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I'm Thibaut Sailly, an independant interface designer based in Paris. Say hello on twitter or by email at bonjour ✉ tsailly ◦ net.

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What is a book ?

– The future of the book could involve lots of cool interactions you know ?
– How's that ?
– Well, look.
– And what do you do for a living ?
– I'm an interaction designer.
– Ah, I see. Hmmm.

IDEO just released a video illustrating the results so far of their research about the future of the book. If you haven't seen it, please take a few moments to watch and listen.

To sum things up, these results are disappointing. The three possible "visions" displayed have nothing to do with an immersive and satisfying reading experience, and are nothing new or forward thinking. At best, it's a nicely packaged video with analog references to appease the fears of the book industry executives it seems to be aimed at.

First, Nelson: "giving readers what they need to form their own opinions on important topics of our times".
Read this sentence again and instead of Nelson, and picture "online press". Yes, good match.

Second, Coupland (I feel bad for Douglas C. on this one): "keeping you up to date with what's going on in your field".
T. W. I. T. T. E. R.

Third, Alice: "an interactive and playful reading experience that invites exploration well beyond just turning the page".
Multi-media game !

This is what I think reading a book is, and I hope you'll share this with me: you sit somewhere you see fit, you get to a page, start reading, and a few seconds later you're not here anymore, you get places, you're time traveling. You're somewhere in a misty cloud that just formed around your head, immersed in a story, in a debate or in an explanation of some facts you're discovering. This immersion is a requisite for you to get value out of your reading, wether it's emotions or knowledge. If you're disturbed and taken out of this cloud, you loose the thread, you can't connect the dots and walk the shoes of the author anymore.

Laying out text is all about this: making the text legible and understandable with as few graphic hints as can be, so the reader doesn't get distracted or constrained, and stays with the ideas. Writing is all about this too: choosing the right words and arranging them in a manner making the sentences flow and the reader captured by the story. I got caught in the service tunnel at the end of the subway line once because of Jim Harrison, and I'm sure I stayed there a good minute, silence and all, not noticing a thing. Because I was in a book.

Every event that gets you out of this state of mind ruins the efforts of the writer and diminishes the benefit you'll get from the time you spend reading. Even a cup of tea can achieve that if it's too hot. So what the fax, IDEO ? You want books to send me text messages !?
"Quizz: how long do you think you can stay in that room ? Your pal, Blaise Pascal".

Nelson, you're right, we need to get "a grasp at the complexity of the world". But don't propose us links to other content that will link to other contents and call it book innovation, because that's what the web is and has always been.
Douglas, as mentioned by others, you should visit this online bookstore, Amazon, it's fantastic.
Alice, you're nice but you're too distracted, you need to focus. Go see Bilbo, he'll tell you.

Information delivery needs innovation, learning needs innovation, playing needs innovation. But books... The IDEO trio is a bad answer to a wrong question. Book reading is a good experience, it's been optimized for centuries now by quite a few very smart people. The humongous amount of written data we have access to and what we do with it, that's what is problematic today. Information overload, choice, priority or relevance are problems today. How we access to which books, and how we set the exclusive time to read them are the issues, not the book itself.
Very surprising coming from IDEO guys, who are usually inspiring in their insights.

And: enough with the xylo. I'm not thanking Apple for this trend of cheesy soundtracks, it's coming to a point where it's at elevator music level.

Links:
http://magazine.designersinteractifs.org/actualite/ideo-recycle-le-web-et-le-jeu-video-dans-son-livre-du-futur (in french)
http://www.fastcodesign.com/1662356/ideo-reimagines-books-for-the-the-digital-age
http://beta.wnyc.org/shows/bl/2010/sep/21/future-books/

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