inspiration making

Sneaky peek at Mandy’s desk

While Mandy was out at lunch Alice and I pounced on the StoryCube puzzle she’s working on because, well, because it looks gorgeous! Pencil sketches of farmyard animals, sea creatures, flowers, kittens, insects and snakes are scattered across a set of nine cubes and lie on a background of  shades of blue. The sketches cross over from one side of the cube to another but change as you rotate the cube so that viewing different sides give the sketches a fantastical feel where kittens have flowers for feet and cows have snakes instead of mouths.

The nine cubes are intended as a puzzle with the goal being to match up all of the sketches of one type across all nine cubes. Sounds simple doesn’t it.. well, Alice and I didn’t manage it in the time Mandy was out for lunch!

ps. I also have to say good-bye today. This will be my last regular post for the bookleteer blog because I begin a full-time research position on Monday. I’ve been working with Proboscis on and off for the past five years and it’s been an incredible journey. I can’t thank Giles and Alice enough for the opportunities I’ve had while I’ve been here – and especially for giving me the chance to meet and work with all the fabulous talented people who’ve been in the studio over that time. Good luck with everything, folks!

inspiration making sharing

IDEO’s The Future of the Book

On the fabulous The Literary Platform I came across this video Ideo have produced showing three concepts they have created around the future of the book. I love Ideo, they consistently come up with inventive and imaginative technological developments that take account of social factors and personal practices. However, I have to say, I am disappointed with their ideas for the future of the book and I’m surprised that they appear to have overlooked so many of the interesting questions around books as objects, the challenges of e-Readers and the augmented reading experience that are currently being considering in so much detail by others.

All three of the concept designs (called Newton, Coupland and Alice) are shown as prototypes for the iPad. This suggests to me that the idea that a book might be a souvenir of an experience (e.g. James Bridle) or an object for sharing (e.g. Bookcrossing) does not appear to have been considered in the design process. In my exploration of augmented reading over the past few months I have come to think of a book as the amalgamation of object, content, design, distribution method, author and reader. It might be getting a little pedantic but I would say that what Ideo have produced are prototypes for the Future of Reading rather than the Future of the Book.

So what will this future reading experience be? We are offered three versions.

Newton might best be described as an application for managing material already published on the Internet. It allows you to collate, compare and contrast different sources and materials around a particular topic.

Coupland is a form of book-related user-generated content and social network. Reading lists and recommendations can be compiled and shared allowing everyone to see and comment on the most popular books within a professional network. Individuals can contribute book reviews and content can be shared between different organisations and networks.

Alice combines hypertext, hypermedia and location-based services to create an augmented, reader-created narrative path through a story. Primarily presented as text-based Alice suggests that readers actions (in the example, tilting the iPad in a particular direction) might open up new branches to the story. Other actions might include being in a specific location where a particular set of GPS co-ordinates would trigger more of the story.

One of the most interesting aspects to me is how these future ‘books’ conceive of authors. While all three concepts require authors for the ‘book’ to be complete they each have a different model. Newton relies on writers who are producing content elsewhere on the Internet and Coupland relies on people within an organisation creating content for the ‘book’. Only Alice has bespoke writing and a dedicated author at the heart of the project which is then augmented by existing content. These approaches to authorship are not new of course but I find it fascinating that Ideo consider all of them to be examples of ‘books’ and I wonder how these fit with my concept of book-as-object-plus-content-plus-design-plus-distribution method-plus-reader. I can’t help feeling that the ecology of books is broader and more diverse than these concept designs acknowledge.

ps. There’s a fascinating commentary and discussion going on around this video at

examples inspiration making

Tangled Threads eBook

Proboscis have been invited to make a film that will be presented as part of a Leonardo/MIT mobile digital exhibition curated by Jeremy Hight. The film will provide an abstracted overview of Proboscis’ themes and projects over the past few years and will be made and illustrated by Alice. However, the process of making the film was begun by Mandy who drew up the storyboard which has now been converted into the Tangled Threads eBook.

Mandy’s starting point was a piece of text I wrote which aimed to invoke the imagery and metaphors often used by Proboscis to describe their projects. The text also provided points for jumping into more detailed overview of Proboscis’ work from the past few years. Mandy took this text and transformed it into an intricate and beautiful mix of words and illustrations.

