‘If You Need to Explain It, We Should All Agree, Then the Design Isn’t Doing Its Job’

Khoi Vinh on the Popular Science iPad design:

And they’re repetitive, too; over and again, it’s the same basic format in which a layer of type slides pointlessly against the backdrop of a fixed image. That repetitiveness does little to counter the general feeling of placelessness throughout the app; the navigation is well-meaning but fussy at best, but honestly much closer to incompetent. (As we get out of the gate with iPad publishing, can we just very quickly impose a moratorium on displaying instructions on how to use reading interfaces? If you need to explain it, we should all agree, then the design isn’t doing its job.) I got lost and frustrated repeatedly, and then I got bored.

Agreed fully.

Placelessness is a huge problem. With a paper magazine, newspaper, or book, you know where you are and how much remains based on the pages in your hands. The Popular Science iPad app is visually interesting and impressive, but you get no sense of place, and, worse, I’ve found you don’t even get a sense of where there is scrollable content. It’s more like an interface for a touchscreen magazine from a science fiction movie than something that’s actually done right.

(If I were hiring someone to design an iPad magazine, I’d sell a kidney to hire Khoi Vinh. I’m not sure how much of a hand he’s had in the design of the NYT Editors’ Choice iPad app, but I’m absolutely in love with that app. That app has changed my morning reading routine. It has little sci-fi wow factor, but it is graceful, placeful, and feels like The Times — the Times I know and love, as someone old enough to vividly remember what it was like when being a news junkie meant getting your fingertips stained black every morning — in a way that the nytimes.com web site never has.)

Wednesday, 7 April 2010