At the moment I’m curious about all things iPad apps for a couple reasons. I have one and really enjoy what it can do in terms of displaying content to experience, I’m designing a couple apps at the moment and I’m interested to hear best practices and experiences. I think that there’s a huge shift from the computer as a work experience to screens that offer a lot of capabilities never assumed before. So when talks like SPD Paper to Pixels v2 are programmed in relationship to iPads (and tablets), I’m pretty interested in going to them.
Each of the panelist (Neil Jamieson, Deputy Design Director, People, D.W. Pine, Design Director, TIME, Michael Lawton, Design Director, and Peter Herbert, Sr. Art Director, Popular Mechanics and Joe Zeff, President of Joe Zeff Design) had ten minutes to talk about their app, process (before & after the iPad came out), and general thoughts about it. In the case of Zeff he gave an overivew of different types of apps, business and what their company is working on.
iPad apps from publishers are disntinct in their release time. They follow their print version of the weekly, monthly & one time “book”. Each of those releases are going to create unique time constraints on how the work is going to be created. Each publication went through a lot of iterations to get to the format that they’re at now. They have basic interaction flows & buttons, they tend to design for two formats (portrait & landscape) except for Popular Mechanics, the print edition closes before the iPad version is worked on. It sounded like most of the design is produced with inDesign which has limitations of the interactions. Print metaphor being used for screen interactions.
There was a slightly different model for the weekly vs the monthly in terms of time a story might take to produce. Popular Mechanics has more time with an issue so interacitve features can be devloped longer. A designer might talk to a programmer about what is possible before the concept makes it’s way up for approval. The weeklies seemed less interactive with moving graphics and more about converting print to screen. Buttons are designed so that a secondary layer on top of the original page pops over. They all seemed adverse to any type of kit that would flow their designs, they also seemed to feel that standardation templates weren’t worth using as it would impeed the need for a designer.
In terms of graphics that were developed with CGI, CAD (it might have been some other technical program), flat image can be converted into three dimensions easily. I do think as things can scale in size depending on zooming, vector graphics will stay nice and smooth while other illustration methods of production will have to adjust. Otherwise they look fuzzy. Photos look great and allow more to be displayed than a print version can. I think they’re still trying to figure out videos in terms of whether their clips, bringing stuff in from sources like YouTube or animating illustrations.
Web, Print and the iPad
Most of the design groups went outside for consultation. It felt like they (print people directing the iPad) avoided the web teams at all cost. This is where things got interesting for me. There seemed to be a lot of friction in attitude with the freeness of the web. The editorial side seemed to be holding back on content that people might buy with the actual magazine. I can’t really blame them but if no one knows about the story how are they going to buy it? Other print influences like text constraints with the copy desk were finding it’s way to the apps. Fit to print shouldn’t have to exist with an iPad yet those types of conventions seemed to drive the design.
When is the Hybrid and Evolution Going to Happen?
Looking at the number of people that touch any particular article, the number of times it is designed and the lack of ability of the reader to share the information that they’re reading make the apps that I saw last night pretty unsustanable. Plus when new screen devices come out, will they be desined five or six times?
It would be easy to create a venn diagram that has one circle for web overlapping with print and in the middle would be a happy iPad app. On paper that makes sense, in real life I think that’s less attainable. I think workflow has to be built from the ground up using best practices of continously building and iterating on stories as information develops. For other stories that need to be vetted out and edited in final form before going public, allow the story to dictate the length, not trying to fit into a print sized grid. Maintain a regular publishing cycle but allow for that schedule to flex when appropriate. Don’t treat content that is being read on screen as a lesser value, create venue’s for people to share what they think is really valuable. Subscriptions is a print based idea, online apps should reconsider this. More acess to resources within a story is paid for, less access to browse allows someone to see if they want to pay for the issue. The only nature to make modifications to reading shouldn’t be ignored. Give the reader the ability to adjust line length, size and background colour if they want to. The system should be able to flex and adjust to those type of visual treatments.
Sometimes it’s just nice to read something
While there’s infinite possibilities to do stuff on screen, one thing needs to be remembered. Sometimes it’s just nice to read something, not to do something as they’re reading. Just because it can be done doesn’t mean it should be. If the story, photo or any other media type is treated as the atomic unit that is the basis for the production and is flexible for the screen that it is going to be seen on, and not be contrainsed like print production, a great experience for the reader can be achieved while being successful for the publisher both financially and reputationally.