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Are Programmers Ruining the Design of eBooks?

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the homer-car dept.

Books 470

An anonymous reader writes "The Toronto Review of Books claims that the majority of digital books are awful because major publishers are handing over the design work to programmers, not artists and editors. This results in the 'typographical horrors' typical of so many eBooks, and hundreds of 'lackluster' iPad adaptations. 'Programmers are suddenly being given free reign to design books,' the article laments. 'Most publishers don't care about the iPad or eBooks very much... which may be an aesthetic rejection based on the publisher's historical reverence for the printed page.' Don't we deserve better eBooks?"

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Yes! (1, Insightful)

DCTech (2545590) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650002)

Programmers don't really understand good design and usability. Just look at the state of Linux and most open source programs. They might have the specific functionality, but they seriously lack in UI and design. On top of that linux geeks fail to understand that people don't want to use command line to do tasks. Graphical UI's are more fast, easier to use, you don't need to remember commands and even new users can do their thing quickly, without resorting to reading manuals and other crap like that.

Another stupid thing I've noticed about programmers is that immediately when they think of design, UI and easy of use it somehow translates as features taken off or hard to use. That's because programmers cannot think logically like most people do.

Good example is Ribbon UI. Ribbon is actually a great step forward in terms of usability. I wasn't really heavy Office user but have used in from time to time. Same is true now. The difference is, when I use it now, I find it much easier to use and I'm using the advanced features I didn't know about. That's because Ribbon shows them more clearly to me when I need them. I never realised that the features were there or that I should had used them. I'm not going to browse thru all the menus and try the different options. Ribbon presents them to me in an easy, quick format. And this isn't only Office. There are other programs I use that have been "Ribbonized" and I've noticed the same pattern. My overall usage of those programs advanced features has only grown.

Also, considering that geeks usually complain how people don't get them or they're bullied, they seem to have a huge "I'm better and more intelligent than the rest of people" complex. You can just follow slashdot and you see what I'm talking about. Constant dissing of non-geeks, how they're stupid, how people should spend time learning computers (while geeks not wanting to learn stuff like socializing, how sports leagues are going or stuff that interests girls) and everything else. Geeks also look down at designers as in "they don't know what they're doing". Designers are professionals, they know these things better than programmers do. Live with it.

Re:Yes! (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650056)

"more fast"? Sounds like an English major there.

Re:Yes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650062)

Yeah, programmers, you can't design user interfaces for toffee so stop confronting us with that garbage.

Also don't give us command line interfaces either they're worse!

Pick one of the remaining options.

Re:Yes! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650070)

Good example is Ribbon UI. Ribbon is actually a great step forward in terms of usability. I wasn't really heavy Office user but have used in from time to time. Same is true now. The difference is, when I use it now, I find it much easier to use and I'm using the advanced features I didn't know about. That's because Ribbon shows them more clearly to me when I need them. I never realised that the features were there or that I should had used them. I'm not going to browse thru all the menus and try the different options. Ribbon presents them to me in an easy, quick format. And this isn't only Office. There are other programs I use that have been "Ribbonized" and I've noticed the same pattern. My overall usage of those programs advanced features has only grown.

Shilling for MS. What a whore.

captcha: credible

Re:Yes! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650362)

Can you think of a better way to troll on /.? The post is an obvious and pathetic troll. And you gave him a cookie!

Re:Yes! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650074)

I guess what they say is true, stereotypes save time.

Re:Yes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650076)

Not sure if trolling
or just stupid

Re:Yes! (4, Insightful)

tripleevenfall (1990004) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650094)

On top of that linux geeks fail to understand that people don't want to use command line to do tasks.

Well... I think what Linux geeks miss is that the parts of Linux that they like best are things the general public is not interested in. Customizability is not something the average home PC user cares about. They want things to "just work". The standard for "easy" is Apple, and people don't feel like computers should be any harder to use than that.

Hobbyists, which is what Linux geeks are, want something different than everyone else does. There are some people who enjoy working on cars and fixing them, customizing them, souping them up, doing DIY repairs... most people just want to get to work without thinking about it.

Re:Yes! (4, Insightful)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650294)

Linux is Unix, Apple (iOS, and OSX) is Unix, Android is Unix ... All totally built around the command line ...?

