Inspired Projects – The Heart and the Bottle

This month’s inspired project comes from the creative mind of author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers, as well as the innovative collaboration between HarperCollins Children’s Book Publishers and the Bold Creative design agency. The Heart and the Bottle is a whimsical storybook by Jeffers, published by forward-thinking HarperCollins, which has been adapted into an interactive iPad app. Although this printed and digital work was published in 2010, it still represents the leading-edge technology for the future of the children’s publishing industry. 

The App

The Heart and the Bottle app is an interactive children’s picture book that represents an intuitive way to engage readers in a multi-media storytelling experience. This app provides an additional storytelling outlet and a new way for publishers to engage their young, digital audience.
The app was created by the Bold Creative design team in the UK and it gained recognition as “iPad App of the Week” in its first month. The digital storybook moves page-by-page (mimicking the printed version) and each page brings interactivity in the form of touching or moving the iPad. Readers can “grow” flowers, draw in the sand, create a snowstorm, explore the curiosities in the protagonist’s mind and colour a picture, to name just a few of the features! Readers are free to explore the interactivity on their own or they can press “Hint” at any time to uncover the interactive elements on the page. As Helen Mackenzie-Smith, Publishing Director for Picture Books at HarperCollins observes, “it makes the publishing team look at the book in a whole different way.” It also makes the publishing team think about the creative process in a different way. For example, content that may not have made it into the book could potentially be used to add value in the app. It provides a whole new revenue stream for the publisher.
This app goes beyond a traditional ebook, which is a format that does not support illustrated books very well. The iPad’s interactive nature makes it the perfect outlet for bringing the story to life. Greg Villalobos, Creative Director at Bold Creative discusses the process of approaching this project: “turning [a book] into an app is easy. [What’s more difficult] is how you actually turn it into something that has real value to a reader.” The iPad had not yet launched in the UK when this app was being developed, so Villalobos and his team felt liberated from the technology and designed the app from the perspective of limitless opportunity. “We didn’t come at it from a technology point of view, we came at it from a storytelling point of view.”
They worked collaboratively with author Jeffers to translate the story to the interactive medium. Ideas were run by Jeffers who made suggestions and created additional art for the app. Jeffers believes that there is real merit in telling his stories through this medium: “There are some basic, intuitive things you want to do with an iPad, like zoom in and explore around to have a closer look. I think that mechanic could be used very successfully for picture books.” Jeffers provides further insight into how apps could enhance children’s books in the future: “I think an entire book where you could go in and really explore behind trees and look behind houses and see what things look like to the left and to the right would be really exciting.”

While a picture book app captures our imagination, is it worth the time, effort and expense for the publisher? While there is no hard data to support this claim one way or the other, it is clear that this specific app holds value for all three parties involved (author, publisher and design agency). Firstly, the “App of the Week” status gave Jeffers’ work exposure to millions of people who would have otherwise never stumbled upon his books in the children’s section of a bookstore. Additionally, at the end of the app, there is a link to Amazon that brings the digital aspect back to the physical book. This provides the opportunity to increase the physical book sales of this work, as well as other works by the author and publisher. From the perspective of the app design agency, this project allowed them to showcase their ability to innovatively bring a picture book to life, so that they can have the opportunity to do so again in the future.
So what does the future of children’s book publishing look like in an increasing digital world? There are greater possibilities to link print to digital and digital to print. Perhaps through printed barcodes (like QR codes), as well as through augmented reality and digital picture books apps, like the one seen here.
In terms of whether this type of digital execution is the way that all children’s publishing is going, Mackenzie-Smith doesn’t think so. “I think people are always going to want a physical book, so I see them complementary to one another… I don’t think [the app] would preclude sitting down with a child and turning the page of a book at bedtime, so I think they can both coexist very happily.”
By taking a strong story that is able to engage audiences through print alone, and rethinking the way in which that story can be told within a multimedia framework, the possibilities are endless!
To learn more about The Heart and the Bottle iPad app:
To learn more about award winning author, Oliver Jeffers:
To learn more about HaperCollins Children’s Book Publsihers:
To learn more about Bold Creative design agency:

Diana Varma
Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.

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