“The Art of Hybrid Publishing” – Interview by the Hybrid Publishing Lab

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 11.27.36

In occasion of the upcoming Post-Digital Scholar Conference (12-14 November, Lüneburg), I answered a few questions on “The Art of Hybrid Publishing”. The interview was originally posted here.

Hybrid Publishing Lab: What recent changes do you see in working with the visual aspects of publishing?

Silvio Lorusso: If we consider e-books, my impression is that the visual aspects of publishing, part of what is traditionally called editorial design, are still problematic. EPUBs are subject to the restrictions of various render engines, devices, retail platforms, etc. To realise this, it is sufficient to follow the #eprdct thread on Twitter: there’s a constant demand for hacks or shortcuts to make visual features work among different systems. Looking instead at platform-specific tools such as iBooks Author, my feeling is that the “enhancements” they produce are most of the time just an interactive “topping” on very traditional – not to say reactionary – forms of publication.

In an article recently appeared on BuzzFeed, Lincoln Michel states: “Despite the regular hyping of enhanced e-books/hypertext/apps/interactive books, I don’t see those going anywhere outside of a few specific markets like children’s books and textbooks. The problem is that we already have a whole industry devoted to interactive narratives: video games.” I would add that the Web itself seems to offer a mature and fruitful space for interactive narrative and visual experimentation. So why confining such possibilities in an enclosed and secluded form? The main reason seems to be commercial: websites are not perceived as products to buy. That said, a publication that is in some ways separated from the Web makes sense in many cases, as it triggers very different dynamics of fruition and exchange. This situation leads me to believe that designers should try to conceive publishing formats that parasitically take advantage of the existing platforms and technologies and leave bigotry aside when determining what a publication is. In this regard, I can mention a proposal by Konst & Teknik to use existing Wi-Fi signals to distribute 5–10 lines of text in the form of network names and passwords.

Paradoxically enough, visual and material efforts in print design are more lively than ever. Sometimes they represent a direct response to its alleged marginality. Take for instance the incipit of Fully Booked: Ink on Paper (Gestalten, 2013), in which the clichés about the death of paper are subverted: “Let me state this for the record: The internet is not dead.” Here the digital environment plays a crucial part as well: platforms like Tumblr foster a ceaseless visual dialogue and exchange between designers all over the world. While I appreciate this phenomenon, I perceive a certain homogenisation of styles and graphic solutions.

HPL: Can you share with our readers what the Post-Digital Publishing Archive is about? And do you think of an archive as a new digital form of publication?

Lorusso: The Post-Digital Publishing Archive actively question the meaning of publishing in a computational and networked context. In doing so, it aims to contribute to an extension of this very notion. It mainly consists of two channels. The first one is p-dpa.net, currently including around 30 projects by artists, designers and poets. It also hosts a growing series of interviews and articles. In my opinion, the index page is the most useful, because it connects the artworks by the media, technologies, and platforms employed, so they can be replicated, transformed, or remixed. The second channel is p-dpa.tumblr.com, a more or less daily activity log. Currently, I’m working on an open glossary of terms and concepts somehow related to this extended notion of publishing. It stems from the need to rethink the language used to investigate such fluid field of study. People are free to add items.

I definitely see the archive as a form of publication. I would even say that it is the contemporary form of publication par excellence. Cloud systems and social media push users towards an incessant collection and organisation of the contents they produced or stumble upon, but only within protected spaces. Pervasive archiving is the default. And when third parties construct users’ identities by linking the archived materials, it becomes critical to develop tools and methods to actively question the effects of these archiving procedures and to develop more autonomous ones.

HPL: What was your experience when developing the Digital Toolkit for publishers?

Lorusso: The Digital Publishing Toolkit consortium consists of four subgroups. The one I collaborate with is devoted to the development of a new hybrid workflow for the Institute of Network Cultures, whose publications are mainly text-oriented. We discussed about and experimented with metadata, markup languages, conversion tools, publishing platforms, etc. By doing this we realised that, while at the moment there is no ideal or ready-made solution, the process of developing custom techniques stimulates new approaches to the production of content.

As an example, EPUB is generally considered an output format for classic publication formats such as the novel or the anthology. But what about using it as a means to archive content from the Web? Or, conversely, what about looking at EPUB as a source, whereas it is easily accessible both by humans and machines? By investigating the way digital publications are produced, several preconceptions become apparent and can therefore be called into question.

HPL: Which book will you always have as an analogue copy in your bookshelf?

Lorusso: Recently I had to move, so I could only bring with me books that are: 1. easily portable; 2. not easily translatable to a digital version. The one that best fits these criteria is a small flip book by Federico Antonini and Alessio D’Ellena titled The ‘Guy Montag Flipping a Softcover Blank Book’ Flip Book. Its size is 650 x 90mm. It contains a scene from the movie Fahrenheit 451 (1966) in which Guy Montag flips a blank book while explaining where to find the books to burn. I like the way it reflects multiple materialities, by “flip-flopping” – to use a notion by Robin Sloan – from book to movie and back to book again.

