Design Decisions for Digital Publishing Apps

If you’re creating magazine apps for the iPad and other mobile devices, you have a lot of design decisions to make. Let’s go over a few of them.

Single-Folio or Multi-Folio Viewer App?

When you submit your content to the Apple Store or Android Market, each magazine or book requires its own branded viewer.

For most projects, the decision of whether to create a single-folio or multiple-folio viewer is straight-forward. If you intend to create a book or a one-off promotional piece, such as the Essential Guide to TRON, create a single-folio viewer. If you intend to create a magazine with multiple issues, such as The New Yorker, you need to create a multi-folio viewer that allows your customers to download folios as you publish them on the Adobe fulfillment server.

For multi-folio viewers, Adobe plans to charge $0.30 per download. Adobe does not charge anything for single-folio viewers, because they’re downloaded from the Apple Store or Android Market, not from the Adobe fulfillment server.

Orientation — Vertical, Horizontal, or Both?

You can create portrait-only, landscape-only, or dual-orientation folios. Note that you cannot mix and match orientation types, such as a horizontal-only and dual-orientation articles in the same folio. The layouts of single-orientation folios do not change when the customer rotates the iPad.

In a prerelease forum thread, one publisher claimed that magazine apps should be portrait-only because people are accustomed to reading portrait magazines. I don’t think that reasoning holds up. Aren’t those same people also accustomed to reading websites on landscape monitors? And watching t.v. and movies on landscape screens? I don’t think there’s a “right” orientation for the iPad.

I’ve seen well-designed portrait-only and landscape-only magazines. The new Golf Digest and Reader’s Digest apps are portrait only. One of my favorite apps, Harvest to Heat, is landscape only.

Golf Digest is portrait only.

Harvest to Heat is landscape-only.

One major advantage to portrait-only or landscape-only folios is that you have to create only one design. If you have a printed magazine, converting the layout to a 768×1024 page size isn’t nearly as difficult as converting it to both a 768×1024 and 1024×768 page size.

Designing separate layouts for portrait and landscape orientations can be time-consuming. Furthermore, if you intend to make your magazine available on other mobile devices besides the iPad, creating both portrait and landscape orientations for 1024×768, 1024×600, and 800×600 devices can turn what may be a beneficial inconvenience into an unsustainable workflow.

Note: One concern with portrait-only magazines is the ability to play full-screen videos in landscape orientation. With the newest viewer (drop 9), this is now possible. With portrait-only folios, users can rotate the iPad to play a full-screen video in landscape.

Of course, the drawback to creating a single-orientation folio is that you may take away the customer’s preferred method of reading. Some people prefer viewing content in landscape mode. Like me. I have a folding iPad cover that lets the device sit comfortably on my lap or chest in landscape view. I don’t mind rotating the iPad every now and then, but I always want to go back to landscape. But my neighbor has an iPad cover that props up her iPad vertically, so she’s inclined to read in portrait orientation.

What Are the Best Options for Dual-Orientation App?

The most common approach is to redesign the same content for both landscape and portrait layout. This is the approach that the designers at WIRED, Martha Stewart Living, InDesign Magazine, iGizmo, Fine Cooking, and many others have taken. It provides flexibility and — for now — caters to the iPad’s groundbreaking design and a “wow!” factor. My guess is that the ability to view the same issue of a magazine in two orientations isn’t going to be as significant in the near future. Who knows?

Fine Cooking Holidays

Another option is to create a dual-orientation folio in which each orientation serves a different purpose. For example, the landscape orientation could provide a detailed visual overview with a slideshow or video, while the portrait orientation could include a text-intensive article.

For a how-to manual, the landscape layout could display the desired effect, such as a before/after photo for a Photoshop app, while the portrait layout could provide the instructions for creating that effect.

I saw a magazine that uses the same 700-pixel layout in both the portrait and landscape orientations, but the designers created a much wider navigation bar in landscape orientation. They also created smooth-scrolling articles rather than page-by-page articles to avoid a disjointed experience when rotating the iPad. Unfortunately, I can’t find that magazine on my iPad. One of my twin boys must have deleted it when he was experimenting with the cool wiggle feature. Sigh.

Weekend Magazin mixes its approach by providing the typical dual-orientation redesign for most articles, but every now and then, they signal that rotating the image displays a different photo.

Rotating the iPad offers a different picture

For Multi-Issue Folios, Should the Preview Folio Be Included or Downloadable?

When you create a single-folio viewer, the folio is baked in with the app. With a multi-folio viewer, you have a choice. You can provide a small .folio file that gets downloaded along with the viewer app, or you can provide only a viewer shell and allow customers to download free and retail content from the fulfillment server. (Apple requires that you provide free content for your viewer app.)

You can also combine the two approaches. For example, you can embed a folio that describes how to use the viewer, and you can upload a free preview issue.

To keep things simple, I think the best approach is to avoid baked in content. Just submit a shell viewer app and provide one or more free preview issues that customers can download. That way, if you need to edit the preview issues, you can simply upload a new version to the fulfillment server; your customers can click the Update button in the viewer library to get the new version. If you need to edit a baked-in folio, you’ll have to resubmit the viewer app to Apple.

What’s the Best Way to Provide Free Preview Content

If you’re charging money for your multi-folio viewer, you need to provide some free content that meets Apple’s requirements and (hopefully) convinces your customers to download the retail version or subscribe.

At the bare minimum, provide a table of contents and one or two articles. Another option is to provide more articles, but show only the first page or two of each. Here’s an example from Reader’s Digest in which editors provide just enough of an article to make you want to read more.

“How did he get out of jail? OK, I’ll buy it.”

Should Vertical Swiping Be Turned Off?

By default, swiping up and down displays different pages of an article, and swiping left and right displays different articles. Some designers believe that allowing both horizontal and vertical swiping can be disorienting, especially for inexperienced users. To simplify, they turn on the “Flatten” option for all articles, thereby allowing only horizontal swiping. (Flattening an article causes its pages to be displayed horizontally rather than vertically.)

Of course, this approach requires customers to swipe through every page of every article, sacrificing flexibility for simplicity.

You can see what you think of horizontal-only swiping by downloading apps like EVO and Weekend. In each, designers provide visual clues to indicate the end of an article.

It’s easy enough to try both approaches and do a usability test.

Smooth Scrolling or Page-by-Page Flipping?

Should your allow your customers to view the entire article by swiping smoothly, like a web page, or by swiping to turn the pages, like an epub book? Fortunately, you don’t have to decide one approach for the entire folio. You can make this decision for each article. Some designers turn on Smooth Scrolling for the table of contents and the credits page. The InDesign Magazine designers turned on Smooth Scrolling for some articles and not for others.

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Did I miss anything? Leave a comment.

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