Q&A: Wired’s Creative Director on Designing for the iPad, Tablets

As the iPad hits stores this Saturday, magazine publishers are scrambling to figure out whether they should create iPad versions of their publications—and, if so, what they should look like. Maybe they should talk to Wired creative director Scott Dadich. Last summer, Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of the Condé Nast publication, gave Dadich free reign to start exploring how a magazine would work on a tablet device. You got a taste of what Dadich—and research partner Adobe—came up with in a video that circulated the Internets in February. eBookNewser decided to talk to him directly. Here’s what he had to say.

eBookNewser: How did this research project come about?

Dadich: Last summer, we at Wired realized that whether Apple was going to do something or not, there were going to be a lot of slate devices on the market in 2010. Wired being a magazine about innovation, it would stand to reason that this would be a good chance for us to experiment with the form. It was a design exploration project I worked on throughout August, imagining what the magazine would look like in a slate form factor, how the user would interact with it, how we would commission for it, how we would design for it.

The rest of the Q&A, after the jump.

How did Adobe get involved?

They were looking to take on a big project to follow up the success with they had with the Times Reader 2.0. They were looking for folks to collaborate with on the software side. So we initiated a series of meetings and decided to partner up.

You didn’t have an iPad on hand as you were doing this research. But it sounds like that didn’t matter: Since you were working on the Adobe AIR platform, was the assumption that whatever you created would be able to live on a variety of platforms?

Exactly. We had no knowledge from Apple. We had a good sense of use patterns, and we saw the market force that the iPhone had become and the excellence of that as a product for media consumption. The writing was on the wall that something bigger was going to be coming this year.

So what have you learned?

The way I started thinking about this is that it’s a different design experience. The framework of magazine design is predicated on the fact of gluing two pieces of paper together. There’s a conversation that happens between those two—whether it’s text and image, or ad and edit, or image-image. There’s a relationship between those two. When you take that away, when you take away the spine, and you reassemble it under a piece of glass, what you’re left with is a series of panes, or canvases. That fundamentally changes the graphic design is initiated and implemented.

Does the end product differ fundamentally from a print magazine? For example, if Wired assigned a story to a freelance writer, do they go out and do that story differently than if they were doing it for the print magazine?

In some ways, yes. Wired is a way to look at the world through the lens of technology. Often, we’re shedding a light on something that hasn’t been talked about before, or revealing a new technological advance in a new product, or the science behind something. To talk about it or write about it is one thing. To show it and have the foremost capabilities of time and three dimensions to explore that, we’ll find that that might change how we assign and how we report and how we photograph.

Flip side: In what ways should publications not go crazy simply because they have a bunch of new capabilities at their disposal?

The conversation right now is “video this, video that.” But often a still photograph is actually a lot more powerful than a video. Also, we’re going to have file size constraints. We’re going to have a finite amount of space within this information packet, so that the download’s reasonable and the software runs reasonably, and it doesn’t suck all the RAM or hardware space. And we also have a finite amount of people and resources. So we’ll make calculated decisions about where we want to spend that kind of money.

You’ve said that you think the touch screen is going to be a game changer for publications. How so?

Manipulation of the content through your fingers is what’s going to be so different. It’s one thing to have a mouse where you have a single point of control or contact. But you’re putting it through the filter of that mechanical device. You’re turning your actions into input into that machine. When you lose the mouse, you don’t have that filter between your actions and the engagement. It changes a lot of things.

Zinio came out with their own demo of how a magazine might look on the iPad. It was very different from what you all did. What do you think of it?

VIV Mag Interactive Feature Spread – iPad Demo from Alexx Henry on Vimeo.

I think we’re going to see any number of those explorations, and the more people are involved in that conversation and investing in those explorations the better. For what we’re doing, we’re thinking of it less as that filmic experience and much more as a magazine. It’s still a collection of stories, and you’re going to plunk down and engage with those in different ways—you’re going to want to read some, you’re going to want to watch some.

What’s wrong with just taking what you created for the iPhone and blowing it up to fit on the iPad?

It’s going to be necessary to re-imagine the graphic design per the device. It wouldn’t have been OK in 1993 to have gone and scanned a page out of the magazine and then to use that bitmap as a piece of Web content because the designs and needs and uses of the Web dictated a series of design decisions. It’s the same case here. The needs and use patterns of the device will dictate a new set of graphic design rules and standards.

How are magazines going to work differently with advertisers, given the capabilities of tablet devices?

Initially, we’re very much in a research and development phase at Condé Nast. We’re much less in a position of selling ads than in a position of looking for advertising and agency partners to take the lead with us. We’re going to learn a lot together. We’re going to try some things. We’re going to make some mistakes. We’re going to have some great successes. But it’s a process we have to engage on together. It’s that conversation between us, and the brainstorms that will happen, that will really elevate the medium.

Is there anything from a design perspective that will be make-or-break for magazines on the iPad and other tablet devices?

A big factor that we haven’t heard a lot about that we’re spending a lot of time on is type. As in print, quality typefaces and attention to typographic detail are undervalued. I’m excited to spend the time and energy on building new paradigms for how that type is going to work. That’s important for the length of engagement with the product. If you’ve got long-form journalism, if you’re asking people to read an 8,000 or 10,000-word story, you need to use tools that don’t wear people out. The easier and better the reading experience is, the more comfortable people will be spending long periods of time with the device, and that’s really what we’re aiming for.

What advice would you give to other magazines about how to think about putting their publications on tablets?

The first thing I would say is: Don’t panic. It’s not as scary as it seems. There’s a ton of work and a ton to be learned, but the good news is that no one is really that far ahead of anyone else. We’re all learning this together—the device manufacturers, the software makers, and the content providers. And the answers that we think are pertinent today are going to change on a weekly, monthly, yearly basis. There really aren’t a lot of right and wrong answers here.

Number two: The storytelling methods that we use to make magazines today—the tools, the words, the pictures, the headlines that we all use—are every bit, or even more important going forward. It’s not a case where we’re dropping all of the things that we know and having to go learn a whole new language. It’s just using those tools in different ways and experimenting. And being willing to fail, and pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try something else. Those are the big operating principles that are guiding us on a day-to-day basis.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

Recommended articles