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BoSacks Speaks Out: A Simple Idea… Directions

I was having lunch at the MPA-AMC conference last week with a very major publisher who is deeply involved with the creation of digital magazines. His titles have had great notoriety and a fair amount of success. To make a point in this conversation I devised an analogy that a few days later still makes a great sense to me.

By Bob Sacks
Published: October 12, 2010

I was having lunch at the MPA-AMC conference last week with a very major publisher who is deeply involved with the creation of digital magazines. His titles have had great notoriety and a fair amount of success. To make a point in this conversation I devised an analogy that a few days later still makes a great sense to me.

The analogy goes like this - We were in a room with two hundred people. Any of these people can get into any car anywhere in the world and drive away without a tutorial. Digital magazines must have the same universality of navigation. When anyone picks up a digital magazine, they shouldn't need a tutorial about how to read it. It should be simple and obvious. If it isn't, the designer has failed.

I think that digital magazines are calling for and need great designers, and not necessarily great programmers. I have had the privilege of working with some of the best artists and magazine designers that our industry has to offer.

This week Esquire magazine released a new iPad App edition. I am not saying we shouldn't use every tool and link available to us, but I would rather that the ease of use of a digital magazine be totally obvious to everyone. In the new release it wasn’t.

I have enjoyed Esquire since I was a kid...well, at least since I was a young man. I purchased the Esquire App, and I agree with the author of this article on many of his observations. My current and biggest pet peeve is that the navigation isn't simple. With iPad digital magazines you have at least four directions to swipe - north, south, east or west. Would it be too much to ask to have a small arrow in the upper corner depicting the possible and preferred directions the reader can choose from - a simple directional compass to eliminate the frustrations of inadvertently getting lost?

What I have learned by my combined experience with artists is that the best and most creative designs have what I would call classic simplicity. The classics are classics not because of what the designer put into the project, but by what they left out. Elegant simplicity breeds classic good looks and, in this case, ease of functionality. Simplicity is a more elegant weapon in such complex times.


Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.
Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955), (attributed)

 

Discussion

By Chuck on Oct 13, 2010

Don't worry, Steve Jobs is on it. Rumor has it that he orchestrated the firing of WSJ Digital chief Gordon Mcleod over his inability to accept Job's criticism of the newspaper's iPad app. From www.myapplespace.com, "The Price of Crossing Steve Jobs"...

In a Q&A session with the assembled executives and managers, including Journal editors, Jobs railed against the apps newspapers like the Journal have created for his iPad. Their interfaces are terrible, he said, and their content is all too often limited . That the Journal's archrival the New York Times was among those singled out for criticism — Jobs hates the limited NYT Editors' Choice app — must have helped take the sting off. And Jobs did praise the WSJ's iPad app as very attractive. But the CEO also said the app was too slow, essentially calling it a clunky reading experience.

 

By Wayne Shipman on Oct 14, 2010

Bo, it's very telling that you used the phrase "picked up a digital magazine". I think the idea of changing how we approach digital magazines can only go two ways:
1) We 'reproduce' the magazine experience: jumping around, thumbing the corners to find a page, skipping over ads, maybe even virtual blow-in cards to subscribe to the 'real thing'.

2) Give up on the magazine format! Why not a giant map that scrolls in every direction, presenting stories, photos, links, etc? Why handcuff designers to take one form and re-create it in another technology?

My belief, and interest, in a magazine is: it's a collection of targeted information, edited by experts, presented by craftspeople, has current value due to new information, is referenced to past information, has engaged me in a mental dialogue that stirs me to some future action.

Computers: they can do that. So can iPads, etc. First and foremost, I need to want what they are giving me. It has to have value, not just format. Form still follows function , at least for me.

 

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