I have written before to ask the question “How will the adoption of eBook Readers affect designers?” but now I can’t help but think about how it will affect the entire practice of design. Are the fixed dimensions of print design a luxury that we are going to have to let go of? The printed page has been disappearing around us for years, but now more than ever this is beginning to manifest for designers.
Technology is rapidly changing the way the information is received and absorbed in a way that may be even more profound than the widespread adoption of the Internet. Never before has the printing press been challenged so admirably. With the printed mediums being replaced with small lightweight devices that are high resolution and arguably more convenient to use how can we expect anything less?
EREADERS AND THEIR IMPACT
Recent announcements such as the new Kindle DX can only make me conclude that eBook readers are here to stay. The technology keeps on getting more sophisticated and applications of use wider. Without some sort of standardization amongst them this means designers will be faced with hundreds of devices all with different screen sizes at different resolutions. This will most certainly change the context of the “page” as we know it.
While this is a similar to the problems faced by early web designers, it is a fundamentally different problem with eReaders. When dealing with web browsers, the document exists within a viewport that can be scrolled to show more information. However with current eReader hardware content is displayed in conceptual “page flips” due to the low refresh rate of the eInk displays they contain. In some units the refresh rate is even over 4 seconds, making scrolling completely unlikely.
The second problem of which will keep fixed dimension designs from being possible is page scaling. The new Kindle DX has a screen with a diagonal length of 9.7 inches, which is far smaller than the roughly 14” diagonal inches of a typical 8.5”x11” sheet of paper. Most documents have obviously been designed around this older US print standard, so as of right now we can expect that our designs will be viewed at what is slightly less than 70% of its intended size. When I was reading the initial impressions of the device earlier today, this is something that I was very surprised that most of the tech critics did not jump on. The problem only worsens when you consider the devices of other manufacturers who all have different sized displays, the majority of which are even smaller.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL HAPPEN?
I obviously do not know what this will mean for the practice of design, will it force designers to abandon art direction because of inconsistent results, Will it some sort of system to separate content from presentation in a PDF be adopted, or will some sort of standard be created? I am not really sure, but I do think it is an interesting topic to debate, so please share your thoughts in the comments below. I look forward to hearing what other designers think.