The Times iPad app has won praise for a range of interactive graphics simply not possible with traditional print media, showcasing the potential Apple's tablet device clearly offers publishers. With plans for Australian-born American media magnate Rupert Murdoch to launch a new digital only newspaper Macworld caught up with the team - including Paul Kettle - behind many of The Times striking graphics.
Hoxton Square, London based design studio Applied Works has so far created graphics covering the 'The Wall of Debt,' World Cup, 'Health of England' and 70 anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Q. What does Apple’s iPad offer designers and creatives?
A marriage of digital and print-like experiences is one aspect that makes the iPad an intriguing new platform for designers, because users instinctively know how to navigate, shifting the focus away from 'navigation' and allowing content to flourish. The fingertip gestures used to navigate the iPad only require subtle hints in the design, creating an intuitive experience more akin to turning the pages of a magazine. It’s a total re-think when compared with UI design for the web - staying true to the iPad’s behavioural system is essential in retaining usability, and littering the page with call-outs, menus and sign-posting will only confuse the experience.
The focus on content has sparked the imagination of clients and consumers. Many people are now thinking about taking content that already exists and bringing a new lease of life to it, as well as creating new content entirely for iPad.
Q. Prior to the iPad would they be a suitable platform for similar graphics?
For a long time there’s been a market for immersive, engaging content similar to what we’re now experiencing with the iPad. But with the advent of HTML5 and CSS3, we’re able to make these experiences more fluid and accessible – while the graphics themselves feel so much more responsive in the palm of your hand. It’s also great to see designs starting out on the iPad and then being tweaked for the web – this is adding a new dimension to online graphics.
We’re finding that – naturally – publishers and advertisers are seeing the benefits of the iPad experience, taking the opportunity to make detailed content more engaging and fun. Creating apps is one thing, but it’s bringing the content within the app to life that is becoming crucial to retaining interest levels.
Q. And how does the iPad graphics differ from those you might find online?
Primarily the difference is in designing for touch navigation in place of mouse, and to a lesser extent the advantages of designing to two fixed aspect ratios (portrait and landscape) rather than the multitude of different monitor sizes you have to cater for with the desktop web.
With the Health Map graphic for example, we designed a navigation wheel that was very well suited to finger gestures – its much easier to rotate your finger around a circular space than it is with a mouse, leaving much more screen space for other elements than would otherwise be possible.
The other main difference is that prompts on the iPad tend to be movement based, rather than rollover-based as you find online - so a subtle movement of an element under your finger instinctively tells the user ‘this is an interactive element’.
Q. Are you limited by Apple's iPhone OS?
The main technical problems we’ve had to overcome have been working within an app (things like font integration – the pages call on fonts embedded within the app), and within the processor speed of the iPad. We’ve often found that certain things will work perfectly in the iPad emulator on a desktop but slow down significantly on the device itself.
Q. What sort of feedback have you had from The Times and its readers?
We’ve heard a lot of anecdotal feedback on the social web that has been extremely positive. We were also invited to speak at the Editorial Design Organisation back in July.
Q. Finally what can we expect from Applied Works with regards the iPad in the near future?
So far we’ve only really scraped the surface – but the challenges brought to us by clients as they get to grips with the benefits of this new medium are moving us forward. We’re planning an app for a new online literary initiative due to launch in September. This will give us the perfect platform to further research the possibilities and push some boundaries. Solving real problems and gauging the reaction of real users is what will ultimately shape the future of what we’re producing.
We’ve yet to truly discover what people will ultimately use the iPad for – will it be similar to how we use our desktops and mobiles, or will it carve a niche and give us something very different? We’re getting a lot of potential interest from some great people, so hopefully this will give us more scope and many more opportunities.
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