Storyboard panel sketches for Tangled Threads

Mandy moved quickly to produce her initial sketches, discarding ideas and developing a single artistic strand. After creating the storyboard panels you can see above she worked on individual frames drawing them up in detail before digitally painted the images to produce a full-colour illustrated eBook.

At the back of the eBook are a number of illustrations for you to cut out and stick them into the allocated spaces throughout the pages. Instructions for doing this are provided on pages 1 and 2. Making Tangled Threads the very first pop-up eBook!

And this is the result..

Download the eBook and make it up for yourself on and read more about Mandy’s storyboarding process on the Proboscis blog here..


eBooks at Inspiring Digital Engagement Festival

As I wrote last week, I have been co-organising the Inspiring Digital Engagement Festival in Sheffield and I wanted to make an eBook for it to try to capture participants feelings and views around digital technologies, digital inclusion, engagement and the festival itself. Thanks to Giles, these eBooks were printed through bookleteer’s PPOD service and ready for me to take to Sheffield on Tuesday.

The eBook was imaginatively titled ‘Inspiring Digital Engagement Festival‘ and consisted of 14 pages with the first page being an introduction and the last page providing space for comments and observations. Pages 3 and 4 were a double-page showing the programme for the day and this was so useful! It helped people anticipate the order in which things would happen and figure out who they were listening to at that moment.

The rest of the eBook was filled with a selection of open-ended questions. Questions included ‘How do you spend your time?‘, ‘Who owns digital space? What are the limitations, restrictions or edges?‘ and ‘What unexpected pleasures did today bring?‘ If you’re a member of bookleteer you can download the eBook here if you’re interested in seeing all of the questions we used.. (If you’re not a member you can sign up here!)

Example of a page from the IDEF eBook

The eBooks were handed out as people arrived at the event – you can see them on our registration ‘desk’ in the photo above… We had designed a selection of micro-activities to take place throughout the day which would have led people into filling in the eBooks individually and collaboratively. Of course, we ran late and some of these activities were cut, however, in the closing minutes of the festival we asked people to turn to their neighbour and to fill in their eBook together.

While the eBooks seemed too seductive for people to want to give them back to us the few that we have show such thoughtful answers and leading questions that I would love to see the rest and I feel that using the eBook for reflection and evaluation was successful and certainly something I would use again – though hopefully with more time to give to it throughout the event.

inspiration making sharing

Piece of Paper Press

bookleteer has collaborated with writer Tony White a number of times on workshops and publications, however, I only became aware of his publishing venture – Piece of Paper Press – this week despite the fact that it’s been running for 16 years! In this time, 25 publications have been released, the latest one being Atomanotes by Liliane Lijn which was launched just this week.

Each Piece of Paper Press publication is a run of 150 books and each book is made from a double-side-printed sheet of A4 paper, folded three times and cut and stapled to create a 16-page A7-size book. Once printed the books are given away to people who attend the publication launch, to participants and to supporters of Piece of Paper Press. Despite the technological developments that have occurred in the 16 years since Piece of Paper Press began the production process is the same as it was at the beginning and Tony believes that it’s simplicity and low cost are the reasons why he has continued putting out these books for such a long time.

In a fascinating post on The Literary Platform, Tony writes that he feels the flipside to these methods of production and distribution is that “producing something this ephemeral in such relatively small quantities seems to go against the grain.” I would argue that Piece of Paper Press’s methods of making and sharing are actually adding value to their books in ways that digital accessibility is often unable to do. Printing only 150 copies gives a rarity to the books that will only increase with time and touches on ideas in this post on 3 Ways to Share.

In the same post Tony describes the process of physically making the books as a simple, repetitive and social occasion.

“for the past 16 years once or twice a year I’ve sat down for a morning or an afternoon with a pile of printed A4 paper, a stapler and a Stanley knife. With me more often than not will have been an artist or a writer who will have spent a year or more producing a literary or graphic work that is suitable for a 16 page, A7 book. A few cups of tea and some conversation form the backdrop to a task that is a by definition repetitive, but which is also very social and above all is simple and functional.”