Call for Papers – Progetto Grafico 28: Publishing

Pamphlet, Helmut Smits (2006)

Pamphlet, Helmut Smits (2006)

Progetto grafico 28: Publishing
Edited by Maria Rosaria Digregorio, Silvio Lorusso, Silvia Sfligiotti, Stefano Vittori

By devoting an issue to “Publishing,” which has always been a central theme for people dealing with communication design, Progetto grafico has decided to start by redefining and expanding upon the term, going beyond its primarily editorial connotations to explore its significance as “making public; disclosing; popularizing.”
The latter seems to be a core issue for both those who design/produce editorial material (professionally or otherwise) as well as those who use it.

The current scene includes a hybrid between print and digital publishing, aided by the emergence and spread of many types of tools that facilitate the publishing process, making it more accessible and sometimes even automatic and involuntary: in this light, any online activity can be considered a form of publication.
If anyone can act as publisher, it becomes essential to take into account two other crucial aspects of the process: on the one hand, the distribution and use by an audience; and, on the other, the continually evolving tools that make it all possible.

Choosing what to make public and what to protect from unintentional publication become part of the publishing business. Even the very idea of copyright is put to the test, and is often overridden by other forms of sharing and reworking.
The people involved in the process (authors, editors, designers/producers, readers) no longer have clearly defined roles: in theory, anyone can be a publisher, and can find readers anywhere. But in practice, one has to wonder how much such public information is actually accessible, and reconsider publishing practices within the broader picture of such information’s accessibility.

A few of the issues we would like to explore

  • Might there be forms of publication that can exist without an author, a client, or even a readership/audience?
  • What is a publisher’s “responsibility”?
  • Can not publishing be an (editorial) choice in and of itself?
  • What is the relationship between publishing and technology?
  • How can a publication reach its audience?

For this issue of Progetto grafico we welcome contributions (essays, research, design analyses…) in which the theme of publishing crops up in one of the ways touched upon above. We are interested in perspectives from all different disciplines, as long as they have some relevance to the realm of visual communication and its cultural implications.

Release: Autumn 2015
Submission deadline: 15 January 2015
Send your submissions to: redazione_progettografico@aiap.it

Progetto grafico is the international graphic design magazine published by Aiap – www.aiap.it/progettografico/

Editors: Riccardo Falcinelli, Silvia Sfligiotti
Editorial board: Serena Brovelli, Maria Rosaria Digregorio, Luigi Farrauto, Davide Fornari, Claude Marzotto, Carlo Vinti, Stefano Vittori


Progetto grafico 28: Pubblicare
A cura di Maria Rosaria Digregorio, Silvio Lorusso, Silvia Sfligiotti, Stefano Vittori

Nel dedicare un numero al “Pubblicare”, da sempre tema centrale per chi si occupa di design della comunicazione, Progetto grafico ha deciso di partire da una ridefinizione ed estensione del termine, per portarlo oltre la sua accezione principalmente editoriale, verso quella di “rendere pubblico, divulgare”. Proprio quest’ultima sembra essere al centro sia delle pratiche di chi progetta/produce artefatti editoriali (professionalmente o meno), sia di chi ne fruisce.

Il contesto attuale vede infatti un’ibridazione tra editoria stampata e digitale, aiutata dalla nascita e diffusione di moltissimi strumenti che facilitano il processo del pubblicare, lo rendono più accessibile e a volte persino automatico e involontario: sotto questa luce, qualunque attività on-line può essere considerata una forma di pubblicazione.
Se chiunque può essere editore, diventa fondamentale tenere in conto altri due aspetti cruciali del processo: da una parte la distribuzione e la fruizione da parte di un pubblico, e dall’altra gli strumenti in continua evoluzione che rendono tutto questo possibile.

Scegliere cosa rendere pubblico e cosa proteggere da una pubblicazione non intenzionale diventa parte dell’attività editoriale, e anche l’idea stessa di diritto d’autore è messa alla prova, e spesso superata da altre forme di condivisione e rielaborazione.
Le figure coinvolte nel processo (autori, editori, designer/produttori, lettori) non hanno più ruoli nettamente definiti: potenzialmente, chiunque può essere editore, e può trovare lettori ovunque. Ma è necessario chiedersi quanto ciò che è pubblico sia effettivamente accessibile, e riconsiderare le pratiche del Pubblicare all’interno del più ampio scenario dell’accesso alla conoscenza.

