When we think about design that improves life for people, usually it’s not books that pop into our heads. None the less, books are still one of the most powerful mediums we have when it comes to touching people directly. Even though they have been doomed many times, most famously by Robert Coover in The New York Times in 1992, the book is still more alive than ever, and remains a physical contrast to our world of glossy surfaces and transportable screens. This is a quick reminder of what books can do.


In 2009 a book won an INDEX: Award in the category Play & Learning. In three years of research the author, Christien Meindertsma, tracked all the products made from a single pig: Pig 05049, and was shocked to discover that she could document 185 products. The book, as an object, materialised a visual statement about our consumption and production processes that often become so distant to us. With the pig tag on the side and the soft pig-coloured cover, Meindertsma engaged the reader in a physical way and made us believe that we were actually holding a piece of the pig itself.


Research by Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano have proved that “reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions, a crucial skill in navigating complex social relationships”. In the graphic novel The Arrival the author Shaun Tan without words portrays the experience of a father emigrating to a strange world with a foreign language. Observing his troubled journey and seeing him missing his family, the silent pictures and story build empathy in the reader. Shaun Tan himself says: “one of the great powers of storytelling is that it invites us to walk in other people’s shoes for a while, but perhaps even more importantly, it invites us to contemplate our own shoes also”.


In my craft as a designer, I have created books myself. In the book What I Remember I used tactility as a method to bring the reader closer to the story. In 2014, my grandparents past away and left a bunch lot of letters, pictures and objects. From this collection I created a book with collages containing pieces and fragments of their belongings. Through collages of text and images, a fragmented storyline testified the lives of two people. The objects reduce the distance between reader and narrator and create a universal language that wouldn’t have the same impact if shown on a screen.


When it comes to tactility, studies show that if you read text on paper, you get a deeper and more long-lasting understanding of the content. The sensuous experience gives you a mental map of the text and it becomes easier for the brain to remember. A tactile picture book can give children with visual impairments the opportunity to enjoy picture books. These books stimulate the sense of touch and the art of recognising and interpreting shapes. The book Life created by Philipp Meyer is a tactile comic for blind people and tells a simple story about life using simple circles. Although there may be some limitations involved in telling a story only through circles, Life has some definite possibilities for further exploration.

Though e-books provide huge opportunities, physical books are still fierce tools for designers, storytellers, game-changers etc. to create statements, provoke or improve our lives with stories, tactile experiences or something completely different. Through a book, you can touch the world and their strength is still worth having in the back of our minds when creating and designing for people today and in the future.


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