Rebook | Research (Writing)

Master's Capstone Project, Spring 2015

Teammates: Ian MacFarland, Paul Son

 Mock from the book builder tool

Mock from the book builder tool


  • Perform formative research to understand what type of writing tool we should build
  • Perform usability tests for both a writing tool
  • Recruit appropriate participants
  • Influence design decisions with concisely presented findings


  • Write scripts for interviews and usability tests
  • Moderate and take notes for usability tests
  • Identify and present key findings

Summary of Research

  • Formative interviews with authors, conducted remotely
  • Competitive analysis
  • Usability testing for writing tool

Author Interviews

Major Findings

  • “Visualizing the story.” Part of the writing process for many authors involved trying to visualize the entire book. For many, this meant printing out scenes or chapter titles and physically rearranging them on a wall or floor.

  • Unique writing processes. The writing processes our participants described were all quite different. Based on the variety of writing tools and habits, it makes more sense to scope our tool so that authors use it at the assembly and publishing stage.

  • How to use ebooks? The majority of our participants said that they had considered publishing a digital-first ebook, but were unsure what it should entail. They also accepted the idea that there could be a book that “had” to be an ebook, but hadn’t encountered one that fit the bill yet.

  • Editing and version control are a pain point. Multiple authors mentioned the individual and collaborative editing process as a pain point. They also had multiple techniques for keeping track of versions of their chapters and scenes, but no one was entirely satisfied.

Writing and Analytics Tools Usability Test Report


Based on our formative research, we decided to limit the scope of our writing tool to the book assembly process. That is, the tool enters at the point after which the author has completed the text of the book, and needs a tool to prepare it as an ebook. We had two different types of design we wanted to test: the “book builder” itself, and an analytics dashboard that would offer authors information about how readers perceive their books.

Major findings

What does the ebook generated from this tool actually look like?

All of the participants, unprompted, asked what the ebook generated from the chapter builder tool would look like. They all recognized the interface as being similar to a video editing tool, and thought that they’d be able to drag media elements into the tracks. As part of the interview, we asked all of the participants to draw a sketch of what they expected an ebook chapter made with this tool to look like.

   A static mock from the chapter builder tool.

A static mock from the chapter builder tool.

It seems that the inclusion of time on text elements and a word count on non-text elements was the source of confusion. Participants guessed that the time on the text blocks was the estimated time to read. However, they were less sure how to interpret what “185 words” would mean for audio, or what “50 words” would mean for an image. P1 drew two columns: the text appeared in a larger column on the left, and the images and videos appeared in the column on the right. She said she expected the image or video to hover in the right column for about 50 words of text as the user scrolled through text on the left.

Recommendation: Given the novelty of the interface to represent a multimedia book, it’s critical that there be some kind of preview tool.


Non-linear features need to be introduced more gradually

We walked participants through the book builder mocks without first telling them that they would have the option to create non-linear narratives. They were surprised to see things like chapters appearing side-by-side.

Fig 3. The mocks show a fork in the narrative—readers will be forced to choose between reading either “Alice’s Story” or “Carol’s Story.” Participants were surprised to see that dropping a chapter on top of another created a fork, rather than placing one chapter after the other.

After going through the mocks and receiving an explanation, two of the participants expressed a desire for the features geared towards nonlinear narratives to be optional. For example, we displayed “gates” between all chapters, with a list of suggestions for what readers would need to do in order to move to the next chapter. While this feature might be useful for both linear and nonlinear narratives, users shouldn’t be required to make a selection for each chapter. There should also be explanatory text that comes up when a user drags a chapter over another.

Recommendation: The “gate” concept and terminology weren’t intuitive. They shouldn’t be required for the basic book builder. Participants were surprised by the “gate,” and didn’t expect to see it for a linear ebook.


Tension Visualization: It was easy to compare tension scores, but it was difficult to determine precise values.

   Fig 4. Analytics visualization showing the tension scores given to chapters by three different raters

Fig 4. Analytics visualization showing the tension scores given to chapters by three different raters

All of our participants were able to make accurate comparisons within the story. They could tell how certain chapters compared to others in terms of tension. However, they were unable to consistently determine what the precise score was for a given section. Similarly, participants were able to compare the relative level of tension different raters assigned to the same chapter. However, they couldn’t offer precise scores. This is likely due to the fact that the scale only appears at the bottom, and the space between scores is low. In order to address this issue, the interface should offer more information when the user scrolls over points, and/or increase the space between score tick marks.

Recommendation: These information visualization could be a project in itself, and should be considered for future work. Authors understood the basic concept of the visualizations, and had ideas for the information they’d like to see visualized, such as reader engagement.