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A Book Apart

Meet the Book: Immersive Content and Usability by Preston So

Mar 02, 2023

ABA logo.

Bright reddish pink book cover for Immersive Content and Usability and a black badge that reads Coming Soon.

We can’t wait for you to read Immersive Content and Usability, a new book by Preston So, launching April 18.

In the meantime, we’re giving you a peek into the book with our Meet the Book Q&A series. Read on to learn what inspired Preston to write his new (and second!) book with ABA, who he wrote the book for (hint: it might be you!), how he found flow during the writing process, and more!

A Book Apart: What was the initial spark that motivated you to write this book?

Preston So: After working for many years on projects straddling the realms of extended reality, digital signage, beacon technology, and location-based content, I identified one thread unifying these discrete fields: their focus on immersion—and specifically, their emphasis on good content design for immersive and spatial environments. But I didn’t think I had what I needed for a full book until I wrote my articles “Immersive Content Strategy” for A List Apart and “Using WebXR with Babylon.js” for Smashing Magazine. That’s when I thought, “Hmm, there’s something here!”

ABA: How long did it take you to write this book?

PS: All things told, the initial manuscript took me about four or five months to write, including copious research (and, afterwards, whittling away excess information that would only derail the learning process set out by the book). The process took slightly longer than my previous book with A Book Apart, Voice Content and Usability, but it was about the same as my prior work Gatsby: The Definitive Guide, a coding manual.

ABA: When/where did you feel most in a state of flow while writing this book? Least?

PS: This book was a struggle for me to write, as I readily admit in the acknowledgments section. One of the very few blessings of the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was the lack of distractions during lockdown. Readjusting to (gesturing vaguely) whatever this is right now has been a challenge for so many of us. Whereas I wrote my previous two books at my desk at home, I found flow too difficult to achieve in the same spot as my days began to become busier and I began to travel farther from home.

ABA: In one sentence, what is your book’s driving, or most important, idea?

PS: The world around us, whether it’s real or virtual, isn’t just a component of the user experiences and content we design; it extends past the two-dimensional canvases of our device screens into the three-dimensional spaces we inhabit, and we should design for our users with that idea at top of mind.

ABA: Who did you write this book for?

PS: I wrote this book for people who work with the web, content, or other dimensions of design and are looking to jump into immersive technologies and spatial experiences. There’s a lot we can learn from our physical surroundings that inform how we design for users, and there’s just as much we can contribute to the world of immersive design as practitioners well-versed in two-dimensional canvases.

ABA: What part of the book was most challenging to write?

PS: Can I say the whole thing? Just kidding. While the overarching structure was difficult to get exactly right because of the wide breadth of technologies this book covers, the hardest part by far was to distill the design artifacts I cover—storyboards, flow diagrams, and spatial maps—to a few core examples, a few core case studies, and a few step-by-step processes in ways that readers unaccustomed to the jargon of architecture and spatial computing would understand.

ABA: Why will readers want to learn about this topic from you?

PS: I’ve been lucky to work on content strategy and design in the realms of digital signage, beacons, geolocation, and extended reality since 2016. Though I don’t have an empirical background in 3D graphics or the nitty gritty of hardware, my hope is that I can convey the colossal amount I’ve learned about immersive technologies and their impact on our work as web and content designers in ways that transcend the arbitrary barriers we put up for ourselves when we think we can’t engage with spatial computing. Immersive tech and spatial computing are for everyone, and we don’t need to be physicists or mechanical engineers to make meaningful contributions to it.

ABA: How do you hope the web will change once people read and apply lessons in your book?

PS: My work in content design and experience design writ large has always revolved around the idea that thinking solely in terms of the web is a limitation that we should always endeavor to escape. Web architects should always think outside the proverbial box, overlapping where needed with the traditional territory of building architects and civil engineers. I hope we see more experiments that turn our two-dimensional screens into universes in and of themselves, but by the same token, I yearn for a world where we can explore the websites we build as if they’re true three-dimensional spaces that we can inhabit. And I don’t mean metaverses whose sole purpose is to sell us stuff or alienate us even more from our humanity.

ABA: How did you choose the cover color for this book?

PS: I had the utmost privilege of collaborating yet again with ABA cofounder and creative director Jason Santa Maria to choose a fitting color for Immersive Content and Usability. While my previous ABA title deals with the primordial workings of human language, lending it a classic crimson hue, this time around I wanted to move from far in the past to far into the future. We landed on a bright, ambitious, futuristic neon magenta that alights somewhere between Pantone’s current color of the year (Viva Magenta) and the otherworldly hues of virtual worlds we have yet to explore, with a nod to the sepia-sienna hybrid of my previous work with A Book Apart. Thanks again, Jason!