Print to Web: Designing eBooks for the iPad

how_magazine_march_2013_cover_1Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from the Interactive column in the March 2013 issue of HOW. Veteran print designers Mario R. García and Reed Reibstein discuss the challenges of writing and designing their first ebook, iPad Design Lab, and share the 5 most important lessons they learned. 

Mario García: My new ebook, iPad Design Lab: Storytelling in the Age of the Tablet, was born out of my own curiosity for the tablet platform. I began playing with my first iPad the day it was introduced in April 2010. After 40 years of experience as a visual journalist, I immediately saw the iPad as a marvelous stage on which stories could be told in exciting new ways.

I decided I would devote occasional segments of my blog to discussing whatever I discovered about the iPad. I turned each discovery into a blog entry, calling these posts “The iPad Lab.” After about 16 posts, plenty of people in the industry and academia insisted I should turn them into a book.

Reed Reibstein: When Mario and I began developing a book about the iPad—he as writer, me as editor and art director—we knew two things: The book would have a digital version and would be composed of short segments. We could either create a PDF, available on all platforms but effectively static, or create a more interactive, iPad-only app. Given Mario’s interest in exploring the tablet’s potential with video, audio, galleries and graphics, we decided to pursue an app.

Mario and I discussed a number of potential interactive elements for our book. We then met to sketch the design and develop the sketches in InDesign as a proof of concept.

iPad Design Lab

García: For me, writing a digital book was, in itself, an exercise in realizing what long-time journalists are going through as their craft undergoes tremendous transformation. The majority of journalists in newspapers and magazines today are still “print people.” They think about words and images on paper, the static more than the animated. … In the end, I learned 5 important lessons.

1. Not every story needs to be told through words. Now we can use audio, video, image galleries and graphics to convey our message.

2. Rhythm and pacing is crucial when designing a digital book. Forget about long chapters. Instead, break them into easy-to-digest “mini stories” within the larger narrative.

3. In the era of Twitter and Facebook, brief summaries are important. Each segment has a “takeaway” that summarizes what will be covered in that unit.

4. Outline an app the same way that a director plans the scenes of a film. We planned how we would vary the storytelling techniques in our chapters and sections.

5. Finally, readers have to be able to expand their knowledge by tapping on a link for additional information. A digital book allows us to quote from an interesting article, and readers can tap a hyperlink to read it themselves.

In sum, I learned that the best way to present information on the tablet is largely non-linear.

Reibstein: In January 2012, Apple announced its new “multitouch textbooks” for iPad and the program to create them, iBooks Author. I realized that the multitouch textbook platform could do almost everything we had imagined in our InDesign prototypes, and that day I started learning how to use iBooks Author.

I soon realized how different these tools were when I began to translate the InDesign prototype to iBooks Author. With InDesign, I had total control over the book’s design; with iBooks Author: I could easily add image galleries, videos, audio clips and a glossary to my test document, but I could not reproduce the visual sophistication possible in InDesign.

As with other Apple products, iBooks Author can create a stunning result when you follow Apple’s templates, but the program makes deviating from these defaults quite difficult. But the ease of implementing interactive elements far outweighed any concerns we had about the particulars of the design. We went with iBooks Author and never looked back.

García: When I first started writing this book, I always thought there should be a print edition. But after writing the first three chapters and seeing how Reed developed them for the iPad, I knew that I wouldn’t pursue print for this material. I don’t regret my decision one bit. My only regret about not having a printed version of the book: How do I sign copies of the book for those who would like the author’s autograph?

Mario R. García is the CEO and founder of García Media. He has devoted more than 40 years to redesigning publications, and has collaborated with more than 700 news organizations. Reed Reibstein is an art director and project manager with García Media.

More resources for print designers transitioning to web design

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