Thursday, 24 June 2010

Going digital (2) - the i-book, those crows, that bucket, and a bunch of differences

I'm just finishing off that synopsis for a picture book application for the iPad. Getting to the end means sorting out the terminology before submitting it. For one thing, is it actually a synopsis (as it would be for a book) or is it really a software spec (as it would be for a program)? Is each element a page or a screen? Do I talk about layout or about interface design?

And what are we going to call the whole thing? It's a book app, according to Apple, but that's using one noun to qualify another and we don't like to do that in UK English - not if we're, like, educated [sniff]. It's not an e-book because that is just an electronic book - a book that is digital in form, but otherwise is just a book. I'm going to call this an i-book: it's an interactive book. The fact that it is digital is implicit in the common usage of i- as a prefix, but technically my pop-up Earthquakes and Volcanoes is also an i-book. Let's stop caring if things are analogue or digital.

In the earlier post, I went through a few of the surprising things I'd encountered working on this crowfest. A few more have emerged over recent weeks. If I were doing this i-book on paper I would have to decide whether to use a whole double-page spread as a narrrative unit or whether to use the facing pages as independent but complementary units. That's gone; each page/screen is a discrete unit. The acronym 'dps' is hard-coded into my thinking about books, though, so I'm going to carry on using it, perhaps as 'digital page set'.

The next issue is the black plate. In a paper book, the text has to be on the black plate to make it cheaper and easier to print co-editions. (Only the black plate needs to be re-set, all the colour repro is the same in all editions.) No black plate - the text can be any colour. It took several weeks before I realised that the black-plate limitation has gone, dodo-ised.

But while we're thinking of foreign editions.... a paper children's book is usually printed in a British-English and a US-English edition. This way English children can be unpolluted by barbaric spellings such as 'color' and ugly words like 'gotten', and American children don't need to be shocked at hearing there are six faggots in the kitchen (they're a kind of nasty meatball over here) or that one child borrowed another child's rubber (eraser - no SID risk involved). I can't imagine we are going to make UK and US versions of this i-book. Are we? So does that mean I can't use words like 'queue'? Or do they have to be written 'que(ue)'? No, too confusing. Or could the i-book detect the country setting - or discover the location from the IP address - and vary the spelling accordingly? That would be nice.

Perhaps oddest of all, the i-book is only about 160 words long, yet the synopsis/spec is nearly 3,500. Perhaps it's inevitable that it all moves into the wordy, dreary style of software specs, but it is a shame. I've tried to avoid dreary, at least. If it were a paper book, I could give brief illustrator notes or a very poor rough (you wouldn't believe how poor my roughs are). I tried this - it meant a whole morning with a camera, props, scissors, straw, scanner, photoshop to produce a cruddy storyboard of one digital page set. So it's words, I'm afraid - much quicker. (26 pages = 13 days with said paraphernalia!)

I've had an app designer who is also a picture book illustrator go through most of it with me, and took on board all his suggestions about switching bits from animation-hungry content to things that can be done in programming (cheaper). Thank you, @berbank, for five hours in the sun on the Backs, eating strawberries, drinking wine and talking crows. [I love this job.] And I crowd-sourced lots of bits on twitter where I ran out of ideas for - well, I can't tell you what for without giving away the USP. But thank you, twitter people.

One thing I am aware I haven't got away from - and I'm not sure whether it matters - is the instinct to have movement going from left to right, so moving towards the page turn in a paper book. As long as the page-turn analogy still follows the left-to-right pattern (with a swipe gesture at the right-hand side of the screen towards the left, emulating flicking the page), that is probably appropriate. But there is no real reason why progress should be left to right. Do i-books in scripts that read right-to-left look different, I wonder? Off to the App store to investigate picture books in Arabic...


1 comment:

  1. It's a lot of detail to keep track of. Each version of a book (e-blog, iphone app etc.,) is like producing the book each time from scratch. Lots of work and lots of opportunities.