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FMA Day: Can Apps Be Too Complicated?

While publishing in a digital space, how far ahead should designers be thinking?


TJ Raphael By TJ Raphael
09/29/2011 -15:18 PM






At the 2011 Fulfillment Management Association [FMA] Day, keynote speaker Bob Sacks, who has held multiple roles within the publishing industry, told the industry professionals in attendance that the present is one of the best times in history to be a publisher.

“I believe we’re heading into the golden age of publishing and it will be fun and lucrative,” he said. “The publishing industry used to be about seeing distinct, finite finished magazines going out the door on a regular basis. Now there’s the new paradigm of a continuous array of news that may never be finished. What we do now is not what we did.”

Sacks says that publishers will see success through digital readers and that niche publications will be the future profiteers. Additionally, he reassured the audience that everything, in fact, has not changed in publishing.

“Over the next 10 years, one of the main effects of the great publishing realignment will be the deep rooted change experienced by the magazine industry from a primarily print oriented business to one where digital products will represent the largest share of a smaller periodical industry,” he said. “The industry is going digital and I see that as the land of opportunity for everyone in this room because they are new dollars. We just have to go out and get it—someone will, it might as well be you.”

Bob is right. Publishing in the digital space is not going to harm the industry, only enhance it. According to recent data, tablet shipments will increase to about 80 million next year, up from a predicted 53.5 million for 2011. In total, there were about 17.9 million media tablet shipments into sales channels worldwide last year.

At FMA Day I moderated a panel on apps. Jill Greto, director of consumer insights for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. and Peter Costanzo, director of digital content for F+W Media, were among the panelists slated to speak.

Greto brought the audience into several Martha Stewart branded apps including Boundless Beauty, Everyday Food and Martha Stewart Living. Costanzo introduced the audience to the Web Designer's Idea app, a breakout product connected with the company but not directly linked with a magazine.

During the Q+A portion of the panel someone asked about interface and complexity. Greto, during her presentation, had pointed out that Boundless Beauty, while a bit more complex in its usage due to the nature of its design (a reader must flip from landscape to portrait mode), was a huge hit with younger audiences—those that may have never interacted with the brand before.

I suggested that publishers looking to enter the tablet space look to the future—as Greto pointed out and I concur—as tablet devices become more mainstream, younger people will be using the devices more. Costanzo, on the other hand, argued that his students at New York University should be designing and implementing with grandparents in mind.

That seems foolish. In 5 years, the kids in high school will be entering college, likely with tablet devices since the cost of the product is much cheaper, even by today’s standards, than at least four years of academic textbooks. With the introduction of today’s Amazon Kindle Fire, the price of a tablet and the accessibility will be more widespread.

Additionally, while tablet users are predominantly older people, the lower cost will give access to larger demographics—the children that are 13-years-old now have been inundated with technology their entire little lives and can handle a more complicated interface.

The next generation of human beings will be completely surrounded by technology from the moment they are born—if the Apple commercials are right, doctors may be even using an iPad while they deliver said baby.

It’s not progressive to try to design for the simplest interface because in a few short years readers, who have been bombarded with technology, will be bored. I maintain the idea that a 21-year-old can likely pick up an iPad and learn how to use its basic features and functionalities in about 20 minutes, much quicker than a grandparent.

Don’t believe me? Take my grandparents, for example. They have called me and asked me how to turn on their computer’s monitor. My father can barely work his iPhone. My mother just learned to text. Design with the future in mind or design to drive them away.





TJ Raphael By TJ Raphael -- T. J. Raphael is the Associate Editor of FOLIO: Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @TJRaphael.

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