Issue: 2011
Frequency: Yearly
Launched: 1965
5,500 – 8,000
Society of Publication Designers
Josh Klenert
Development Partner: Balance Software

This year, the Society of Publication Designers released the 45th edition of its annual hardcover celebrating the best of design, photography and illustration in the magazine industry, selected by 40 visual journalists. In a reflection of the increasingly digitized times, SPD decided to enter the digital front, debuting an iPad-ready app featuring an expanded version of the coffee table-ready hardcover.

The extended version features Magazine of the Year winners and finalists, 2009 SPOTS illustration competition winners and winners from the SPD Student Design and Photo Competition as well as Gold, Silver and Merit winners chosen by the SPD.

Josh Klenert, who sits on the board with the Society, acted as the primary designer for the app. This digital edtion of the hardcover annual serves for few purposes for the SPD, "I’m privy to a lot of the conversations we’ve had and many of the challenges we’ve faced. As a non-profit, we’re always looking for new revenue streams," Klenert says. "But, it was very important to not replace the hardcover annual; I wanted to come up with a good companion featuring Search functionality and more content. The hardcover is something I hope lives on infinitely."

One of the biggest advantages of the iPad annual, Klenert believes, is its utility. The hardcover edition, which retails for $55.00 stateside, is hardly meant to act as a portable guide to the best in design, but more as a coffee table conversation piece. However, the iPad app (the $19.99 price is based on community research, and the app is also available at a discounted rate for students) is easily carried to photo shoots and design meetings.

Klenert says the digital addition has been largely successful in the international sector, now that it’s available beyond a few bookstores and to members of the SPD. 50 percent of downloads have taken place outside the U.S. thus far; when the annual launched in May, it was the top grossing reference app in the App Store, "right below two editions of the Bible."

The search capability integrated into the app enables users to sift through the annual by entering key words that relate to the meta data programmed along with each magazine featured in the annual. Meta data includes background for the winners, such as names of creative directors, photographers and editors, as well as categories like "sans serif" and "still life".

In order to access the meta data, the user taps the full screen shots of each magazine, swinging the art back. If a specific term interests the user, there is a select option to generate a new search of the app. Klenert highlights the additional space the digital turf supplies as a key selling point of the project, as many thumbnail size portraits in the hardcover edition can be viewed full-screen in app; this includes 1,000 full-size shots.

"I wanted to generally match the flow of the hardcover," Klenert says. "Ultimately, it was about being clear and acute." The app contains only two main screens: the mosaic home screen featuring the gold, silver and merit winners, which can be swiped right and left, and a full screen for individual honorees. The app works in landscape and portrait modes, in order to accomodate the integrity of the featured magazine spreads and covers.

The app is designed to be intuitively navigable for users, and only a small "Easter egg" is included in SPD’s offering, "The press and hold feature on the main screen gives you a preview of all the credits, so you don’t have to tap into one layer down to see a full screen. If people find it, great, but the app doesn’t fail if you don’t."

Working with Balance Software, app development was completed over a period of about three months. The first step in the design process was to create the database the entire app is based on; this step is something often overlooked by designers, Klenert asserts.

The SPD is pleased with their initial dive into the app world, but there is still much to be accomplished in future editions. Social sharing capabilities did not make the cut in this year’s app, due to the additional costs. Many users posted reactions to the app through SPD comment boards and iTunes, and Klenert says this has been one of the greatest advantages of going digital. Currently, it is unclear whether the current edition will be updated over the year, or if new capabilities will be added into next year’s annual.

“I think the key for us was getting out a robust app that solved core needs, and we can always update over time,” Klenert says. “But right now, I’m already focused on getting the next one out the door.”


I find the font selection to be excellent – subtle so as not to take away from the designs but complementary and informative. The use of space is also very well done, especially when it comes to switching between horizontal and vertical formats. I find that many digital publications have difficulty taking advantage of the use of both formats, but this edition handles it seamlessly.

The functionality of this digital edition is its greatest strength. Zooming quickly through thumbnails in the various categories makes searching much easier, as well as the ability to view in alternate ways, whether it be looking up just samples from Esquire magazine or viewing a particular category such as photography. The search function is also very handy when looking up certain designs in a hurry.

Chris Hercik, Creative Director for the Sports Illustrated Group

Designing showcases presents a thorny problem: how do you maintain an appropriate level of transparency and still retain enough of your brand for consumers to know who you are? The SPD pulls this off without even breaking its stride. Good thing too as they represent some of the best design talent around.

Using two simple tools, a straightforward sans serif with a little more character than helvetica-licious neutrality, and a field of black, the SPD 45 looks gorgeous, mostly because it refuses to get between you and the work inside. Ultra rich blacks present the content with a vibrant lushness that embarrasses print. On the down side, the typography feels large for the high pixel-density world of tablet screens but more curious is the decision to run all images on the “home screen” as squares, a shape rarely seen in the world of print magazines, and one that fails to represent the work in its natural state.

Sam Syed, Creative Director, Bonnier Technology Group

Have a unique “cover” story? Contact associate editor Stefanie Botelho at

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