With only 25 publications in 16 years very few people will have had the chance to sit down with Tony and enjoy this time and these conversations and it seems to me that these social aspects of Piece of Paper Press publications have a value in terms of the relationship between author and publisher and book and reader that may not be as easy to achieve with digital books despite being able to reach a wider audience.

inspiration sharing

Every Book tells a Story

Visual description of how bookcrossing works from

Label. Share. Follow. That’s how describes the process of setting your book free to go out and explore the world while you follow it’s adventures, the places it goes and the people it meets from the comfort of your home. According to the Book Crossing website almost seven million books have been registered by over 850,000 active BookCrossers and are traveling around 130 countries as I write.

The way it works is that each book is tagged with a label recording its unique Book Crossing ID (BCID) and starting location. The books are then shared, either being passed onto a friend or stranger, mailed to a Book Crossing reader who’s advertised for that title, or released ‘into the wild’, for example, on a park bench, a café table or at the train station. They can also be taken to Official Book Crossing Zones where books are regularly caught and released.

When your labeled book is ‘caught’ the finder enters its BCID into to find out who released the book and where it’s previously been. The finder can then record a journal entry telling the next stage of the book’s story. In this way you can find out where your book is, who’s reading it now, and follow where it goes next. Leave your book at an airport and it could cross continents!

Of course, theory is all very well but practice is what counts so I set out to catch a bookcrossing book. I chose my quarry carefully, discounting books that had been released on the tube or park benches as I couldn’t believe they would last more than a few hours in these locations. Eventually I settled on hunting down a book at the Camel and Artichoke pub behind Waterloo station where 89 books were listed – suggesting that I had a good chance of finding one!

I entered the pub and casually browsed around as if I was looking for a friend. And there, at the top of the stairs was my target. Four book shelves all stuffed with books. They were even spilling onto the floor. There was a wide variety of authors, topics, even languages (Simone de Beauvoir in German anyone?) but I finally settled for revisiting my childhood with The Silver Chair by CS Lewis.

My caught book

Returning home and entering its BCID into I discover that Lydiasbooks left it in the Camel and Artichoke as she had a duplicate copy. It’s been there about a month and I am the first person to pick it up.

My plan was to complete my bookcrossing experience before writing this post by releasing my book back into the wild. However, I kind of feel like re-reading The Silver Chair now. Perhaps this is how bookcrossing works. Serendipitous and random sharing leads to serendipitous and random reading..

inspiration sharing

Library in a Box

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a couple of posts about libraries, librarians and what services and characteristics they might provide in the future based on the talks and discussion at Be2camp Brum 2010.

To my mind,  a  library’s primary function is to lend books to people and this service of sharing books in a community is beautifully carried out by this library-in-a-phone-box in Westbury-sub-Mendip, Somerset.

The phone box was bought from BT for £1 in 2009 and then a tea party was held to decide what to do with it. The idea of a mini-library was instantly popular as the nearest public library is four miles away and the mobile library stopped visiting the year before.

There is no full-time librarian and the phone box is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for members of the village to pop by and drop off books and borrow new ones. There are four wooden shelves of books and the children’s section is a red box on the floor.

I think it’s a great reminder that libraries don’t have to be huge to be valued and makes me wonder what an eBook library might look like and where it might be located. Perhaps a cardboard box in the corner of a café or an old cupboard at the end of the street is all that is needed..

inspiration making

eBooks for Evaluation and Reflection

Aside from my work at Proboscis I’m currently busy organising the Inspiring Digital Engagement Festival taking place in Sheffield on 15 September 2010. As part of this event we plan to use eBooks to gather feedback from participants about the day and their feelings and experiences of it. So I have been browsing the diffusion library to see how other people have approached using eBooks for this task and have come across a number of examples.

eBooks from Articulating Futures by Niharika Hariharan; eNotebooks from school workshops; StoryCubes at bTween

In the Articulating Futures workshop run by Niharika Hariharan eBooks were designed to take the students through the different workshop activities. The eBooks acted as personal journals and tools for them to bring their ideas together and were used  to reflect over the proceedings of each day. Proboscis have made a number of eNotebooks to use as learning diaries for school workshops such as Experiencing Democracy and Sound Scavenging, as field notebooks to collect ideas in projects such as St Marks and as evaluation tools at conferences such as Enter. At bTween in Manchester 2008 Story Cubes were used to collect people’s answers to questions around new technologies. A similar premise could easily have asked for feedback from participants on the event itself.

