Reviewing the review

Media Innovation Studio

The first volume

Last year we produced our first book, a review of the works we do and the type of people we work with. It was clear from the start that no member could dedicate their full time to design or copy of the book. Nor could we hire in freelancers to do it for us. So from the start we knew the task at hand would be challenging, not only because I hadn’t done print before, but we had teaching and workshops to deliver and research and projects to continue. We started the process in early January 2016, we gathered together thoughts, styles, methods and inspirations and sat down to map out what we needed from each other in order to launch the book in May 2016.

It was agreed that our first version would be designed for an internal and current collaborators audience. We identified that the printing company should be local, not only because of their proximity to us (with this being a tangible object; touch, smell and feel was important). But because we wanted to ensure we were doing our best for the local economy, so one of the first objectives was;

“The book should be written, designed, printed and bound in Preston.”

That said, Cranden Press (CP) were named as the printing company for the book, based on their location, price, relationship (on a previous project), family run and passion. From the start Catherine and Liz were extremely friendly and helpful helping me with all the initial decisions about paper choice, style and weight. It was above my pay grade to make these decisions so samples were provided to take back to the team to discuss.

Photograph taken from InDesign showing the work flow for the book

The defining of roles came next. As a multi disciplined team, we played to our expertise and strengths. I supervised the general progress of the book along with ensuring individuals managed to meet deadlines of producing copy and media on their works. I also became the lead designer, of how the book; looks, feels and flows. Whilst others concentrated on editorial aspects making final decisions on the copy.

Making it Interactive

It became apparent, some of the works required an interactive element — whilst collecting copy and photos for the book we had a plethora of additional media that we simply could not have not included. With a rich collection of audio clippings, long and short videos and online resources, we decided that this first version should focus on the media innovation side of what we do and the book should reflect this. So we made it clear, this version was an Interactive Review (Media Innovation Studio: Interactive Review).

It was important to emphasise the interactive element to our internal audience. This is the type of content you would see on our website or during presentations. But with this book, a physical book, we wanted something tangible, a coffee table read, rather than a web address you visit on your mobile device. So the design focused on the object, the paper, the shape, the weight, the content and the imagery.

Photograph of page mock ups.

But how should we emphasise this interactivity? Augmented Reality? Conductive Ink? as an audio book? If you have been lucky enough to flick through a book you will have noticed a section on Internet of Things (IoT), detailing a project named EKKO. This project was focussed around conductive inks. But in terms of this book, conductive inks would have proven difficult to integrate this time round. Therefore, Augmented Reality (AR) was adopted. The idea behind using AR was to allow the reader to reveal additional content when hovering their phone over the book. In some cases the additional content brought the page to life in an inline video (see video below), in other examples hot spots on the page played audio content through the mobile device and in other aspects the AR opened the website of a project when hovered over certain pages.

Video of the AR in action

It was important that the readers knew which pages were interactive. We chose to watermark the pages with a logo which informs the reader about the interactive element of that page. This allowed us to alter the content for that page but also change the type of interactivity.

Photograph of a final print, straight off the press ready for checks. Depicting a page with an interactive element attached to it

The Writing Process

So, the design was underway and copy was started to be written, re-written and re-written again. The editorial team went through many read throughs and proofs until a draft was compiled. This draft would form the basis of our team read through evening. The whole team got together for an evening of read throughs and proofing. Equipped with post it notes, highlighters and laptops we set away with proofing the copy. The proofing was achieved by paired reading. The pair would break away into spaces of the studio and read through the sections of copy assigned to them. The assigning of copy was based on two criteria;

1.You didn’t write it.
2. One of you may have been involved in the delivery of said work.

This approach seemed to be successful, in that neither of the two had seen it before but at least one of the pair knew what was trying to be articulated. As this was done in people’s personal time; sweets, crisps and drink was provided to keep everyone going, until half way through the night when Fish and Chips and Pizzas were delivered to allow people to rest and reflect on the book. All gathered around the table, fed and watered the mood was really relaxed and group conversations were had, ready to get back into the work of proofing the book. In order to meet our deadline of Monday 23rd of May 2016 for when the book would be launched and presented to invited guests.

By the end of the night, we had numerous sheets of paper with annotations, post it notes with questions, and tracked changed of a Google Doc. Going forward the plan was to then read through peoples proofing and correct and update the main draft document.

The Design

As the book was designed to be a coffee table read, along with high resolution imagery, the size and weight. We wanted the front cover to stand out or in this case, concave. Steel plates were designed for this process and each one would be pressed into the paper creating the effect of the logo being part of the paper. The paper was also coated so that coffee spills would wipe away. This wasn’t the reason but seeing as its a coffee table read why not?

Photograph taken of the plate used in creating the indentation on the front cover

An iterative design approach was adopted; when a page was designed it would be printed off and made visible for others to provide feedback. The shared area of the office was chosen for this as it allowed people to look at the work as they entered and left the office. They would be commenting on the general look and feel but also on how their work was being presented in the book. By printing out the designs and having them in a shared area, visitors of the space would also spend time looking through our works and working process but also allowed for commenting with post-its and Sharpies for feedback. Feedback was gathered and implement were appropriate.