How many times do you use a command line (or even see one) on any of these in normal use ...? ...about the same as in Windows ... i.e. never ...

Unix was designed around the command line 40 years ago ... but you don't need it anymore for everyday use, this is not stopping you using it, but you don't need it now unless you are customising the system ....

Re:Yes! (3, Insightful)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650400)

Most of the time I'm on Linux (or BSD for that matter), I use the command line. Mostly because, for what I do with it, the GUI tools available on either aren't very good. Particularly for file navigation/management. In general they either look like garbage, or just feel kludgy in the way the act.

Re:Yes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650446)

How many times do you use a command line (or even see one) on any of these in normal use ...? ...about the same as in Windows ... i.e. never ...

Very often, actually. My Windows 7 Explorer has somehow become unable to rename a file. No error, it just doesn't change the filename.

So, until I find a solution, it's "ren oldname newname" every time.

Re:Yes! (3, Insightful)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650306)

Many Linux geeks don't "miss" it, we just don't care.

Tell me where you find "just works". (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650528)

Doesn't happen in Apple.

PS given the money spent on ringtones, screensavers and backdrops for phones, I highly doubt your "Customizability is not something the average home PC user cares about.".

Re:Yes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650098)

Graphical UI's are more fast, easier to use, you don't need to remember commands and even new users can do their thing quickly, without resorting to reading manuals and other crap like that.

I'll give you the rest, but no way graphical UIs are faster than using command-line tools.

Re:Yes! (2)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650182)

Graphical UI's are more fast, easier to use, you don't need to remember commands and even new users can do their thing quickly, without resorting to reading manuals and other crap like that.

I'll give you the rest, but no way graphical UIs are faster than using command-line tools.

They're faster for new or occasional users, that's all.

Re:Yes! (1)

dirtyhippie (259852) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650218)

Yeap. Lynx is way faster than firefox.

Re:Yes! (2)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650410)

Lynx isn't command line, it's console. Having used both (primarily firefox), yes, Lynx IS faster than firefox, but if you like pictures, stick with FireFox...

Re:Yes! (4, Interesting)

wisnoskij (1206448) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650398)

They are different, you cannot really compare the speeds. doing many things by command line simply takes a lot of typing and clicking can be quite fast.
Also the gui does a far better job of stopping the user from looking up how to do things and customization, both of which can waste a lot of time.
And I don't care who you are, either you have every single command memorized (with every single argument as well) and you have wasted, probably months of your life learning these things or more likely just know some small subset and have to look up news ones on occasion.
Every second spent learning how to use a computer and customizing a computer is wasted, and if it can be trimmed down with a better interface then you have just created a better interface.

So the answer: After tens years of practice, uncountable hours (probably closer to days or weeks in some cases) reading man pages, and a similar amount of time creating custom scripts I can now use my computer 25% faster then GUI users (as long as I only do normal every day tasks) is not a shining recommendation for the command line.

Re:Yes! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650132)

TROLL -5 Flamebait

Re:Yes! (2)

muon-catalyzed (2483394) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650136)

More clutter the better, design an easy GUI and they don't buy your documentation, manuals and Amazon dummies books -- the only revenue you will ever see from your FOSS.

Re:Yes! (5, Insightful)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650140)

And here, boys and girls, we have one of the so-called "designer" types that has been fucking up Ubuntu et al for the last two years.

Re:Yes! (4, Insightful)

ibwolf (126465) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650152)

Programmers don't really understand good design and usability.

While sometimes true, it is far more commonly a failure to understand the user. The ability to evaluate the usability of an interface, not just based on how it fits your needs, but on how it would fit someone else's needs is rare and requires a good bit of cultivating. Of course everyone thinks this is easy because they know what is wrong, but it is really the same as with the programmers, you just know what works for you. So you might reword that statement as "People don't really understand good design and usability."

And to bring this back on topic, artists and editors are (on balance) no better at usability than programmers. They do however have significant domain-specific insights into how to present readable text and that should not be discarded. You should however also bring in usability experts to help design the interactive aspects of your e-book experience.

Re:Yes! (3, Insightful)

Xanny (2500844) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650160)

Not to detract from the programmers are stupid bandwagon here, but I'm pretty sure the groups of people who are extremely artistically deficient and who program are not correlated in any strong way.

