Scott Dadich had no idea that a low-budget side project he independently assumed last spring would change the way Wired digitally delivers its message. But, it did.
The magazine’s award-winning creative director (pictured, right) decided to develop a version of Wired for e-reading devices. Initial sketches led to a video prototype, which he showed to editor-in-chief Chris Anderson.
Anderson admits he wasn’t thinking much about tablets. The Apple iPad was still just an unnamed rumor, and Anderson was preoccupied with improving Wired’s Web site. Little did he know at the time that Dadich’s project would help propel Wired and its parent company, Condé Nast, to the forefront of digital magazine delivery.
Wired is a place that’s heavily influenced by Silicon Valley geek culture, and many of Dadich’s colleagues—including Anderson, best known for penning books like The Long Tail and Free—pursue outside creative projects.
“I’ll be honest: Scott spotted it before I did,” Anderson says. “I’m not an early adopter. I tend to get version two of everything. What the video did for us was wake us up to the potential for the strategy.”
Unknown to Dadich, 33, while he was tinkering with his invention, Condé Nast brass had independently started talks with Adobe about translating the company’s magazines for various digital platforms. It made sense to start with Wired: If Adobe could handle Wired’s complicated design, with its intricate graphics and constantly changing templates, it could handle any magazine. (It helped that Wired’s San Francisco offices are just a couple blocks from Adobe’s.)
Tom Wallace, Condé Nast’s editorial director, saw the prototype’s implications immediately. “Scott catapulted the company forward as a result of his extraordinary achievement,” Wallace says. He presented Dadich’s prototype at the September publishers meeting, pronouncing 2010 “the year of the tablet.”
The work that Dadich started on a sketchpad will soon become apparent. Wired is expected to launch on the iPad with its June issue, the company’s first title to be designed from scratch for the iPad and other tablets. It will take advantage of many features expected to be standard to tablets, like 360-degree photo views, multimedia, social media features and a “scrubber” that lets the user scroll through the issue.
Some features are specific to Adobe Air, though. Data boxes pop up when users flip through the issue. There’s also a browse view, which displays the entire issue in thumbnails. “A magazine is a concrete thing,” Dadich explains during a demo he’s shown to a select group of advertisers and journalists. “That was really important, that we give the reader a sense of place. That was a key reason for the development of the browse feature.”
Dadich is eager to add other features, like the ability to let users see live comments from around the Web on a given story. But those will have to wait as he wrestles with a less sexy matter. When the text is resized, words are annoyingly spaced too far apart, and hyphen and comma breaks fall in the wrong place. All this might go unnoticed by the casual tablet user, but for all the cool functions promised by the iPad and its ilk, Dadich knows that if the reading experience on the device is inconsistent, the entire effort is undermined. If the Web is about speed, the tablet experience needs to resemble reading a magazine in its printed form. That Dadich is creating a version for something that doesn’t yet exist only adds more pressure to perfect the user experience. “When you power this thing up, you want it to work,” Wallace says. “We have to get this right the first time.”
Dadich’s pedigree is perfect for this project. The self-motivator has won dozens of awards for his design work, including 35 from the Society of Publication Designers. His 2007 version of Wired won the prestigious National Magazine Award for Design in 2008.
Dadich is also keenly aware of the symbiotic relationship between print and digital. Since its launch in 1993, glowing with fluorescent ink that evoked the LED screen, Wired magazine has informed—and been informed by—the digital media it covers. In his 2007 redesign, Dadich included visual markers that predicted the use of tablet devices. “Readers came to understand that a notch in a bar indicated they were in a place within a section,” he says.
That cross-media influence will continue in Wired’s June print issue, which will introduce navigational cues that were inspired by the tablet.
“We’re letting the digital version drive the print a little,” Dadich says. “We’ve done it the other way for 17, 18 years, and we’re all of a mind to go out on a ledge a little bit.”
Photo credits: Scott Dadich (small and large): Michael Lewis