2015 • School of Information @ University of California, Berkeley

Rebook was the capstone project for my Master of Information Management and Systems (MIMS) degree at UC Berkeley's School of Information. It began, like so many ideas, with a simple complaint: ebooks are garbage.

What would ebooks look like if they embraced the web instead of hiding from it? To answer this question, we devised a series of UX research protocols and design experiments based on three guiding principles: 


Web first: the book is an API.

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Ebooks are retrofit with the creaky design metaphors of print books and distributed in inert bundles with overly restrictive DRM. We wanted to try a radically different approach. A web-first book isn't a file you download; it's an API you can tap into and build on top of.

When we architected the book as a data store instead of a static document, we were able to dynamically compute and visualize data that's important to readers, such as a book's length and how much they've read (above left), and separate content, structure, and presentation to give authors new tools for assembling and reconfiguring long, complex narratives (above right).


Design for reader exploration and choice.

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A digital medium affords opportunities not only for creative use of language but also for creative deployment and manipulation of the mechanisms used to deliver them. The platform we designed enables ebooks with flexible interfaces that support nontraditional modes of storytelling and nonlinear narratives.

We drew a lot of inspiration from game design, but probably not in the way you think; I wrote a Medium post on the possibilities and pitfalls of designing for choice, you should have a look.


Always put readers and writers first.

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We took an opposite approach to EPUB: our target users aren't the publishers, but the writers and the readers. What's missing from their ebook experience? How can we prevent them from being locked into proprietary platforms? What sorts of tools could help writers create rich, immersive digital stories at scale?

I built the Rebook prototype with Meteor, using texts from Project Gutenberg and the D3 and Leaflet libraries for visualization. For much more in-depth information, check out our project website, which includes live prototype demos (be warned: they're pretty slow), or the two demo videos below (no sound)

This brief demo of our book creator prototype shows how an author can construct a nonlinear narrative (using the example of a short story collection, since the stories have no inherent order).

This brief demo of the Rebook reading environment shows how nonlinear narratives are presented to readers in ways that preserve their sense of orientation and their mental model of the book. It features interface features such as pageless scrolling, progress tracking, and dynamic "mile markers" that indicate where readers are in the current chapter. It also demonstrates how our flexible API can serve up metadata such as geocoordinates to link chapters to sophisticated wayfinding tools for complex narratives.