Linux is difficult to use because of the command line problem, yes, but more so the problem is that Linux is a hodge podge of software that need not work well together. A lot more stuff is user space than in windows / osx and the tradeoff is that user space stuff isn't tested with rigor to work 100% of the time like kernel mode stuff. It leaves Linux more secure but user space programs failing that average joe has no idea how to remedy does not make him happy.

But overall, as a programmer, I do take offense to not knowing how to design a UI. I know perfectly well how to. All you do is come at it from the perspective that it needs to work for someone who has no idea how anything works (aka, my mother) and someone who knows how everything works (aka, me, if I made it) and make sure there is no gap in the swathe of people between those extreme points where the design fails to, if not intuitively, at least give them the ability to change it to become intuitive for them, naturally favoring the lower end where significantly more people are than the high end.

Re:Yes! (1)

nhat11 (1608159) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650170)

We're programmers, not designers so management think we can do everything so they dump everything on programmers.

No (4, Insightful)

donscarletti (569232) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650176)

The problem is that the design work is being done by someone who doesn't care about typography and usability, not because it is done by someone who is skilled in programming.

If you don't know about about structure, algorithms and logic, it is hard to give an application design that is novel, implementable and will actually work out the way it is envisioned. But to effectively design you need skills in design as well as actually caring about the usecases. Code is the medium to express design, just like paint and stone can be used to express visual art, but an interface designer who can't code is as useless as an artist who cannot use a paintbrush or chisel. Coding isn't that hard if you can structure your thoughts clearly enough to explain your design to others anyway, there's nothing arcane to it.

So the crux is, two things, equally important, the code and what you are coding.

Re:Yes! (2)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650244)

Ribbon - Designed by programmers, Loved by some, Hated by others - there seems to be no groupings on this some programmers love the Ribbon, some hate it, some experienced Word user love it, some hate it, some new users love it some hate it ... This is not a good design....this would be a system where people use it without complaint ...i.e. no-one hates it

The real issue *is* a programming one, most books are typeset by non-programmers and non-artists - Just like normal books, and normal newspapers so they need tools that will allow them to produce book that look as good as possible with no effort or time ...these are seemingly non-existent ...

Re:Yes! (2)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650442)

The design failure is that they don't allow users to select the ribbon OR classic menus.

Unless you have to support the product :-)

Re:Yes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650254)

That's because programmers cannot think logically like most people do.

I am not a programmer. But i can tell you that programming is probably the most logical profession out there !

Erm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650354)

You haven't met too many professional programmers then, if you're claiming they are the "most logical profession."

IMHO, they for the most part are illogical.

Re:Erm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650448)

IMHO, they for the most part are illogical.

I think you've met a lot of bad programmers. I've met good programmers and bad, and in my experience, a programmer's skill is directly proportional to how logical he or she is.

From my perspective, I'd say the US software industry still needs to sack the bottom-performing 50% of software developers, even after the contraction during the dot-com bust and subsequent downturn.

Re:Erm (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650468)

People tend to act in opposite ways outside of the outside/work/professional life, than they do in them.

For example - programming requires a lot of logic and analytical skill, however that can be stressful and boring, they may want some "unwinding", and so they act particularly illogical outside of their professional life, or even within it, when not actually programming..

No! (4, Insightful)

DdKL (2549978) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650318)

Of course designers know better design than programmers, that's obvious. Programmers are there to do their job. They program. They build the system and its functionalities. They are not designers, and if they know something about UI and design, it's a bonus, not a defficiency. It eBooks lack decent design, it's because the publishers didn't hire designers. You can build an ugly program with only a programmer, but you can't build a pretty software with only a designer. Programmers are essentials. If you ever need a working app, you know which to hire first.

Re:No! (2)

m.ducharme (1082683) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650458)

But if you want a working app that lots of people will enjoy using, you have to hire both. Or find one person who understands both.

Re:Yes! (3, Interesting)

noobermin (1950642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650356)

You're really setting yourself up for flaming, you know. You bring up a valid point but your method is so abrasive that few people will listen to you.

Yes, design is, in fact, a thing many people don't understand however design can make or break a product, and I wish more people who are on the left-side of their brains would realize that. We perhaps don't realize it but subconsciously we prefer more aesthetically pleasing interfaces/media/etc to ones that are uninspired. At least I do.