Alcune delle domande che vorremmo esplorare

  • Possono esistere forme di pubblicazione che facciano a meno di un autore, di un committente o addirittura di un pubblico?
  • Qual è la “responsabilità” di chi pubblica?
  • Anche non pubblicare può essere una scelta (editoriale)?
  • Qual è il rapporto che intercorre tra pubblicazione e tecnologia?
  • Come può una pubblicazione raggiungere il suo pubblico?

Per questo numero di Progetto grafico cerchiamo contributi (saggi, ricerche, analisi di progetto…) nei quali il tema del pubblicare si manifesti in una delle forme che abbiamo provato a sintetizzare. Ci interessano prospettive provenienti da diverse discipline, ma sempre con punti di tangenza con la sfera della comunicazione visiva e delle sue implicazioni culturali.

Uscita: autunno 2015
Chiusura call for abstracts: 15 gennaio 2015
Inviate le vostre proposte a: redazione_progettografico@aiap.it

Progetto grafico è la rivista internazionale di grafica edita dall’Aiap – www.aiap.it/progettografico/

Direzione editoriale: Riccardo Falcinelli, Silvia Sfligiotti
Comitato di redazione: Serena Brovelli, Maria Rosaria Digregorio, Luigi Farrauto, Davide Fornari, Claude Marzotto, Carlo Vinti, Stefano Vittori

Out Now: About Learning and Design

Together with Giulia Ciliberto, I contributed to About Learning and Design, a recently published book edited by Giorgio Camuffo, Maddalena Dalla Mura and Alvise Mattozzi. We answered the following question: “What does learning, and learning design, mean to you?”. I’m also glad to read interesting contributions by some friends spread all over the world. More information below the pictures.

about-design-and-learning-01 about-design-and-learning-02 about-design-and-learning-03

About Learning and Design
Edited by Camuffo, Giorgio; Dalla Mura, Maddalena; Mattozzi, Alvise – 2014, 266 p. 17 x 24 cm – ISBN: 978-88-6046-067-7

What does it mean to learn in the field of design? How can one learn to design? And how can one learn from design? How can one build the conditions for other people to have a significant learning experience? What is it important to teach future designers? Can one learn to teach? As a follow-up to the first edition of the Unibz Design Festival, organized in 2012 at the Faculty of Design and Art of the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano to celebrate its tenth anniversary, and devoted to the topic of “Design and Learning”, About Learning and Design attempts to answer those questions by bringing together the voices and personal stories of designers, educators, thinkers and scholars all of whom are actively engaged in design education with a critical approach that probes its very boundaries. About Learning and Design features contributions by Giovanni Anceschi, Marco Balesteros, Jurgen Bey, Bettina Böhm, Brave New Alps, Giulia Ciliberto, Emanuela De Cecco, Melissa Destino, Elliott Earls, Daniel Eatock, El Ultimo Grito, Riccardo Falcinelli, Stefano Faoro, Formafantasma, Jorge Frascara, Rob Giampietro, Roberto Gigliotti, Caterina Giuliani, Cynthia Hathaway, Hans Leo Höger, Silvio Lorusso, Victor Margolin, mischer’traxler, Eugenia Morpurgo, Flávia Müller Medeiros, Silvia Neretti, Jonathan Pierini, Michela Povoleri, Kuno Prey, Catharine Rossi, Simone Simonelli, Philip Tabor, Oliviero Toscani, Unità di Crisi, Roberto Verganti, Alex Wilkie and Giorgia Zanellato.

XYLab — An Incomplete Diary


Between the 17th and the 31st of July 2014, I had the pleasure to attend XYLab, a peculiar summer school including two different labs: X and Y, respectively about new publishing and videomhacking. They both took place in the baronial castle of Castrignano de’ Greci. What follows is a collection of notes about this beautiful experience.

New{?} “Publishing”


X Lab was composed of three tables:

  • a table where to investigate the possibility of improving the output interface of EEG neuro-headsets, run by Alessio Erioli, Eugenio Battaglia, Danilo Di Cuia, Leonardo Romei;
  • a table where to study and develop models to understand, represent and visualise human ecosystems, run by Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico;
  • an experimental table open to the ideas and attitudes of the participants, in which the only guideline was the notion of “new publishing”.

I was honoured to be part of an amazing team of facilitators in this last table: Alessio D’Ellena, designer, illustrator and expert of parametric typography; Emilio Macchia, graphic designer and artistic director of Fahrenheit39 and the Offset residency for graphic designers; Piero Molino, computer scientist and expert of natural language processing; Jacopo Pompilii, designer and author of a thesis about digital publishing and new reading experiences; Salvatore Zingale, researcher and professor of Design Semiotics at the Department of Design of the Politecnico di Milano. The table had around 20 participants, mostly designers but also journalists, writers and entrepreneurs.