Ebook Affordances

I’ve put a handful of books on my iPad over the last few weeks, but I have to admit: I keep forgetting to read them. Not because the books aren’t good, but because, unlike physical books, ebooks take up no psychic space. Physical books by the nature of their being, well, physical and visible, remind me to read them. This isn’t true of digital books. Currently, I can’t glance at the Kindle or iBooks icons on my iPhone or iPad and know whether I have a library beneath it, waiting to be read, or nothing. There is no visual affordance that there’s anything there for me to engage with.

Here’s how the Kindle app icon looks now:

As it is, it tells me nothing except the name of the app and gives an idea of what it is. A simple solution would be this one:

Just like with mail app, it would let you know how many books you have unread. This, however, seems kind of harsh for an ebook. After all, you don’t want reading books to seem like a chore, with books becoming more items to be crossed off the To Do list (library zero!).

Another option would be to make the icon itself seem like a stack of books, to turn the icon into a pile:

The stack would grow based on the number of books you have unread. Personally, I think something more ambient might work better:

Each piece of “fruit” would represent a book that remains to be read. Or how about something more literal, yet still ambient:

A stack of books at the reader’s feet that would grow and shrink. Half-read books could even be represented by showing some “opened” books on the ground.

In any case, as more of our activities become digital, we need to figure out how to retain some of their physicality: the implicit, mostly unnoticed indictors we have in the analog world that help us to do that activity. Or simply remind us to do it.