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October 2014

One of my roles at Sydney University Press is editing books, and while I was at Touchpress I had an opportunity to learn more about editing apps. Many insights came from speaking with Fiona Barclay and Mari Volkosh, knowledgeable editors who have worked on apps across various subject areas from science to archaeology to literature. I even helped with copyediting the content for one of their upcoming apps, which showed me how working on apps differs from editing of books.

The most important thing, I have realised, is that an app design is driven by visual and interactive elements, rather than text. Basically, apps don’t aim to replicate books and instead they focus on interactivity and providing an experience that uses different modes of communication. Having said that, there is still a place for editorial control over the overall structure of the content, the style of writing and its suitability, but written content plays a secondary role in an app.

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The opportunity to spend two weeks with a company that is changing the face of app development has been an amazing experience. I couldn’t have picked a more creative, inspiring and enthusiastic group of people to learn from. Or more patient – I spent two weeks observing, gatecrashing meetings and asking endless questions. Since its inception, Touchpress has remained at the forefront of what’s possible in app design and trying to develop and nurture this new form of media. In a market flooded with low quality products, apps created by Touchpress stand out by a mile. They combine in-depth research with compelling stories, wonderful illustrations, videos, animations and games, all seamlessly integrated into beautiful and intuitive designs.

During my short stint in the app world, I have tried to get my head around the process of app development. I had hoped to be able to come up with a linear model, mirroring the traditional publishing workflow. Alas, app development has turned out to be a far more complex, nonlinear and iterative process that combines writing, movie making, music, photography and software development. So where do you start?

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Is there such a thing as a literary app? Is there a space for multimedia in works of literary quality? Writing about fiction, Richard Nash said that

The lack of video, the lack of audio, the lack of ways to change the forking outcomes of plot (what is rather crudely referred to as “interactivity”) is a feature of literature, not a bug. And, as it turns out, books are interactive. They’re recipes for the imagination. Conversely, video is restrictive—it tells you what things look like, what they sound like.

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