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Designing a New Way to Read: Interactive and Insta Novels

As an avid reader, I’m fascinated by the increasing number of people who read books on mobile devices. In China, for example, serialized e-books have become an explosive trend; the company China Literature has grown bigger than Amazon Kindle.

Some designers have observed the success of e-books and are incorporating interactivity and illustrations into stories for phones.

For example, social media is being used to tell literary stories. The New York Public Library uses Instagram Stories to present classic literature like Alice in Wonderland as “Insta Novels.” The project features animated covers, illustrations, and several paragraphs of text per screen. AIGA’s Eye on Design blog pointed out that putting books on social media networks has the power to reach more people who might not otherwise read, even though Alice in Wonderland is in the public domain.The New York Public Library Insta Novels - Alice in Wonderland cover

Another downloadable book for your phone, Breathe, is an interactive ghost story. It’s not a static text. You may have to draw on the screen or deal with a ghost who’s taken over your phone for a bit. The book also uses your phone’s data to insert your current location, time, and other information into the story, as if the narrator knows all about you.

Although these projects use technology in innovative ways, something is lost when shortened attention spans limit people’s ability to read full-length novels. Animated graphics, short chunks of text, and interactive elements cannot replace the experience of reading well-crafted, lengthy prose printed and bound in a physical book.