In the last week I’ve have been watching the news of the Volcanic cloud with astonishment, wondering whether I’d make it here.
It reminded me of the process of change facing newspapers and other publishers - the internet has changed everything and no-one could predict what it would cause.
It is elemental, you couldn’t insure against it and like the volcanic ash - You cannot ignore it...
Change is nothing new in our industry
Newspapers have gone from…
hot metal to hot wax.
I remember running galleys through the waxer...
… and when the first mac rolled into the printshop I worked in, it was still used for typing out galleys in quark express which we’d then paste onto boards....
A few of us realised you could put together pages on this thing, and began to experiment but it was a little later that the management caught on...
One thing which scared them was that they might miss the corrections — with galleys and pasteup you would literally TOUCH the board and feel where a correction had been pasted on top of the galley... sometimes a sentence, sometimes a word!
Around that time I remember being in a pub talking with a friend and hearing this word for the first time — and realising that the internet, this idea of linked text had amazing implications.
And in time News websites have grown to huge things - A creative-director friend at a national newspaper called them Black Holes in a recent talk, consuming more and more data...
I think it’s more useful to view them like another giant element in the cosmos — Huge, fascinating, generating tons of content but becoming quite cumbersome and difficult to take in.
The mistake often has been to assume that to create a news app you need to pour all of this into your new device
Over this time newspapers, meanwhile have been having some problems... they always depended on advertising
Advertising has always been with us...
I always thought it a bit strange that in early newspapers there were adverts covering the front page, and throughout my design career have found advertising to be a frustrating page interruption.
But in recent years have begin to realise they are something we need to work with creatively, not just tolerate.... ad revenue of newspapers have been in decline as we all know,
There is no clear idea of where it’s all going - here is where the black hole metaphor works: the growing gap between ad revenue decline and what the web is bringing in.
This slide is from 2006, and I have read nothing that indicates the situation is getting much better.
Still the question, when or whether the upward tick of web advertising will fill the growing revenue gap
and there have been the various other changes of the last 10 or so years, ipod itunes, and the massive growth of mobile phone use....
and then apple introduced the iphone -
Looking at usage on the Guardian website at the end of 2008 showed how the bigger screens and better interface meant people were viewing the website with a much greater numbers, and on these new devices…
So the touch interface and bigger screen were a big factor.
While ad execs were looking at figures of billions of mobile phone users on all devices, they were missing out on the fact that quality and experience for users is imporant.
Strange since we put so much effort getting that right in the papers!
So I found myself thinking about the news organisation more as a huge generator of content which it can spin off into satellites
the many sections you can grab hold of as a user, as in the newspaper More like a solar system of other planets
And an app might be more like a suite of smaller apps
each of which does the job of serving that section particularly well
and that is kind of what we tried to do…
with the Guardian app on the iphone, (which incidentally won an award from a production magazine yesterday - 22 April 2010 - for it’s contribution to the future of newspapers)
So with the Guardian app we looked at ways to help the user get around…
…the content from the front via tags.
The Guardian website has extensive tagging, which is present on the website, but we wanted to do something which enabled users to dig deeper into the content from the front page.
As well as this, the user can double tap on galleries…
…and get more detailed access to the great photo content the Guardian carries.
The standard gallery model doesn’t let you see what a gallery is about. I wanted to ensure the reader could find out how many are in a set information about what the gallery contains.
The front therefore became a place where you could dig deeper into the content while not yet committing to reading any article
I also took care to ensure the rule-work and use of color, type and spacing provided a sense of unity of the web and newspaper deesignd and continued the Guardian brand.
The app caches data automatically from the moment you launch it, but the offline reading feature enables you to choose which sections to download for reading on the subway
… its interesting to see where people use the Guardian app, it’s often used by commuters, that’s clear
But looking at the user data, it’s clear thats not the whole story ther’s a peak of usage at 8 in the morning.... commuters …
But there are also a lot of people using the app at 10 at night. They’re not commuting, they are in bed or on the sofa…
And the sofa is where Steve Jobs chose to launch the iPad from.
I think that is clearly a big difference that the iPad brings, it is geared towards use in those situations where you have time to sit down and spend time with it.
So even before this announcement, in the hype preceding the launch many people thought “this is it, the thing to save us”!
It is clear from published statements that Jobs is keen for his platform to help newspapers, though there are clearly issues of whether newspapers are happy with perceptions of Apple’s desire to control content
Since the iPad launch there have been glowing reports from newspapers, and some less hopeful...
UK newspapers and readers have an appetite for doing down new products.... which was reflected in comments I had form random people I encountered on my way to the US
And in designing apps I have often come across these sort of comments... missing the point
it’s about the content, and the content doing the work within a compelling app experience
and as for exciting: it is an exciting device to use - and with words, numbers, photos and graphics used as interface, you give people a chance to be inquisitive and be rewarded with great user experiences, hopefully to delight them as well as presenting great writing and imagery... this is all very exciting
The reality of creating news apps is that it’s like being back there in the days of running out galleys using Quark Express.
I started thinking about how to get from page to page a few months ago... simple you might think...
