The Visual Book system : a study of the use of visual rhetoric in the design of electronic books
This research started from the observation that the appearance of information contributes to its overall value and that because there is an almost infinite number of possible ways to represent various kinds of information, it is very important to find the one which is going to be the most effective and which conveys as much of the value of the original information. In philosophical terms this concept could be seen as a particular instance of the Platonic vision of the universe, in his latter period, where the real world, the one we share, is only a pale and imperfect imitation of the world of ideas, the perfect one, to which every intellectual should aspire. Images as representations of ideas can help to access or at least get closer to ideas which otherwise would be too difficult to reach for human beings. Appearance has always played a key role in the learning process, as it facilitates the discovery of new concepts by allowing visual association with already familiar ones. This is why metaphors are so important in learning in general, and have therefore proved to be a valuable tool for designing new paradigms when adapting traditional tasks to changed environments. This research has focused on paper books as traditional repositories of information and on the art of paper book design as an effective technique for presenting information that has proven its worth over centuries of use. The next step was to consider if and how to apply the positive experiences from paper book publishing to the production of electronic books. The Visual Book is the result of the translation into electronic terms of the paper book metaphor when applied to scientific publications, with particular emphasis on the visual components of the metaphor. Where possible, the design of the Visual Book has followed the steps of the paper book production process, but it has also employed a technological component to take the new medium into account and has added additional functionalities which the computer can provide to the reader. The evaluation of the Visual Book has shown that the book metaphor has a very high impact on readers, which is particularly due to the firmly established tradition of reading information presented in that form. In this sense the Visual Book experiment has demonstrated both the importance of presentation issues when delivering information, and the value of traditional forms of publishing when defining new ones for an electronic context.