Flipbacks: book design reimagined – UX Collective

Flipback version on top of normal book.

There is a classic phrase that perhaps you have heard. Maybe from your parent, teacher, coworker, or even a scruffy old carpenter guy in the aisle of a hardware store — that phrase is:

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

This phrase supports the common idea that something being static and “working” is the best way it should be. That the only reason you should fix something is because it has a fundamental flaw, i.e. that it cannot function at all, it is completely broken. I think it is safe to say this phrase is best friends with the ‘status quo’. I hope to dissuade you from agreeing with that phrase, and also share how strange the word ‘ain’t’ is! I mean ‘he was’ makes sense but ‘I ai’ — that means something totally different in this century!

Books don’t need to be redesigned!

Almost every design professional would agree that this mentality is stubborn and shortsighted, and will probably lead you down a path akin to the Printer Scene in the (now) classic film Office Space. However, there are some things whose design has not changed for years or decades, sometimes centuries. They remain the same and many would laud them as withstanding the test of time or past the point of improvements. These things are generally common everyday items that accomplish their purpose very efficiently and easily. For example: calendars, utensils, plates, pencils, the list could go on. The simplicity of the design keeps it in use and creates an easy understanding of the item even across borders and languages. That is until the trends and technology of the people using that item/action shift in a high enough degree that something new is even easier or better or faster, etc than the old item.

One of those such things I would like to talk about is the humble Book. The basic analog book, the one we know and see almost everyday. Popularized by Guttenberg and largely has remained the same in it’s design. Vertical spine, usually on the left hand side, two covers (front and back) and pages bound to the spine. Text formatted to go across the page, then down. The reading motion and pagination (ooo, fancy word!) goes from right to left (in Western countries) flipping the pages back. Generally this is accomplished in a quieter place and with two hands, or one hand for the power readers out there (side note: can you get Carpel Tunnel from holding a book? sure feels like it to me sometimes!).

But hey, you know all this already! Why is he giving us all this unnecessary detail on something we all have used probably a hundred times or more?!

The details my friends, are why we design. They are also how we can innovate a design.

Even a design as old as the way we make a book.

My friends, I present to you: the Flipback Book.


Here it is again!

And again!

Mind Blown Yet?!?!?

This thing is genius and amazing and actually took a crap ton more effort than what you may think to create. I bring this glorious new (relatively new) invention to your attention good people, because it brought up a simple thought to my designer’s brain that I find I really cannot ignore. Everything can be improved, you just need to find the context that warrants that improvement.

(Drops the mic, then proceeds to trip over the wire and make a fool of himself.)

This segues nicely to that delicious, warm and flakey context I was referring to. (I love pastries, sorry not sorry.)


The Flipback, which is it’s English language re-branded name, was born in Holland. So we can thank the Dutchies for passing it on the left hand side of the Atlantic. (anyone else listen to that when designing? Just me? Ok.)

In Dutch it’s referred to as ‘dwarsligger’ and the definition couldn’t be more fitting.

From the website of the original publisher:

dwarsligger (from Dutch dwars — crossways, transverse; intractable, contrary and liggen to lie). A person unwilling to cooperate, who is stubbornly resistant to everything; obstructionist; troublemaker.

If that doesn’t help, I can translate it to Tech Startup language: Disruptor.

It was the brainchild of two publishers who originally printed Bibles and wanted and easier way to pack the dense content of that very large book into a small portable volume. With one caveat — you cannot use electronic devices to accomplish this! So modern, right??

Once they perfected the design, they patented it and started an initial run of both Mainstream and Christian titles. This was in 2009. So, like I said, ‘relatively’ new. It spread rapidly in Europe and then the UK. And now. Finally. Nearly 10 years later. Coming to the USA!! Limited run of books in 2018. Many more titles expected starting in 2019.

The Specs

The books are around 5 ounces, so imagine one or two decks of cards. The spine is specially designed to flip open easily, be light and easy to hold with one hand. Each page is horizontal and has a height of 8cm (3.15 inches) and width of 12cm (4.72 inches). It is a hardcover book and it can fit in your jeans pocket or small purse.

Further Context and Publisher’s Strategy

So, this is just a novelty, right? Just another cool way to read your favorite books or revisit a classic? Not necessarily.

Look back at the GIF in the beginning. Go on. I’ll wait.

What does that remind you of?

Phones. Scrolling. Social Media. Death of books? (maybe a bit too morbid)

The warranted context I am getting at is this book’s design distinctly fits for younger people today. The ones who have grown up with iPhones and Facebook feeds, and are one handed expert texters. They are used to this ease of motion and hyper portability. Some would gripe that they are glued to their phones and should do a complete disconnect and blah blah blah.

I disagree with a ‘complete’ disconnect.

Why fight the actions and motions that they are already accustomed to? Why force them into new habits when you can tweak an old design to match the current tides of reading.

You want to paddle with the current, not against it.

This is the play that the publisher in the US (Penguin) is going after.

Give them your existing content in a new way while having the familiar rules of the experiences they already use everyday.

This is transferable to almost anything and should be considered when designing or in this case redesigning something with an existing legacy.

Closing Remarks

A very talented UX Designer and Mentor to me, Michelle Scott, told me something when we were meeting and discussing career strategies, and it really struck a chord with me. “It may seem obvious, but design cannot thrive in a vacuum”. We can design and create things constantly, and keep throwing new things out there, one after another. But without context of not only your product, but the other products and lifestyles of the people using your product, your basically no better than a blindfolded guy playing darts. And nobody wants to be in that bar when that goes down!

P.S. — Rebranding something in another language is super fascinating. Check out the interesting names of ‘Dwarsligger’ in other languages:
 France (Point2), Spain (Librinos), the UK (Flipback), Sweden (Excess), Finland (Miki), Russia (Flipbook) and Turkey (Minikitap).

Author: Daniel H Gill

Collect by: uxfree.com