Anyhow, GUI's aren't always easier to use and the command line is the superior tool for some things because of one thing: it is explicit. Commands do exactly what you tell them to do, there is no guesstimation. Yes, a button is either pressed or not but you have to aim your pointer at the button :-). I can type "ps auwx | grep python" without having to move my wrist about the GUI and thus it can be quicker in some cases. Add in tab-completion and "remembering commands" is trivial.

This whole learning curve rubbish is just that, rubbish. I remember teaching my 9 year old cousin how to use a PC (she never had used one before). It didn't come "naturally" to her, she had to learn it as something new. Newsflash: buttons and switches didn't exist in nature! Saying that somehow we prefer GUIs by some a priori preference is silly. We find these familiar because buttons and switches are things we have learned to be used to from physical analogs like light switches but the "preference" stops there. There is one pre-computer analog to the command line and I bet my socks that it is more second nature(or first!) than switches: speech.

There is a reason people still use the command line and it isn't because of some cult of computer geeks that keep it going; it actually is quite useable.

Re:Yes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650388)

(while geeks not wanting to learn stuff like socializing, how sports leagues are going or stuff that interests girls)

They don't want to learn about our stuff, so why should we. Spoiler: people only bother learning stuff that interests them.

Re:Yes! (1)

Rennt (582550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650492)

Nearly anybody can be a software "designer", you just need an over-developed sense of style and, crucially, the ability to listen to actual school-trained professionals.

It's not just ebooks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650034)

Programmers (mostly) are terrible at typography and it's not just limited to ebooks - it's evident in software, the web, you name it.

I should know. I'm a programmer and my type looks awful.

Re:It's not just ebooks (5, Funny)

JediHomer (911877) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650048)

That's why I always use Comic Sans :)

Re:It's not just ebooks (0)

ElmoGonzo (627753) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650144)

Programmers do not need to spell correctly, just consistently. It's the Q/A people, who need to check on everything else. Or, Cow forbid, someone who writes specifications that cover those details. As a programmer, I live on the deadbolt end of Plauger's spectrum -- if you want pretty you need to find a designer or fashion consultant who will ensure that your necktie matches your socks.

Re:It's not just ebooks (4, Insightful)

Thantik (1207112) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650282)

I really hate when I see a term like "Plauger's spectrum", go to find the definition of it, and the only use of it ever, is right here on Slashdot with no explanation of what it is anywhere else...

Re:It's not just ebooks (1)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650336)

Ah, but a good programmer is a lazy person, and it's much easier to spell consistently if you spell correctly--there's a whole system of rules that acts as compression. Sure, there's outliers that you have to memorize, but without those rules you have to memorize everything.

Amusing (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650042)

(Posting AC because I'm at work and I don't log into websites from work...)

I find it amusing that the article linked for this story has some atrocious typography of its own. In today's day and age of CSS3, that sort of leading on the internet is simply unacceptable. If you're going to complain about the typography in ebooks, perhaps you'd like to get your own website in order first.

Re:Amusing (0)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650068)

You typed it so don't have to, thanks. It was an awful site and I couldn't read it.

Not so Amusing (2)

advid.net (595837) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650246)

Thanks also, I don't have to second that since you did it.

That's what stroke me first: "what an horrible typography !"
How ironic.
But then, trying to read such a page is a pain, so I gave up... And that's not amusing.

Re:Not so Amusing (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650390)

That's what stroke me first: "what an horrible typography !"

Wow. Just. Wow.

Re:Amusing (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650110)

Because the author is surely the same person who handles typography and css layout. That's the way all the big publishing companies handle it, don'tcha know.

Re:Amusing (4, Informative)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650228)

(Posting AC because I'm at work and I don't log into websites from work...)

I find it amusing that the article linked for this story has some atrocious typography of its own. In today's day and age of CSS3, that sort of leading on the internet is simply unacceptable. If you're going to complain about the typography in ebooks, perhaps you'd like to get your own website in order first.

Perhaps, because the Toronto Book Review isn't the one who said it, and it was actually Chris Stevens the author of Alice for the iPad who said it?

Re:Amusing (1)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650296)

I find it amusing that the article linked for this story has some atrocious typography of its own. In today's day and age of CSS3, that sort of leading on the internet is simply unacceptable. If you're going to complain about the typography in ebooks, perhaps you'd like to get your own website in order first.