I started thinking more about how we have read in time
Here is a tablet from 4000 years ago - recording a land deal
We have read across lines of text, on tablets, pages or scrolls for millenia...
Scrolls fell out of favour because they couldn’t be transported as easily as the new book... that was around the 12th century
on the plane trip here i met a forensic historian who also told me that when printed newspapers (whatever form they took then) began they were made to look more like a manuscript of the bible because it was the familiar form of reading material.
So when I recently was brought my ipad - I shouldn’t have been surprised to see newspapers looking like newspapers
After trying the news apps I have for a few days it seems the issues are, as I thought about transitions and amount of content. The NYT has done a great job of an “Editors picks” app, and for transitions between pages they’ve chosen
to swipe from left to right. This is familiar and works well.
I was frustrated by the lack of other interaction, no copy and paste or commenting.
All of these examples usng multiple columns suffer from awkward white space where an article runs short
This is the USA Today’s approach..
I like their front page, with a range of different types of content and furniture
The vexed problem of turning pages here is solved with a vertical scroll, from one 2 column page to another
… and here you get into an awkward situation of where your eye goes and the problem that the column ends on the right and the next “page” starts in the same plane but in the left column
I actually found NPR’s articles easiest to read, scrolling a single column of text feels so natural on the the iPad.
and your eyes could visually scan the page. But that’s just like a website, right? I think one needs to look at what works best.
I can copy and past copy here, it is structured for this device, the copy is beautifully crisp, and I can swipe left to right to get to the next article.
NPR also do something I’ve not seen before which is to include the whole article in the email when you share.
It feels like freed from the paradigm of having to imitate a newspaper NPR have been able to focus on the experience of reading and what is appropriate for the device.
You can email articles from the other 2 but there is no other sharing - which we have been rightly criticised for with the Guardian iphone app
And there’s the Guardian eyewitness app which take the approach i mentioned earlier and uses a narrow stream of data — just one planet...
and is doing quite well
But that’s not the end of the story, all of these apps seem to be fed by RSS feeds, and are pioneer products.
I think what NYT has been very successful at is getting different lengths of intro onto their front page, thus enabling some of the serendipity of the paper to return. Clever algorithms are a big part of making this type of model work well, as is careful controlled typography.
But the other thing I am interested in exploring is the Newspaper furniture...
In news design we have always been about interface, interaction and navigation - whether on a paper like the Guardian
Or a paper like this which consists of much shorter chunks of copy and other elements which look like you should be able to tap them
Modern newspapers (and to some extent websites) are full of different types of ENTRY points into page
Small pic plus caption, or small info graphic plus caption:
GIZMOS as they are known
this device became basis of list view in iphone app
and give a clue to a tuype of popover oncould use to expose other content
and give a clue to a type of popover one could use to expose other content on the ipad
That’s the thing about touch, you want to reach in, grab hold of a fact and find out some more
I’d love to see a newspaper put together a great dynamic sport section,
There are different speeds of data - some which come form other services and are curated by the news organisation, like racing stats, football scores, poll results
These need to be reflected in apps - and would give the user a far deeper experience of the news
Cutouts, disruptive elements which give the user something to grab hold of - a chuckle before reading on
And the ability to literally drill down, into an image or graphic - i have in my mind the fantastic “powers of 10” film from the Eames office in the 1960s
The ipad (and iphone) bring new problems of locating oneself within the app, navigation.
And great journeys through content become issues not just of visual design but also of architcture and Interface
How do we bring some of these content elements into the ipad and future tablet devices?
And with the growth of twitter and other sevices as both a news gathering tool for professionals and a crowd journalism tool, how do we creatively integrate things like this into news products?
My explorations so far show me that to go beyond clever RSS readers, with great type, leveraging of keywords and the magic of touch
There really needs to be a rethink of newsrooms.
If we are going to produce quality apps which can draw in revenue, and provide a fully rounded news service which grows our audience the issue of
WHO is in the newsroom?
how DO the designer and editors and subeditors
work with a developer- and does there need to be a separate UX/UI designer (I think so), and where does the product manager fit in?
What is the software used?
There need to be applications developed - and I imagine this is one for Apple, and perhaps adobe and others - which enable daily production of content for an app - Content management systems, but also…
These apps need sound, not just interviews and audio but what noise does the app make when you move from page to page? What if your favourite team scores while you’re elsewhere i the app how do you know?
At the moment it is a bit like the early days of the railways, with everyone using a different guage, but at some point there will need to be an emergence of conventions which work best. otherwise users will be really frustrated by having to use
use different ways to enter each publication (demonstrate by opening a newpaper vertically - an alternative to the conventional L-R)
I think there is lots of experimentation to do, it’s great starting somewhere and building on that. I applaud the apps I have seen so far.
And I look forward to contributing to the world in which we can bring great new ways for users to touch the news.
“Steve believes in old media companies
and wants them to do well. He believes
democracy is hinged on a free press and
that depends on there being a
The Guardian, quoting NYT source
“It’s just a big iPhone isn’t it?”
“I’ve heard it has some problems”
Random UK airport staff on my way here