A blank probe pack

Finally, a chat with my co-organiser this afternoon reminded me of the eBooks that Orlagh, Niharika and I made for the probe packs we put together as part of Being in Common. These were sent out to twenty people with very different lifestyles and understanding of space living all over the world. The packs were designed to collect participants thoughts, feelings and experiences of common space. Participants returned the packs to Proboscis once they had completed it. You can read more about the probe packs and the *amazing* things people did with them here. It is this kind of reflective eNotebook that I would like to create for the Inspiring Digital Engagement Festival. Of course, you’ll be the first to know how I get on..

Download Articulating Futures eBooks from
Read about StoryCubes at bTween here.
Find out more about eNotebooks here.


Story Cubes and Art Works

In 2008 Alec Finlay made a series of two Story Cubes. Alec is an artist, poet and publisher currently working in Byker, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The Story Cubes he made were titled ‘After Ludwig Wittgenstein‘ and ‘score/fold‘ and could be made up into two cube poems. Each side of the two cubes features a single word and poems are created by the juxtaposition of the cubes, revealing and hiding words.

These poems can be viewed – or made – in the context of Alec’s other poetic forms; the mesostic name poem; circle poems and the related windmill turbine text designs and wordrawings; and the grid poem and sliding puzzle poem objects derived from these.

A windmill turbine poem by Alec Finlay from his artists residency at Kielder

A few months after finishing the Story Cube poems Alec recreated two wooden box versions of the cubes to be exhibited as part of Thoughts Within Thoughts at Arc Projects Gallery, Sofia, Bulgaria.

The transformation of the work from paper to wood makes me wonder when is a Story Cube not a Story Cube? Alec’s wooden cubes give the impression of greater importance and permanance than the paper cubes – yet they are essentially the same content. Is it the paper material, the ability to make, undo, and remake the cube, the potential for sharing the cubes as digital files or the cube form that give Story Cubes their character? Or some combination of these that might vary from project to project? These two sets of Story Cube poems seem to me to be an illustration of the questions I was exploring in earlier posts about how the choice of materials for eBooks and Story Cubes affect the reader’s perception of the finished object.

Download the cube poems on

Read more about Alec’s work on

residencies sharing

Words as Texture

One of my favourite sets of Story Cubes is the Pharmaceutical Cubes created by Kenneth Goldsmith in 2008.

Inspired and intrigued by the extensive warnings and disclaimers that accompany advertisements of pharmaceutical drugs, he found that these documents sometimes covered 43 pages or almost 7000 words. Kenneth took six of these documents and re-formatted them for the Story Cubes. Fitting all of the text on one cube meant that the font had to be reduced to 1-point. When justified and coloured the result is a set of unreadable Story Cubes created entirely out of words.

Describing the ideas behind the cubes and their construction Kenneth writes:

“I have often talked about how today in writing, quantity has trumped quality; it is the writer’s job to manage the amount of available language. In sculpting these documents, I found my perfect material. Squeezed into 1-point type, then justified, I created columns of unreadable texts: words as texture. When folded into cubes, these warnings – secretly embedded into the pills we take – are reconstituted into three-dimensional forms, creating a new type of placebo.”

I love the idea of words as texture or words as material. It places writing firmly in the realm of craft and making, reminding us that through the length and flow of the text writers are shaping books as much as any designer. For example, these images by Dave McKean would probably look quite different with more or less text on the page. It’s also a reminder that when I’m thinking about the form of the eBook and Story Cubes with projects such as pop-up eBooks and cube cameras I shouldn’t forget about words entirely..

Read more by Kenneth Goldsmith about his inspiration and download the Story Cubes at

And now I’m off on holiday for a few days and Hazem is going to be writing for the bookleteer blog while I’m gone. I think I’ll let him introduce himself.. Enjoy!