Don't worry .. the Internet has already routed around the failure.

Re:Amusing (5, Funny)

gnapster (1401889) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650324)

I find it amusing that the article linked for this story has some atrocious typography of its own.

Really? What I see is a single sentence in a black serifed font on a white page. No ads; nothing. It is beautiful:

Error establishing a database connection

Cost-cutting (4, Insightful)

tripleevenfall (1990004) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650052)

This is a symptom of the down economy, but also of the must-make-earnings-or-else management style.

PHB's don't see design and development as needing different skillets, they just see two jobs that can be consolidated into one. If you have a programmer who does a B+ job programming and a C- job on design, eliminate the design, produce a C+ product, and then go tell your C*O you eliminated positions without impacting productivity.

Re:Cost-cutting (3, Insightful)

realsilly (186931) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650124)

It goes beyond simple cost cutting measures. Project managers don't really see the benefit of good artistic design and layout. It is rare indeed that a programmer has the artistic eye for design and are a great programmer. They do exist, and those that are really great at what they do have set a precedent of sorts. As managers try to find cost cutting measures that still provide a product worth selling, but if the manager doesn't have an artistic sense then that manager will hold little to no value in a designer. They don't see value added work. But the reality is quite the opposite. A great design can help sell a product because it is visually pleasing to the eye.

Look at banking web pages for example, they are designed pretty nicely and are very functional.

Re:Cost-cutting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650168)

If you have a programmer who does a B+ job programming and a C- job on design, eliminate the design, produce a C+ product....

I think many grade on a curve.

B+ job and a C- job on design - A+ product.Ship it!

Re:Cost-cutting (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650310)

but also of the must-make-earnings-or-else management style.

I think you are right that it is cost-savings, but not in the way you think.

I read that publishing houses need to support many eBook formats, which don't all have a common feature set. Amazon's .mobi does not support everything in .epub, and neither support everything in .pdf. So what do they do? They use design rules that limit you to a common subset of features, which is almost no features at all. This way they only have to create one eBook "master", which ends up having very primitive formatting.

Re:Cost-cutting (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650432)

PHB's don't see design and development as needing different skillets

Developer's would be happy with these skillets [wsimgs.com] .

A designer would require something more like this set [wsimgs.com] .

No, the reason why is in the summary (4, Insightful)

neokushan (932374) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650064)

Most publishers don't care about the iPad or eBooks very much

There's your problem right there. It's not the programmer's fault if he hasn't been given an artist or designer to work with. If you give an unqualified person a job to do and they do a shitty job, it's your fault, not theirs. Either get someone qualified in, or give them the necessary training.

Re:No, the reason why is in the summary (4, Interesting)

EdZ (755139) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650120)

The programmer is probably just as pissed as the user. Imagine designing an ebook format with built in dynamic page breaks, line breaks, columns, tabs, etc so the text can reform on-the-fly for different aspect ratios and text sizes while maintaining formatting. Now imaging the publisher insists of just hitting enter 20 times between chapters and formatting columns by pressing the space bar a lot each line.

Why? (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650248)

We already have dozens of readers and formats.

Re:No, the reason why is in the summary (2)

velenux (164927) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650314)

The "reading" app should take care of that, just stick with ePub or mobi formats, plenty of apps to read them.

Re:No, the reason why is in the summary (2)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650530)

Readers are constrained by how well the protocol they read has been used.

As parent said, the format may have the utility for an author to provide information about sections and let the reader make it look good on a specific device, but just as people did when using netscape composer (and lets pause for a few minutes there and reflect.. ok.. good) a lot of people authoring the documents don't use them and instead use what they know (space bar, enter key) to make it look right on whatever they are using (which may not be their fault... it wouldn't occur intuitively to a non-geek... hell it can be hard to explain to a geek!).

Re:No, the reason why is in the summary (1)

MrHanky (141717) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650418)

That would make ebooks worse than they actually are.

Re:No, the reason why is in the summary (2)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650334)

Most publishers don't care about *Books* very much

Every penny they spend on typesetting and layout is a penny lost in (very meagre) profit ...

