeling:

    Reading Ahead: Fieldwork highlights – Tracy

    Reading ahead logo with space above

    During the fieldwork cycle, we write quick summaries of each interview session and send these immediately to our clients so they can start to circulate stories. At this point in the process we strive to stay descriptive; our goal is just to get stories about the people we’re meeting out to the extended team (us, our direct clients, and their stakeholders).

    Here is the first of these highlights for Reading Ahead.


    We met with Tracy (not her real name) and her two sons at their home in a suburb of Santa Cruz. Tracy is a stay-at-home mom and part-time massage therapist, and is going back to school in the fall to get an MA in Occupational Therapy.

    Reading is a big part of her family’s life. She reads every night with her sons (including a two-hour Harry Potter session the night before), and told us she does different voices for each character in the stories.

    Reading has always been important to Tracy, and she showed us several books from her own childhood that she keeps on her shelves–including one that her father had when he was a child. She also talked about sharing book recommendations with her Mom and her friends.

    Portigal-Consulting_Tracy3
    Childhood books

    In addition to a regular set of reading rituals with the kids, Tracy reads on her own, which she describes as: “My way of getting completely unplugged.”

    Tracy and her boys make a weekly trip to the library, which usually culminates in a big spread of books on the living room floor.

    Portigal-Consulting_Tracy2
    Back from the library

    I asked them to show us what this is like. Watching the boys comb through the pile to choose a book, I was struck by how physical their interaction with the books was.

    There was also an interesting family moment where I asked about a book Tracy mentioned (Tacky, a children’s story about an iconoclastic penguin), and all three spontaneously recited the names of Tacky’s friends in perfect unison.

    Here’s a short clip from that part of the interview:

    Reading Ahead: First day of fieldwork

    Reading ahead logo with space above

    Here’s what my day looks like today–3 interview sessions starting this morning in Soquel, then up to San Francisco, and then over to Vallejo where I’ll finish up around 9 pm.

    Tuesday-route-web

    I’ve tried to schedule everything so I’ll have time in between each interview to write notes. It’s amazing how hectic what seems like an ample schedule often becomes once you factor in traffic, parking, eating, checking email, and the general miscellany of a day.

    I got everything ready last night: video camera, still camera, release forms, models and materials for participatory design activities at the end of the interview session.

    fieldwork-prep-web

    I went over the interview guide, and am feeling really good about it. I always get kind of charged up when I run the interview through in my mind the night before fieldwork starts. There’s this unique feeling that comes from knowing that I’m about to go out and find out things from people that, sitting at my desk the night before I go, I can’t even imagine.

    Reading Ahead: Props For The Field

    Reading ahead logo with space above

    As we get into actual fieldwork this week, we’ll be using (as is typical for us) a mashup of techniques. In addition to interviewing people, we’ll be watching how and where they read books or Kindles. But we’ll also want to get into a discussion of future possibilities. Reading Ahead is not about evaluating existing designs but instead getting inspiration and information that can drive future designs. So we don’t have anything to test, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use testing-like (“What do you think of this?”) activities. In this case, we’ve built extremely simple representations that suggest book and digital reader.

    prototyping
    Dan building a thing-to-hold for this week’s interviews

    The idea (and we’ll learn what happens once we do a couple of interviews) is to have something neutral to put into people’s hands and let them gesture, sketch, or otherwise perform, so the activity of discussing the future isn’t just a verbal one. We’re going to ask people to draw on these props, and then we’ll have an artifact created by the participants themselves. Those artifacts can be compelling, and can also be a much more impactful symbol of what took place in that part of the interview.

    We’ve never used this exact prop before, but in just about every project we’ll come up with a range of tools to use in the field. Our interviews are very open-ended so we could use either of the props to explore any emergent themes, depending on what we use them to talk about (From “How would you hold this?” to “Well, if it did come with your Happy Meal, draw what you’d expect to see on the main screen.”

    For more, see Moving with a Magic Thing (PDF) and Design the Box

    Reading Ahead: The Interview Guide

    Reading ahead logo with space above

    Before we go out in the field we write an interview guide (or field guide), a list of all the topics we want to cover.

    Interview guides end up being very linear and structured, but the interactions we have in the field are looser and more conversational. We’ll let the way we pose our questions flow much more from what the person we’re interviewing is saying than from the sequence and phrasings of the interview guide.

    Even though we know this will happen, we’ve still been working hard to hash out our questions ahead of time–even the basic ones. It’s like John McLaughlin said about jazz improvisation: you have to learn all the chords so that you can forget about them.

    The interview guide is also something for everyone (including our clients) to look at, to make sure we’re all on the same page as we head into fieldwork.

    Our interview guide for Reading Ahead is here.

    Reading Ahead: Figuring out who to talk to

    Reading ahead logo with space above

    People always ask us, “how do you find the people for your projects?”

    Figuring out how to identify appropriate people to interview for a project is all-important. For Reading Ahead, we know we need people who are active readers. What constitutes an “active reader?” We’re defining it as people who read books at least three times a week, in multiple locations. We want people who are engaged in the behavior at a level where they will have lots of experiences from which to draw. We also know that we want to look at how people’s behavior changes/doesn’t change/is supported by/is influenced when reading books in print vs. reading eBooks using a device.

    When we have established the criteria for participating in the research, we typically use a specialized recruiting company to find people. We write a screener, which has a series of specific questions to identify people who meet our criteria.

    screener
    Screener excerpt, Reading Ahead project, 2009

    Finding the right people can be quite complex, and for some projects, we’ve written screeners that are more than 10 pages long. If we’re looking for people who do activities X and Y, in locations 1, 2, and 3, but have never done activity Z-well, you get the idea!

    In this project, the criteria are simpler, and we’ll be doing our own recruiting. In fact, if you’re in the Bay Area and an avid reader or Kindle user, let us know and maybe we can talk with you!

    Update: We put together a representative screener that is formal enough to be given to a recruiting firm, even though we aren’t doing that for Reading Ahead. You can download it here.

    Reading Ahead: Project Launch

    Reading ahead logo with space above

    We’re very excited here at Portigal Consulting to announce the start of a new self-funded project–Reading Ahead.

    In Reading Ahead, we’ll be exploring the evolution of reading and books from a consumer perspective–what it means to be a reader, how artifacts from traditional books to devices like Amazon’s Kindle affect the experience, and what the future might hold for readers, product developers, and beyond.

    Over the course of the project, we’ll be blogging both about how we work and what we see and learn.

    kickoff-pic_web
    Steve Portigal (left) and Dan Soltzberg, project kickoff, July 27, 2009

    Understanding our client
    One of the first steps in any project is figuring out what the project is really about. So the first piece of research we do is often focused on our client.

    As we work with our clients to establish the scope and approach of a project, we also interview key stakeholders in their organization to better understand what they know and what they need to know. (This doesn’t always map to what they think they know and what they think they need to know, and it’s important to suss out the differences.) These interviews help us understand the dynamics of the team and the organizational culture.

    In this case, we’re our own client, so we sat down and asked each other some fundamental questions

    • What is it we want to know that we don’t know now?
    • What are we going to do with what we learn?
    • What are the people, places, things, behaviors, etc. that we think we want to focus on.
    • How broadly or tightly do we want to draw the scope of the exploration (at least at the outset-this can change as the project moves forward). In this case, to what extent might we want to be looking at bigger categories like content, entertainment, free time?

    The way we answer these project definition questions will have a huge affect on how the work unfolds. As in most projects, we’ll be looking for the sweet spot that is constrained enough to give the project a clear focus but open enough to leave room for the unexpected.

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