Our Fixation With Containers
Why do we continue trying to mimic the print version when that same content is presented digitally? Why do app developers marvel at how good a job they've done simulating the print experience on-screen?
We still live in a world where animated page-flips are a basic feature for many popular content consumption apps and services. Are we really that simple-minded that we can't figure out new user interfaces and ways to navigate content? I'm reminded of this terrific parody of how hard it was to move from scrolls to books.
I should say that it's mostly the incumbents who are fixated with existing containers. If you've been publishing books, newspapers or magazines for many years you're likely to have that print format bias no matter what you're trying to create. The startups have less of a bias. Yes, even startups are guilty of trying to model their products around the existing print user experience, but the incumbents seem to really struggle here.
You might wonder why I'm even raising these questions. After all, digital replicas of print products are generating a lot of revenue these days and readers generally seem fairly happy with them. I'm less focused on "what is" though and more interested in "what could be."
As the old saying goes, "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." As long as we project the print container vision on all our digital thinking we'll end up missing opportunities to innovate.
Have you ever wondered how much this thinking has hampered innovation up to now? Here's an interesting thought experiment: What would digital content look like today if it was invented before print, not after? That's the kind of lens we need to look through to truly leverage the capabilities of digital devices.
Finally, I believe the early automobile entrepreneurs were more innovative with their user experience design than we are today. As I've said before, if today's digital content designers were in charge back then we'd all be driving cars with steering reigns, not steering wheels.