Five Questions to Jean-Michel Dentand of MAPP Editions

Hi Jean-Michel. You’re the Design Director of digital publisher MAPP Editions. Digital publishing is still a relatively new medium and my guess is that designers are coming from different backgrounds. What did you do before getting into app and ebook design?

One of my first jobs in London was designing books (incidentally it was with Michael Mack). I didn’t study design (I studied cinema), but since very I was young I’ve been into designing on a computer, playing with MacPaint, then Hypercard, Director and Quark. So I moved relatively quickly back from print to the web. Digital is my element.

MAPP Editions is working closely with book publisher MACK. Can you tell us a bit more about your cooperation?

To an extent MAPP is the digital arm of MACK – the publisher of both is the same person so the businesses share a vision in terms of their publishing programme and our studio includes some designers who work in both paper and digital.

iPad screen grab from Figures & Fictions

How important do you think knowledge and real insight in traditional book design vs digital design is when designing an ebook or app?

Ironically, what we could call traditional book design is already quite digital. Only the reader experience is not.

But it is important. I’m no traditionalist, but I think it’s important to understand the language of the printed book; it is rich with solutions that designers have developed over time, and it also shapes the current formats.

That said, digital brings another level of complexity, possibilities. And the language for this is still evolving.

The print design world has managed to develop easy to use tools (PageMaker, Quark and InDesign) that don’t have their equivalent in digital. I’m not even sure they ever will.

Digital publishing is quite complicated at the moment with various formats, platforms and devices. This is a problem because it makes very few digital books truly universal, and I guess it imposes design limitations as well. Would the ideal be online books adapted for tablets, or a solution like Zinio, that works on the computer and across many platforms and devices? What are your thoughts on these issues?

Tell me about it! I’m confronted with these limitations everyday; it’s exciting but also terribly frustrating. Ebook development feels like the web’s poor brother. They now share so much yet ebooks still suffer from a lot of the issues that used to plague the web not so long ago: compatibility, standards, big players imposing their business strategies.

Formats for text ebooks, the majority of all epublications, are reaching a certain maturity but formats for illustrated content have a long way to go.

So yes, an ideal solution would be a format/platform/service allowing the reader to view a publication in his or her chosen form, whether it be desktop/laptop/tablet/mobile/(google glass?), online/offline, synchronised.

It will come. This medium is still very young.

iPad screen grab from War Primer 2 by Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin

There are lots of photographers and artists who can’t find a publisher for their project or are interested in self-publishing. Do you have any recommendations (formats, software, outlets etc.) for those who want to self-publish a digital photobook?

I’m probably not the best person to give advice on entry level tools. iBooks Author is probably the easiest solution. What comes out of it is a bit formulaic (it was developed for education, so the structure is not very flexible, and it’s got some cheesy effects). It also has some serious distribution constraints. And it’s iPad only. Blurb seems easy to use, but I haven’t played with it much. I’m looking forward to Hol Art Books Kickstarter project, it seems promising.

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