Fonts that react in real time, drawings that sing, and volumes whose contents depend on how fast you flip. Glimpse the future with nine questions that could shape tomorrow’s books.

If books are not dead, what will they become in the digital era? In October, swissnex San Francisco presented The Book Lab, an exhibition in which Swiss, French, and Californian higher education institutions posed nine essential questions for the future of books.

1) Why should digital fonts be static? 

Laika The Book Lab

LAIKA | Bern University of the Arts | Switzerland
By Michael Flückiger and Nicolas Kunz

LAIKA is an interactive and reactive font exploring the full potential of screens as opposed to paper. The font reacts in real time, for example if the name of a place is spelled out, its letters change in thickness and inclination according to live temperature, humidity, and wind data from that location.

2) Can a book browse a database?

Navigator The Book Lab

Navigator | Bern University of the Arts | Switzerland
By Michael Flückiger

Navigator explores the use of a book as an intuitive way to browse a complex hierarchical database. Users turn the pages of a volume of animal illustrations while flipping speed is recorded, determining the next content displayed (like more monkeys or a switch to birds)—and thus the position of the reader in the database.

3) What does a book of Big Data look like? 


basil.js | Academy of Art and Design Basel (HGK FHNW) | Switzerland
By Ted Davis, Benedikt Groß, and Ludwig Zeller

basil.js is a scripting library that expands the possibilities of Adobe InDesign to enable data visualizations and generative designs. The resulting #oneSecond is a four tome work that displays more than 5,500 tweets published on Twitter within the same second.

4) How can digital screens interact with traditional paper to create richer stories?

Once upon a Tale

Once Upon a Tale | Geneva University of Art and Design | Switzerland
By Benjamin Ben Kemoun, Praiya Chinagarn, Andrea Rovescalli, and Guillaume Vautier

When he teaches at Geneva University of Art and Design, Etienne Mineur (above) challenges his students to create interactions between paper and screen. One of the outcomes is Once Upon a Tale, played out on an iPad and deck of cards, which mixes and matches elements from different fairy tales. What happens when Red Riding Hood meets Snow White instead of the wolf?

5) How can apps deepen the story?

Night Shifts | Zurich University of the Arts | Switzerland By Cast / Audiovisual Media

Night Shifts | Zurich University of the Arts | Switzerland
By Cast / Audiovisual Media

Have you ever wondered what’s going on in the city while you are asleep? This transmedia iPad magazine offers a peek at what is usually hidden in the dark through photography, articles, and 56 minutes of short documentary films of Zurich at night.

6) What does it mean for a magazine article to go online?

Back in Black

Back in Black | Zurich University of the Arts | Switzerland
By Michael Zimmermann

Back in Black aims to change the status quo of online editorial content by re-creating a print article as if it were born online. More than a simple translation for a digital medium, this treatment offers another form of narration and engagement through an interactive website.

7) What can digital tools teach us about the drawing process?

Augmented Sketchbooks

Augmented Sketchbooks | Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts | Switzerland
By the School of Art and Design, CC Arts Material Research

Through a digital paper and pen, this installation invites everyone to explore an artists’ sketching process—with sound. Click on the lines of a drawing and hear the environment at the moment of creation. Or listen to a soundtrack composed specifically to augment a doodle.

8) Do digital books need to mimic the experience of the real thing?

Book Tales

Book Tales | Acronie / EnsadLab – École Nationale Supérieure Des Arts Décoratifs de Paris | France
By Acronie (Dominique Cunin – Mayumi Okura)

Why is it that so many tablet readers copy what it’s like to read a printed book, down to the sounds of pages flipping? Book Tales questions this approach with humor, criticism, and poetry through a series of interactive art pieces for mobile screens created with the Mobilizing programming language. One tableau, Faust, features a book that barely opens no matter how hard you try on the touch screen.

9) Can digital tools enhance co-creation?

Ice Bound The Book Lab

Ice-Bound | UC Santa Cruz | United States
By Jacob Garbe and Aaron Reed

The reader explores a labyrinthine polar research station through both an explorer’s personal journal and a digital experience in which stories reconfigure themselves depending on the reader’s choices. Picking a specific room to wander through changes the protagonist’s trajectory, for example.

Images by Myleen Hollero.