Aforementioned the interactive element of the book was designed to indicate to the reader which pages were interactive. This was depicted in the corner of the page with the Media Innovation Studio icon (the heart beat M) with the title “Interactive”. This was chosen, over having specific iconography tying the interactivity down to a particular action.

The coffee table read, required beautiful high resolution images with minimal text. Therefore a full page photo or double page spread was adopted for displaying the photographs.

The Learning

In the process of creating the book we put in place processes at every stages to minimise error. This doesn’t mean that we did not fail with any aspects during the creation process, but we placed a great deal of emphasis on learning from our mistakes. Reflecting on this now, I realise that we learnt a great deal throughout the project from working with people, the process and the final product. Working with CP provided invaluable learning about the flow of the book on how it should be laid out for the printing process, this included thing like the margin space and placement of pages. In the end, the learning extracted from the creation of the book; such as, how it was implemented, compiled and printed proved beneficial for both parties involved.

When deciding on which paper quality to use, we went for a glossy paper. But before agreeing this we needed to test the paper with the AR interactive element, as some mobile camera lenses struggle to determine the hotspots with certain types of paper. It turned out that the paper worked just fine. However, it was an issue when choosing the target we had to make sure the page had enough elements of colour, contrast and brightness in order for the phone’s lens to detect the imagery.

The Launch Party

Like any good book, there is a launch party, and we are no different. We compiled a list of guests we would like to attend the event. This ranged from people who we had collaborated on in the past to University staff to externals influencers. The premise of the party was to showcase elements of the book for a hands on session. This included things like littleBits, Data Mill, CAST, Conductive Inks, Internet of Things (IoT) and the Civic Drone Centre. We also showed off the Interactive element of the book with a stand where people could pick up a book and a phone to interact with further content. The evening also included a talk, food and drink, and obviously a chance for people to pick up the first copies of the book. Hot off the press, we had delivered 1000 books for the evening. Some of these books were earmarked to be sent straight out, some were strategically placed within the University and others are used when visiting Universities, funding bodies, fellow colleagues and prospective collaborators.

Photograph welcoming people into the Media Innovation Studio
Photograph of the books and demo stations

On the night 43 people walked through the doors to collect their copies of the book and have a chance to see some of the works that goes on at the Media Innovation Studio.

People of all ages attended the night, albeit the younger audience were invited by proxy (mums and dad) but they were more than welcome. In fact it was great to see these children get their hands on technology that perhaps is either too expensive for home or schools to afford, or simply they weren’t aware of such platforms. The demo stations were deemed great fun and interesting from guests. This was something the team were really proud of as it enabled the project investigators to talk about their work to a new audience, one of academics, fellow colleagues and some new faces from the public.

Photograph of a first hands on experience for some children
Photograph of Mark explaining how homing works

What Next?

Following the successes of volume one, the team have decided on creating volume two. This time the criteria would be different. Not only would we include different projects from new faces within the team but we would strategise and plan differently. Again, this was something we learnt from volume one. This year has seen new faces join the team whether they are from a faculty level or fellow colleagues who we are working with, we decided that volume two should be more than just projects we have worked on, but be projects that were maybe; inspired, assisted, powered, by the Media Innovation Studio.

Due to the size of the team and the varied projects, we decided to review the initial process of deciding what gets into the book, a realignment of who the audience is for volume two, what the impact is of the book, how we can reach new’ audiences, funders, collaborators etc…, rethink the innovative elements of the interactivity of the book, curate a deeper discussion of the types of work, some new approaches to design (upside down, reversible book), how we collect feedback and a thematic approach to the work and who this may relate to.

Photograph taken of the team deciding the next steps for the book

Already from these initial meetings we are begun to define what the next volume should be. It is clear that structure this time round really matters. As the book is moving away from being solely a coffee table, pick up book to more or insightful and knowledgeable read. This doesn’t mean there wont be imagery or colourful graphics. It does mean that pages will not just contain project definitions but rather a more in-depth insight into the project, the people and the process.

Photograph of initial thoughts on what, who, where, when and how

Probably the biggest challenge this time round is make the book one thing for everyone. Yet appealing to an academic audience but at the same time reaching new members of society. Many idea generations sessions have taken place and some good feedback has been collected this far. A draft structure, framework, rules and templates are in place. Roles within the team are clear and have task assigned to each member. But this most significant change this time around is that we have identified people who have been impacted by the work and are getting them to tell the story. This could be one person or a group of people, it could be written down, spoken, illustrated or photographed. Each piece of work chosen to be featured in the book has a theme and if a project has a relation to another this is going to be highlighted. A deeper insight into the team will be provided, so that individuals can reflect and reach out to their audiences with a more personal message. And of course it is still going to be a physical book!

We still have a few copies left of volume one, if you would like a copy get in touch with me and we can post one out to you else I can forward you a digital copy. I will keep you posted regarding volume two once the project gets underway.