Landing the Whale: Rethinking the book for the digital world

A presentation at ATypI Tech Talks 2021 by Jason Pamental

For centuries, designers, typographers, typesetters, and calligraphers have refined the craft of creating great books. From typeface design and selection to typesetting finesse, paper selection, and binding, every detail has been examined, refined, and perfected.

But more recently, over the span of a few short years, digital book production has largely ignored centuries of good practice and set back the quality of the reading experience immeasurably. Anyone who has spent time trying to finesse the reading experience in an ePub can attest to the difficulty and limited reader support for advanced typography. But support for OpenType features, variable fonts, better typographic marks, initial cap and/or first-line styles, widow/orphan refinement, responsiveness to screen size, and more are now well supported in virtually every shipping web browser. And by embracing the browser and responsive design, any book can be formatted for view on any device.

This presentation chronicles Jason Pamental’s attempt to create a truly great reading experience via typesetting Moby Dick. Complete with an interface that can scroll vertically or swipe side-to-side in page-sized chunks, a bookmarking system usable with any text that works across any device, and all the fundamentals of good reading typography, the historic missive has been adapted to modern devices and reader needs like dark mode and font size/spacing controls. Come see what the future of the book could be.


The following resources were mentioned during the presentation or are useful additional information.

Buzz and feedback

Here’s what was said about this presentation on social media.