As a book designer, I’ve been disappointed with eBooks. The design of a book once involved careful selection of typefaces, margins, leading (line spacing) and other other fine details until the eBook powers-that-be declared that a book is simply a container for text. Don’t get me wrong; eBooks have some wonderful advantages, and they’re far from illegible, but the HTML-based ePub format used for most of them (Kindle uses a proprietary wrapper for a virtually identical set of HTML files and graphics) is the equivalent of where the world wide web was in the late 1990s.
Enter Adobe InDesign CS5.5 with good responses to several of my eBook objections.
There are better ePub export tools in version 5.5 than in previous versions, but the really good news is I can now design a publication in Adobe InDesign and then export that book for the desktop or as an Android or iOS Application. Color eBooks that retain all their original formatting and include sophisticated interactive features for popular mobile devices mean graphic design and typography history are relevant again. The ePub format casually discarded over five centuries of print design evolution. InDesign is bringing it back.
Another gripe I discussed in a previous post dealt with how big technology companies like Apple and Amazon force publishers to distribute eBooks through proprietary channels available only through proprietary eReader technologies. I can develop software for Mac, PC or UNIX desktop platforms and I won’t be forced to sell through a particular distributor or required to have anyone approve my content but, if I want to develop for the iPad or iPhone, I have to get Apple’s blessing and sell exclusively through their store. Proprietary standards are a giant leap backward in a world where internet and computer operating systems have always been open development platforms.
Though Apple hasn’t opened its gates, Google’s Android operating system is already an open standard. Anyone can develop for it and anyone can sell their applications any way they’d like. At least when it comes to eBooks, InDesign will empower publishers to easily release their content without forced distribution channels.
There will always be important and valuable roles for both coders and artists to play in the development of new media, but content-creation software all-too-frequently fails to recognize their respective strengths and weaknesses, saddling artists with advanced technical tasks and programmers with artistic and spiritual challenges. Mostly, I’m excited that the history of design, which is almost entirely print-based, is finally about to become much more relevant to on-screen design, which is largely technology-driven and disconnected from that history. If page-layout and publishing tools become a major force in the creation of new media content, aesthetic decision-making authority can revert back to those with education in typography, color theory, grid systems and graphic production; skills generally lacked by technologists.
Though there will never be a perfect crossover between publication and interactive design aesthetics, Adobe InDesign’s new Mobile Application Export features offer one of the most promising solutions I’ve seen so far.
For other eBook options that preserve original book formatting, see my tutorial for exporting flipbooks from InDesign.