The UX of a printed book vs the Kindle

A colleague at work suggested I trying running the experience of reading a printed book and then a book on the Kindle through the characteristics, so here goes:

  • Informational: Printed books have a much higher resolution than the Kindle (300 DPI vs 167 PPI) and are unconstrained in size, unlike the Kindle’s 6″ or 9.7″ screen.  This gives the printed book an edge in the amount and complexity of information that can be displayed.  The Kindle, however, can hold over 1,500 books its modem allows instant access to over 300,000 titles.
  • Actionable: Printed books make no actions available, the Kindle on the other hand, allows readers to look-up terms, download other books, and more.
  • Social: Printed books have no social features (except perhaps writing in the margin – which is discouraged in most cases!).  The Kindle also has no social features – which is quite surprising considering what its capable of and who created it! Seth Godin has some great ideas that could move the Kindle up the social scale.
  • Personal: Printed books are usually very generic (identical for everyone), however, there are circumstances in which they can be personalized.  Our daughter, Abby, received a book on her first birthday that spelled out and used her name throughout.  The Kindle, as you might expect, offers a few more personalization features like bookmarking, annotations, loading your personal documents onto it, etc.
  • Scoped: Printed books are very narrow in scope, they present their text and pictures and nothing more.  The Kindle, on the other hand, as well as enabling you to read it like a printed book, lets you search, look-up words in a dictionary, gives you web access, it will even play music and read to you!
  • Learnable: I’m going to go out on a limb and explore an idea here by saying that a printed book is no more learnable than the Kindle.  They’re both self-directed experiences, however, the narrow scope and physical simplicity of a book makes its manipulation very comprehensible and controllable (see the principles of UX) vs the Kindle, which given its broader scope and electronic (stateful) nature has greater challenges to overcome (you don’t need to “switch on” a book!)
  • Configurable: Printed books are not configurable (maybe I can take the dust jacket off).  The Kindle, however, allows readers to change the text size (hmmm, is that the only way the Kindle is configurable?)
  • Adaptive: Neither printed book or the Kindle are adaptive (unless someone with a Kindle tells me otherwise?).  Perhaps an unintended adaptive aspect of a printed book might be that the more it gets opened at a certain page the more it will fall open at that page?
  • Playful: The printed format of a book isn’t very “fun” (of course the contents can be).  The Kindle shares this approach – the interface experience itself isn’t intended to be ‘fun’ – in fact its intended to be invisible: “Our top design objective was to make Kindle disappear–just like a physical book–so you can get lost in your reading, not the technology.”
  • Impartial: Printed books typically include a list of “other books by this author” and sometimes even a sample chapter from the next book in an attempt to influence the reader to buy another book.  Although I haven’t seen a Kindle for long enough, knowing Amazon i’m sure it turns these features “up to 11”.

These case studies are intended to explore the broad range of characteristics at a fairly shallow level for an experience.  I’ll also be diving into the details of individual characteristics in future posts. Please keep sending your ideas and comments!

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1 Response to “The UX of a printed book vs the Kindle”


  1. 1 Steve August 1, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Another dimension to consider “Fidelity vs. Convenience” – similar to (but not the same as)the Speed vs Safety dimension that we talked about around the car example.

    In this example, you might compare a coffee table book with huge, full-color pictures at the full end of fidelity, while the Kindle, with thousands of books in a device with the ability to download more on demand, is really a device largely of convenience.

    It might not work 100% in your model, but I thought I’d point it out since I ran across it …

    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/08/fidelity-vs-convenience.html


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