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Transworld on developing The Magic of Reality app

The Magic of Reality is Richard Dawkins’ first book aimed at a younger audience, and his first collaboration with an illustrator to create a fully designed work. So it made sense that this should also be the first time that a Richard Dawkins book was released in app form.

To explain briefly the subject of the book to anyone who has yet to read it, there are twelve chapters and in each Richard Dawkins asks a question, such as What is a rainbow? Who was the first person? Why do bad things happen? He then begins each chapter by describing several myths– some ancient and others still commonly believed – that people have invented throughout history to explain these mysteries. Finally, he goes on to explain the true science that answers each question. His powerful and persuasive argument is that the scientific reality of life is far more magical and awe-inspiring than any made up story could hope to be. 

We had been thinking for some time that the book’s subject and design would translate well into digital format, but it wasn’t until we saw the work-in-progress layout that the ideas began to spill forth.  If you’ve seen a printed copy you’ll know what I mean. The fantastic illustrations from Dave McKean are incredibly vivid and really do leap from the page. They already go a long way to clarify the scientific concepts that Dawkins describes, but we knew that with the extra functionality of the iPad we could do even more.

Somethin’ Else were our first choice of developer for the app and they were involved from the start, helping to work up a proposal for the authors and agent before we were given the green light. We had worked with the team before, on the Malorie Blackman My Cribaby app for our children’s publishing division, and knew that their standards were as high as ours. From the start they really ‘got’ the project.

The key consideration for us was how to create an incredibly special digital book that made full use of the affordances of the iPad, without detracting from the reading experience. As a result, our early conversations with the team at Somethin’ Else were slightly contradictory – how do we make something that has all the benefits of a book (beautifully designed, comfortably readable from start to finish, yet easy to dip in and out of) but without feeling like an imitation book? We wanted the app to give readers an experience over and above the print book, but without feeling gimmicky. Other book apps sometimes fall down in this area and we were keen to ensure this was something that could be read in its entirety without interruption.

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