E-books are fast becoming a favorite of adult readers, and a new study by the Sesame Workshop’s Joan Ganz Cooney Center has found that children now prefer e-books to printed books as well. But the study also concludes that children have a very different experience reading enhanced e-books—those with added interactivity like games and video—that can possibly hinder reading comprehension and retention. In this issue of ‘Round Robin, we take a look at a series of books we’ve designed for children that uses a more traditional interactive format—the printed page.
Published by Sterling, the “Inside” series of books explains the workings of natural science—biology, geology, astronomy—for an audience of young readers ages 8 to 12. We worked with the publisher on a redesign of the popular series, including new titles Inside Weather, Inside Earthquakes, Inside Lightning and Inside Volcanoes.
The books are designed to appeal to kids, and feature complex, detailed illustrations of natural phenomena that children love to study and examine. They are highly interactive, using a set of gatefold pages that open for an expansive view and “hands on” experience of the content.
We’ve designed the simple, natural interactivity of the “Inside” series to aid learning in a way that complements the content and gives kids the feeling that they know everything about each book’s subject. The foldouts illustrate processes in depth with dramatic pictures and detailed diagrams: an image of an erupting volcano folds out to tower over adjacent pages; a map of global climate zones folds out into a world-wide double spread. To make the books appealing to children we used a bright color palette and fun graphic elements like “bubbles” for interesting facts and data. Intricate charts and diagrams are balanced with large, spectacular images to give a “macro/micro” take on the information at hand.
Printed books, e-books and enhanced e-books are all relevant formats, and it’s often up to parents and educators—not to mention publishers and designers—which format is best for the intended audience. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center study found that enhanced e-books—books with interactive games, embedded video, and so on—can be distracting to children and affect what they understand and remember while reading. E-books without enhanced features were found to be comparable to printed books in this respect.
An article by The New York Times revealed that parents prefer reading to their children from printed books. Parents tend to interact differently with kids when reading with enhanced e-books—the focus shifts to how to use the device or added features, and both children and parents become distracted and anxious to push buttons or swipe the screen. Designers must be careful when adding enhancements and give parents a way to customize the co-reading experience.
We all have childhood memories of our favorite books—how they felt in our hands, flipping through pages to find amazing images. Our design for the “Inside” series uses this traditional interactivity in a way that helps a young reader figure out the world. Children are literally opening up the books for a larger view of how the world works, an experience of information they are not likely to forget.