Management failure (4, Insightful)

plopez (54068) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650072)

Probably what is happening is that management is trying to go cheap on labor. I can see the attitude in my mind. Someone says "Why do we need designers when we can just have the programmers throw it on the eBook for free?"The same thing happened with websites for years, before people realized how important good design really is.

Re:Management failure (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650112)

The same thing happened with websites for years, before people realized how important good design really is.

lol wut

Re:Management failure (1)

Chatterton (228704) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650214)

Some company/administrations still didn't realized that. I am in charge of one of the websites of the biggest european administration. I do the code, the design, the infography, the typography and writing some of the content in a language who is not my mother tongue. Go figure...

Re:Management failure (1)

emilper (826945) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650232)

Printed book design went to hell lately: A4 pages without columns so a line of text can have 200 characters, no spacing between paragraphs, sans serif fonts in printed pages ... book design is dirt poor on paper too, not only ebooks. At least in an ebook (well, not if it's pdf) I can arrange the page size, the font and the spacings so it's comfortable to read. One hundred years ago even the pulp books were designed better.

Re:Management failure (3, Interesting)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650346)

What makes you think programmers are doing the eBook version, they already have the text in electronic format, they just get the Office lackey to use a quick and dirty program to turn it into an eBook ...

The issue is that no-one is writing a program to convert into the eBook formats that cares about typesetting ...

Re:Management failure (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650384)

You win the prize today. You nailed the real reason.

Where do you want us to ship your cookies?

No. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650080)

Marketing is ruining the work of programmers.

Just look at the Linux desktop (Unity, Gnome3 reinventing Windows, badly) or Firefox.

It's clearly the fault of the lusers (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650086)

Programmers and IT are perfect beings that can do no wrong. If you don't like the result, that's because you're a luser.

why does the typography a property of the ebook? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650088)

Shouldn't the entire point be to separate the content from the presentation? Some people might find it easier to read different kinds of fonts, or line spacings, or what have you. Shouldn't the display be entirely up to the reader, and the ebook just contain the content?

Re:why does the typography a property of the ebook (2)

fish waffle (179067) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650180)

No more than the display of a web page should be entirely up the client. Often the style is not all that relevant, but sometimes fonts, spacing, line-breaks, placement of images, etc are important to the author intent.

Re:why does the typography a property of the ebook (2)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650502)

Sure, we just need someone to define a universal and finite set of semantic elements that define every possible author's intent. Have fun with Only Revolutions [wikipedia.org] , or if you're the type that thinks it's not a real book if you didn't read it in high school, E.E. Cummings [wikipedia.org] .

Ideal and practical are, unfortunately, two very different things.

LaTeX (1)

ath1901 (1570281) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650090)

I wish they would. LaTeX is typically much better at typesetting than your average artist/editor using Word. All real programmer would use LaTeX right?
(No, I haven't RTFA)

Re:LaTeX (1)

Fnord666 (889225) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650226)

(No, I haven't RTFA)

And it doesn't look like you'll be able to anytime soon. Someone's site has just gotten a good slashdotting.

Error establishing a database connection

Re:LaTeX (3, Insightful)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650230)

I wish they would. LaTeX is typically much better at typesetting than your average artist/editor using Word. All real programmer would use LaTeX right? (No, I haven't RTFA)

Software can't turn you into a great designer any more than it can turn you into a great programmer.

Re:LaTeX (2)

bhaak1 (219906) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650402)

I wish they would. LaTeX is typically much better at typesetting than your average artist/editor using Word. All real programmer would use LaTeX right? (No, I haven't RTFA)

Software can't turn you into a great designer any more than it can turn you into a great programmer.

No, it cant. But good software at least has decent defaults that were set by someone that knows his/her stuff.

problems with LaTeX and e-books (4, Insightful)

infernalC (51228) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650372)

Disclaimer: I am a technical writer, and have a lot of experience with publishing workflows.

I love the ease of obtaining books for my e-book reader. I also love the space savings I get from e-books and not having to choose which physical book to dispose of when I get a new one.

Given good content to work with, any programmer could figure out how to make it beautiful using LaTeX. There are even several excellent packages for typesetting novels out there on CTAN. However, there isn't a mature, standardized workflow to get from LaTeX to epub. I sort of expected this by now. It'd be nice if XeLaTeX had an output driver for epub. Everything on planet LaTeX revolves around PDF output, and it doesn't do tagged PDF output, which means that paragraphs cannot be reflowed. So, you can generate a beautiful document for your e-book reader, as long as you don't plan to zoom, and you have to generate a different PDF file for every size of device out there.

