Hierarchies of ebook design | Baldur Bjarnason | March 2012 | baldurbjarnason.com

Two frameworks for thinking about e-book design from visual and interactive approaches, as “Hierarchies of ebook design” by Baldur Bjarnason.

… visual and interactive design should be treated as separate but interdependent problem domains.

What follows are two hierarchies of ebook design, outlines that climb from the trivial and decorative to the integral and necessary.  [….]


  1. All meaning is in the text. [….]
  2. Type and cadence has meaning and connotations that a default stylesheet can’t convey. [….]
  3. Strong and distinctive aesthetics are a part of the message. [….]
  4. Design as UI, essential to the reading, but doesn’t require a complex layout. [….]
  5. Design is dense with meaning, fancy layout needs. [….]

Ereader platforms serve the first type of ebook very well and, since most designers who think they’re working on type 2 books are actually working on type 1 books, they serve type 2 books very well as well. [….]

IDPF’s Fixed Layout spec would solve most of these problems because it adds several important capabilities that Amazon’s and Apple’s implementations lack ….


True to the non-linear nature of interactivity, this isn’t a true hierarchy. More of a bag of interrelated goodies that you can mix and match. Nevertheless, they are listed in the order of increasing impact.

  1. None. Just a book. Nothing wrong with that.
  2. Decorative. Added video or 3D models where illustrations would do. Links used as simple references. (Most ‘enhanced’ ebooks.)
  3. Functional. Important parts of the book require interactivity. (Apple’s .ibooks textbooks. Voyager’s expanded ebooks.)
  4. Structural. Interactivity is integrated into the book’s structure. (Books with extensive cross-references. [….])
  5. Networked. Outside meaning enters into the book, surrounds and frames parts of it. (Kindle notes and popular highlights.)

Most attempts at ebook interactivity over the last few years have been decorative. Add a few videos and gloss to an established text, raise the price, and hope nobody notices that it’s a lazy ripoff. Most of the ereader platforms allow for this kind of interactivity, at least to a limited extent.

Full article as Hierarchies of ebook design | Baldur Bjarnason | March 2012 | baldurbjarnason.com at http://www.baldurbjarnason.com/notes/hierarchies-of-ebook-design/.

Hierarchies of ebook design – Baldur Bjarnason
via Tim O’Reilly at https://plus.google.com/107033731246200681024/posts/Wx66ZkEYo19