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HHH: Interactive Print

2019 February 1
by Henry Stokes

Logo for Henry's High-Tech Highlights

Hi there, Henry here! In my monthly column, “Henry’s High-Tech Highlights”, I share my thoughts on an emerging technology and its relevance to libraries.


Today’s highlight: Interactive Print


What is it?

Interactive print is anything that enhances the printed page with interactivity. Remember QR codes? That was one example of interactive print. Scanning a QR code can point you to another location, usually a website, which presents with you with additional content or information.

Technology has been steadily advancing well beyond the QR code and getting closer all the time to Harry Potter levels of magic.

Animated gif of Harry Potter scene
Harry Potter’s magical moving newspapers

How it’s being used:

In an earlier HHH post, I discussed Augmented Reality (AR). AR is the most promising way to make print more interactive. By pointing your phone’s camera at the page usually after downloading a special app, or by looking through AR-enabled glasses (coming soon!), one can see an overlay of content and information which can be interacted with. The page seems to come to life.

Example of AR showing 3D building when pointed at blueprint
Example of AR showing 3D building when pointed at blueprint

AR incorporates the digital world into the analog one. But what if you stick with analog and still make your print interactive? The marketing industry has been pioneering this ‘old school’ approach recently, and use of interactive print in advertisements is growing rapidly.

Examples of innovation in this area:

  • Magazine ads that change color when you push a button on the page:
Photo of Motorola magazine ad
Motorola ad
  • Inserts that collect solar power to charge your cell phone:
Nivea ad
  • A car ad that plays sounds, emits smells, and checks your heart rate while simulating a race :
Photo of interactive print ad
Toyota ad for 2018 Camry

Check out more examples of innovative interactive print ads.

So why should I care?

Whenever there’s a new technology, it’s helpful to ask the question, ‘What problem is it going to solve for you that you can’t solve today?’

People love print, and we in the library world know it’s not ever going away. I thought the following video said it well:

“What’s more interactive than touch? The feel of texture. The direct accessibility and immediacy, the three-dimensionality of something you hold in your hands. That’s print. You touch it, it touches you. It’s the medium that invented interactivity.”

Print is here to stay, but we have also grown to love the functionality that comes from using the digital environment, enabling us to increase our abilities and enhance our lives. This is partly why we invented ebooks and readers, so we could incorporate the digital world into our reading experience.

But what if you could bring the same added enhancements and features of ebooks to the printed page? Have your physical book, and interact with it too?

This is just around the corner. And as repositories of both the printed and digital word, it’s the library’s business to keep up with these advancements.

How do you see it coming?


Future use ideas:

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Imagine: A patron plugs headphones into a magazine and can access another layer of accompanying audio content. Check out a demo of this concept:

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Imagine: A patron places printed work on a smart desk, which enables her to accomplish much of what she can do with an ebook. Check out some demos of this concept:

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What else comes to mind for you when thinking about interactive print? Send your ideas to Henry at hstokes@tsl.texas.gov and I’ll share them during future Henry’s High-Tech Highlights!

Animated gif of Severus Snape reading a newspaper.
Until next time!
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One Response leave one →
  1. Becky permalink
    February 1, 2019

    Whoa! Those ads are amazing. Thanks for sharing! I’ve always loved books more than ebooks, but all the free ARCs we get as librarians has had me reading more ebooks than books. Then, recently, I found I really missed being able to look up a word I didn’t know in my book. Maybe a bookmark would be a great reading buddy to do simple tasks like this.

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