Changing the way textbooks are made
The Economy is an economics textbook leading the way in educational reform, published as an open-access website from the CORE project and as a printed edition from Oxford University Press. Its multi-format design changes the way textbooks are produced. Over 1200 pages long and containing over 1300 images and 230 interactive questions, it breaks boundaries of what is possible in multi-format publishing. To produce this huge book in under ten months – from copy-editing to print-ready pages and a live website edition – we used our open-source Electric Book workflow. This workflow lets multiple editors and designers work on the book simultaneously, editing version-controlled, single-master content files, and seeing their changes instantly in both print-PDF and website versions.
This method of book production streamlines the publishing process in revolutionary ways. Most importantly, the workflow lets us output print-ready files, a mobile-friendly website and an ebook from the same master files. So there is no need for time-consuming conversions. And after publication, our clients can also continue to make changes to the content directly online, and release new updates of their book at any time.
In the page design of The Economy, our first priority was to create a beautiful book. We intentionally designed it to look less like a conventional textbook and more like an informative and visually engaging resource. Our design director, Karen Lilje, conceptualised it on paper and then realised it on screen. Once the design was finalised, our technical director Arthur Attwell recreated it with CSS, the code stylesheets that would control page layout for print and screen – effectively automating 95 per cent of a traditional typesetter’s role.
The page design is simple and flexible, accommodating multiple in-text and sidebar elements across the pages, while maintaining a strong visual identity throughout the book. It includes graphic details that make the content more engaging and easier to interact with. Working with the CORE team, we used colour keys to help teachers and students connect content in the book. Then, working from hundreds of visual and data-based source files, designer Jennifer Jacobs created over 560 figures. Since many of these figures are animated with filmstrip-like images, she created over 1300 full-colour images.
The website edition of the book makes more than the print-edition can of the digital platform: embedded video, interactive, self-marking questions, animated figures, and popup references and definitions. The website is mobile friendly, accessible, and can be easily and conveniently used as an open educational resource.
Arthur Attwell explains more about how we did this in our Thinking section.