Seven Questions for Nature Conservancy Creative Director Christopher Johnson

The idea of picking up an iPad to commune with nature sounds counterintuitive–until you’ve swiped and tapped through an issue of Nature Conservancy magazine, which mails to the environmental conservation organization’s 650,000 members on a bimonthly basis. “Our digital edition features the same engaging stories and stunning photography as our print magazine, plus exclusive photo galleries, videos, audio commentary, interactive maps, and more,” says creative director Christopher Johnson. “Readers get to experience the places we protect in a whole new way.” The high-tech twist on news from the natural world is a hit with readers. The free Nature Conservancy app, launched last year, has emerged at the top of the iTunes newsstand’s Outdoors and Nature category and is a finalist for best tablet app (interactive single or series) in the Society of Publication Designers annual design competition. Johnson made time to answer our seven questions before heading down to Cipriani Wall Street for tonight’s SPD gala.

What do you consider the most important ingredients in a successful tablet app?
For us, a successful tablet app combines beautiful design, intuitive navigation and engaging interactive features like video, audio and slideshows that allows us to bring readers into our stories in richer, more immersive ways. It’s allowed us to reach a whole new audience of potential supporters with our inspiring stories.

What is your publication design pet peeve?
It has to be design by committee. Inevitably it becomes more about pacifying the group than it does about meeting the original objective.

What has been your best or most memorable design-related encounter?
Years ago, in order to graduate from the design program I attended, students were required to put together a portfolio and go on a mock interview. Our department chair organized interviews with a creative director from a local design firm. That experience had such an impact on me. It made me realize the importance of communicating and connecting with people, that it wasn’t just about the strength of your work. You had to be able to sell your ideas.

What has been your proudest design moment?
It’s impossible to narrow it down to just one. Working at the Conservancy is the marriage of my two favorite interests: design and the environment. I’m proud to know that my design work has played a part in communicating the Conservancy’s work and giving people a clearer understanding of what this organization does.

What is the most unusual thing currently on your desk?
A Kodak 1A Autographic Jr. folding camera that belonged to my great grandfather.

What’s on your summer reading list?
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and The Social Animal by David Brooks.

You have just received $100,000 that must be used for a single dream project. How would you spend it?
Producing the app has been a playground of sorts in terms of experimenting with how we can engage our audience on these new platforms. My dream project would be to find a way to build on what we’ve done with our magazine app and expand that to our other digital presences.

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