The New York Times recently published an article about how apps and web services are enabling consumers to customize how they read their online content. From apps like Flipboard and Pulse to services like Readability and Instapaper, users are increasingly demanding to consume content whenever, wherever and however they want.
When Apple introduced the iPad a year ago, many print publishers saw it as a panacea for their dwindling readership. By creating digital editions, they hoped to recapture some of the eyeballs lost to aggregators and RSS feeds. One of the pioneering publication apps was the WIRED Magazine iPad app. Because of its novelty, its debut issue sold 73,000 digital copies in nine days, almost as much as on newsstands. There is a clear desire from users to read magazines on their tablets.
What that first generation of attempts miss though, is they are trying to replicate 20th century print experience on a 21st century device. The magazine apps feel very one way. But the iPad is an Internet-connected device and users on the Internet demand more interactive experiences. They want to copy and paste passages to put on their blogs. They want to share articles via Facebook and Twitter. Using Adobe’s Digital Magazine Solution, Condé Nast is starting to address some of these issues.
Meanwhile apps such as Flipboard are aggregating content and repackaging it for their users. Flipboard presents news items according to a user’s social graph, creating a personalized and highly relevant news stream. Additionally, the app presents this content in a unique way: as a paper magazine. The visual is striking, yet it still holds familiarity with users since it loosely mimics the experience of reading a real-world magazine, with the benefits of interactivity. And so far it has been a hit with users, even earning an App of the Year award from Apple.
Different kinds of content demand different kinds of packages. For example as a designer, I—along with most designers and art directors—flip through magazines such as Communication Arts and Print, and peruse blogs and websites like LovelyPackage.com and SmashingMagazine.com. Seeing something cool usually sparks an idea for whatever we’re currently working on.
To get through the hundreds of design-related sites out there, I use RSS feeds to aggregate this content for myself in Google Reader. Unfortunately, because I am so busy, I am not able to keep up with all my feeds. I may manage to check it only every few days. And I dread seeing that â€œ1000+â€ number next to my unread items.
So last year, when the iPad was introduced, I decided to find a solution as an independent side project. I knew that an app on this large dedicated canvas could be created to serve this need of efficiently consuming visual inspiration. I teamed up with a developer friend and we started work on DesignScene.
We set out to create something that designers would enjoy using and become part of their daily ritual. We had two primary objectives:
- The UI must serve the content and the audience. It has to be beautiful and show off visuals well.
- The content must be relevant. There’s a glut of design-related websites and blogs on the Internet. Let’s help designers navigate through them.
The UI we designed is sparse—a simple grid that takes advantage of the screen real estate afforded by the tablet. Users flick through the various grid cells to see an assortment of images. They can enlarge the images to fill the screen or read the accompanying text from the original source via the built-in web browser. DesignScene surfaces up the latest inspirational images of not only design, but also architecture, photography, art and so on. The content is a curated list of sources and—as a whole—has an editorial point of view to enhance discovery.
It’s been two weeks since DesignScene launched. [This was originally posted three weeks ago on the PJA blog.] So far we’ve had great response from users and media. We built social sharing into the app and we can already see hundreds of discoveries being shared on Twitter. Our users are interacting with content in a way that was not possible just a year ago.
“but in giving their clients exactly what they asked for… that was their downfall.”
As a practicing professional designer and creative director having created work for clients huge (Microsoft) and tiny (Bimbo’s 365 Club) throughout my career, I find that above quote to be idealistic and naive. It comes from a Co.Design article about Chermayeff & Geismar’s reaction to Wolff Olins’s recent redesign of the NBC Universal logo.
In the real world, our job as designers is to put forward our best recommendations based on the client’s objectives. Of course we try to come up with solutions that are strategic and well-crafted and that will resonate with our client’s intended audiences. These days, to present the one and only solution as Chermayeff & Geismar did with the updated NBC logo in the 1980s or what Paul Rand did with the NeXT logo is a near impossibility, especially with large corporations who are likely paying six figures or more for a comprehensive redesign.
The design process is ultimately a collaboration between the client and the designer or design firm. Ideally trust is built between the two entities. Designers must trust that the client knows their business intimately. And clients must trust that the designer is an expert in branding (or whatever the area of the assignment is). I have found that the final product is often better when that trust is there.
Sometimes for whatever reason that trust isn’t developed and there is only so much convincing we designers can try to do. In the end—to be practical businesspeople—we must know when to stop pushing the client since they are the one signing the check. As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”
I’m not one to remember quotes, but this one from Frank Chimero just struck a chord with me yesterday:
“Because the future isn’t a thing you win. Or wait for… The future is something you MAKE.”
That is from a video he made to sell his The Shape of Design Kickstarter project, which was amazingly funded in just one day.
I’m really proud to announce that DesignScene for iPad has shipped today. From idea to release, it’s been about a year in the making. Here’s a little trailer I made in case you missed it:
I’ll be frank and say that this app was really made for me. Like many designers I spend a lot of my time going from website to website looking at stuff and reading up on trends. I eventually started using RSS feeds but even my feeds got unwieldy. I dreaded opening up Google Reader and seeing “1000+” unread items.
