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Touching the text of T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’: a critical discussion of interactive design and screen typography for an iPad e-book

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Why would a complex, often inaccessible early twentieth-century poem become ‘iPad App of the Week’ in the United States of America? Why would it warrant an editorial in the New York Times? Or garner the headline ‘The future of digital literature?’ on the front of the Sunday Times Culture Magazine? The answer may lie in the interactive experience of the poem that has brought Eliot’s words to life for a contemporary audience. Created for the iPad, rich media content, elegant typography and a spare, but deeply functional, user interface combine to form an intimate interactive reading experience that sets it apart from other electronic books. The iPad App of ‘The Waste Land’ (TWL App), was designed by the author in 2011, for its joint publishers – Touch Press and Faber and Faber in the United Kingdom. It presents the poem anew, as an interactive multimedia reading experience. The typographic design and presentation of the poem enable the reader to interactively explore the text and its meaning, and to simultaneously listen and watch audio and video performances while reading the text itself. The typography incorporates sound, motion, interactivity and navigation via touch-based interaction with the iPad tablet. The central design vision for the App was to maintain the poem text in its purest form at the heart of the reading experience. The New York Times review aptly captures this intent: ‘For all its accouterments, The Waste Land App honors the silence of the text itself, the silence that makes Eliot’s many voices in this poem so clearly audible’ (New York Times 2011). This article will examine how carefully crafted interaction design, typography and rich media content combine to create a distinctive screen-reading experience on the iPad. It will also demonstrate how a practice methodology for designing screen typography, which was developed during the author’s practice-based Ph.D. research, was applied to the design process of the The Waste Land App.

Keywords: e-book design; iPad App design; interactive design; screen typography; screen-reading experience; user interface

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art Design and Technology (IADT)

Publication date: 2011-03-01

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  • Book 2.0 is a new, interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journal which aims to publish articles and reviews on developments in book creation and design, (including the latest progressions in technology and software affecting illustration, design and book production). It will also explore innovations in distribution, marketing and sales, and book consumption, and in the research, analysis and conservation of book-related professional practices. Book 2.0 aims to provide a forum for promoting and sharing the most original and progressive practice in the teaching of writing, illustration, book design and production, and publishing across all educational sectors.
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