That's not to say that LaTeX and friends haven't come a long way. Synctex and TeXworks make editing a joy. XeTeX and fontspec make font selection easy-cheesy.

However, I pine for the day when I can just do epublatex document.tex or taggedpdflatex document.tex and get awesome output. I don't want to have to rasterize my graphics either... I just want it to work. It's coming, I'm sure.

Re:problems with LaTeX and e-books (1)

infernalC (51228) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650406)

We also need to get some sanity with hyphenation and re-flow, and, I am disappointed that my reader doesn't seem to do a good job of kerning, or do ligatures at all.

LaTeX vs. ebooks (2)

gwolf (26339) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650408)

LaTeX is strongly geared towards producing printed documents. It has a very comprehensive (and beautiful!) amount tweaks, heuristics, and mostly everything is overridable. And while it can be used as the basis for non-printed outputs (i.e. latex2html makes nice structured, internally linked documents), it's not its main goal.

Reworking a LaTeX document to be used as the source for an epub (believe me, I have been looking at it from some different angles for a physical book we recently printed) is... Far from trivial.

Wrong approach. (2)

shic (309152) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650118)

I don't want specific media for ebooks. I want an ebook device that accurately displays the printed page.

Where's my A4 300+DPI E-ink tablet that's been promised 'just around the corner' for years now.

Re:Wrong approach. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650454)

You left out color.
That is part of the problem. Not all "books" are the same.
Not all are A4 sized. Some need color, some do not.
Here is an example of the problem.
I have a Kindle Fire which I use for two of my magazines, Cycle World and Motorcyclist. When I use "page view" it is terrible to read them. Now when I use Text view it is great to read the articles. In fact better than on paper. I do not have to deal with "continued on page" in text mode.
The down side is I do not get to see the ads. And yes sometimes the ads are useful. One of the advertisers could have a jacket on close out that I really want. On the Fire I will miss it.
I have to admit that I do love just reading the article from start to finish with out the page hunting.

You want to replace ebooks with apps? (4, Insightful)

Patron (2242336) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650134)

I prefer my ebooks as .epub, thank you very much.

No thanks. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650138)

This sounds like the book equivalent to flash sites. What's better about having every book as a separate DRM infected app which probably only works on iOS? No thanks, I'll stick to EPUB.

Not terribly impressed with the story (1)

SarekOfVulcan (133772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650154)

It takes a single quote from a review about a particular company's book/app -- it's not a statement in the Book Review's voice. Of course the interviewee wants to make "programmers" look bad - it makes his work look better by comparison. Not that it isn't amazing by any standards, but...

Not the Toronto Review, the Alice in W guy!! (2)

shilly (142940) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650178)

The summary is more than usually dreadful. This was a thoughtful interview with the guy that designed the Alice in Wonderland app, ie someone who knows what he's talking about. And he's right.

Not just the ebook versions. (1)

jbrandv (96371) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650184)

My wife has two e-readers. (Sony and Kindle) When she noticed several glaring errors in one book I picked up the paperback of the same title. The errors were in there too. Converting bad text into an ebook doesn't fix the bad typing or bad grammar.

Don't judge a book by its cover (1)

Tim4444 (1122173) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650198)

It's an ironic criticism considering how ugly the font is that they used for the article.

The complete lack of care and attention

That's an odd generalization for programmers. If you hire people who don't pay attention to detail, you'll get sloppy resuls whether they're programmers or designers.

I’m desperate for the book industry to produce some work that blows me away, but for now there’s a few Alice clones and not much else.

Is he actually reading the books or just looking at the pictures?

terrible (1, Insightful)

SolusSD (680489) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650262)

Well, most programmers are terrible at everything- including programming. That said, most people are terrible at what they do. :P

Let programmers be programmers! (1)

bhaak1 (219906) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650264)

TFA is actually not as harsh on the programmers as the summary sounds like. Quote from TFA: "We watch as publishers like Random House outsource the design of cherished titles to programmers whoâ"despite their excellence at programmingâ"are not designers."