When Apple announced the iPad 12 months ago it struck me that this device was the perfect thing to visually browse through all of my design-related feeds. It didn’t take me too long to sketch and comp up something.
Of course I am just a designer and had zero Objective-C skills whatsoever. I can do simple HTML, CSS and even PHP, but real programming languages elude me. I knew I had to find a development partner. Problem is that there are tons of people like me with an idea, while developers are in high demand. I asked my network of friends and contacts, posted on Craigslist and BuildItWithMe but didn’t really find anyone. I had a couple of meetings with friends of friends who were iPhone developers but they had their own objectives. Finally I got in touch with an old friend who was working on his first iPhone app.
I presented my idea to David and he liked it. We decided to go to iPad Dev Camp which took place a week after the iPad shipped and just a couple of weeks after David and I initially talked. We built the prototype for DesignScene at the camp (and received an Honorable Mention). We were off to a great start.
The reality of day jobs and personal lives slowed progress down as we got into the spring and summer of 2010. But in the fall as chatter of curated content emerged we kicked ourselves into high gear. David worked on functionality (there’s a lot of backend processing that actually happens so that the app is as fast as it can be) and I worked on reaching out to sources to get official permission.
Fast-forward to today, and DesignScene is now available for purchase on the App Store. We’ve worked incredibly hard on this, sweated all the details (there’s actually a maintenance upgrade that we released hours after 1.0.0 went on sale), and are really proud of what we’ve accomplished. Of course we could not have done this without the immense and loving support from our families. A million thanks to our wives and kids for putting up with our late night hackathons.
We are going to keep working on to improve DesignScene (we have some neat features we’ve been thinking about) but we’re also going to think about other apps. Stay tuned and wish us luck!
“1000+” should be a familiar number for Google Reader users. My RSS feeds have been neglected in past months. Emails from AdAge.com, Creativity-Online, and links from friends go unread and unclicked. I’ve just been running 100 miles per hour at work. This is not to slam my current employer (because I truly like working here), but more of an observation.
If we creatives are always so busy with projects, and never take the time to look up, take off our headphones and find inspiration, our work will suffer. Our work will stagnate. Our work will suck.
So this is a reminder to myself (and to other creatives) to take a bit of time each day to remain inspired. Surf the web. Watch TV. See a movie in a theater. Listen to new music. Read a magazine or a book. Go to a bookstore. Go to a museum. Go hiking.
This is also a reminder to managers of creatives: you must let them play. You have to structure your organization and processes to allow creative folks time to recharge and get inspired. Google’s 20% time is a great example of how structuring some R&D/inspiration time can yield results. The Scotch Tape and Post-it Notes were invented by engineers at 3M during their 15% time. Or taken to the extreme, Stefan Sagmeister closes his studio every seven years for a yearlong sabbatical to get inspired again.
Now how can I get someone to pay me for a sabbatical?
I went to the first post-Apple era Macworld on Friday and spent a couple of hours in the exhibit hall. This year it was only in the North Hall, much smaller than it has been in past years. A lot of the big namesâ€”besides Appleâ€”that were anchors in previous Macworld Expos were not there: Adobe, Filemaker, Canon, EPSON. Microsoft, HP and others had smaller, toned down booths. The floor was packed with a lot of the smaller players and had a substantial area dedicated to iPhone apps. I found that I had to pay attention to the small exhibitors.
In terms of my show picks, here they are.
- TypeDNA: This is a series of plug-ins for Adobe CS4 that helps you preview and make decisions about your typeface choices. The innovation is that it analyzes 62 characteristics of every one of your own fonts to build a local database. From that database, it will allow you to search by styles, classifications and even find pairs of typefaces that go together. All this is based on scanning the letterforms, not checking the font name. Pretty incredible. It’s not out yet, but should be shipping in the next month or two.
- Topaz Labs Filters: This was the first demo that caught my eye. The speed and accuracy in which the ReMask plug-in works is incredible. Much easier to use than Photoshop’s native Extract tool or onOne Software’s Mask Pro.
- Inklet + Pogo Sketch: I’ve always been a Wacom tablet user. I just find that for Photoshop work, it’s invaluable. Inklet is software that allows you to use your MacBook Pro’s multi-touch trackpad as a tablet. Combined with the Pogo Sketch stylus, it’s like a mini-tablet built right in!
- Anti-Glare Screen Protector from Green Onions Supply: I’ve never liked the glossy screen on my MacBook Pro. So when I saw this on the show floor, and how it just cuts the glare, I had to pick one up.
My Beatles fanaticism has been re-ignited recently with the remastered box set. I’ve been going through the albums in the order of their release and am just floored by the clarity of the sound. It’s definitely like hearing all these songs for the first time again.
Because of the remasters, I’m sure the Beatles have enjoyed a renewed interest from audiences old and new. Which brings me to the “Hey Jude” flowchart and this infographic gem: Charting the Beatles. There are four great charts at that link. Apparently it is the start of an open collaboration project and includes a Flickr pool.
Link: Charting the Beatles
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