Programmers should be programming and the design should be done by designers. Pretty obvious, isn't it? So really the publishers should be blamed for not releasing their books as ePubs or - when the book has requirements that ePub can't fulfill - let designers design the more elaborate eBooks.

Of course programmers usually don't know about typography (unless they have an interest in it [hi fellow LaTeX friends] and I suggest you pick up a good book or blog about it, it's really fascinating).

I work for a company that provides eBooks... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650266)

and our first offering (which was around for 6 years before being updated) was designed by our development team. It was shit, pure and simple. We had creative types in the group, we had a design person who worked on all sorts of options, but at the end of the day, the development team were in charge (of our start-up) so only what they wanted was adopted.

Even the name of the reader software was chosen by development; I remember the email from one of the developers "we encourage everyone to submit their suggestions on the reader software". This was quickly followed by a clarifying email from the same person saying "while we want to see everyone's suggestions, this is not a democracy, development will decide what the product will be named".

Different companies have different issues and approaches to eBooks, but not every eBook product that's crap is because of ruling by executive committee, PHB's or clueless publishers. Sometimes you have an entire department of entitled, arrogant developers who will actively tell you that customer feedback is overrated because "Henry Ford said "if I asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse". Not one of those developers is still with us today (we've been taken over) but the legacy of their gross incompetence haunts us still and will for a few more years.

Marketers should market, designers should design and developers should shut their fucking mouths and build the product they've been told to.

what about sales? (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650280)

They may be making an awful product, but it sure isn't hurting their sales... and eBooks are one of the easiest formats to pirate. If anything, they should be a lesson to the rest of the media industry. I think if they actually started pricing them competitively (i.e. at least a little bit less than the real book, instead of more than the real book) they'd make even more money and maybe be able to hire an artist to keep this joker happy.

What's The Problem With Programmer's Prose? (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650304)

So really, who says programmers can't design enjoyably readable [tldp.org] books?!

If programmers made ebooks (1)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650338)

If programmers designed eBook formats, they'd have vector graphics support.

Re:If programmers made ebooks (1)

bhaak1 (219906) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650436)

If programmers designed eBook formats, they'd have vector graphics support.

So true [idpf.org] .

I find it the other way around. (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650350)

epubs are great. the PDF ebook are slow as hell because some fricking "designer" thinks it needs a buttload of 5megapixel or higher images, and a background image per page.

Programmers wont do that.

It's "free rein" not "free reign" (2)

HBI (604924) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650394)

It's about horseys, you see. [dailywritingtips.com]

"Given"? (5, Insightful)

Bob9113 (14996) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650420)

'Programmers are suddenly being given free reign to design books,' the article laments.

Given? We're being "given" this?

I don't know how it works in the ebook industry, but in my fifteen years of professional programming in a variety of other industries, I've found that when they "give" me free reign to design the UI, it really means they rejected my suggestion that they hire a designer (if they even asked).

You're pointing at the wrong target, bud -- it's the chucklehead manager, with the designer clothes and designer watch, who thinks designers are a waste of money.

Apple and Steve Jobs (1)

Gideon Wells (1412675) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650450)

This is one of the advantages Steve Jobs had.

He knew design. He could communicate to some degree with programmers. His closed garden approach left something to be desired, though.

It is managements misunderstanding (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38650462)

not the programmers fault. I'm betting the issue here is that when you look at source of an eBook (I know it is true of ePub, and probably most others to a greater or lesser extent), you'll see that the underlying copy is essentially markup. So, I'm sure, when management looks at it they see that "computer programming stuff" and just naturally pass it off to the geek in the basement.

The geek in the basement runs it through his favorite editor, replaces all the new lines with a br tag, all the double new lines with a p and whatever else jumps out at him or her. After spending all of half and hour on and wondering what the big deal was they send it back to where they got it from. It is at this point it should be proofed and looked over to make sure it really does look ok in its intended medium. Unfortunately this apparently isn't happening as often as it should. For the most part though I've only seen a very small percentage of truly poorly formatted books.

As an eBook writer (2)

Suki I (1546431) | more than 2 years ago | (#38650474)

I found the whole process of converting my word document, which looked great when printed, into the Kindle format a total chore. It was so bad that I had my best friend finish it and publish it under his Kindle account. That was a couple of years ago and maybe things have changed. I guess having eBook readers read Word documents is too much of a leap.

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