iPad Q&A: Popular Science magazine

Apple’s iPad made its debut over the weekend — and with it came the launch of several new apps from newspapers and magazines hoping to tap into a new set of readers.

Popular Science is one of the first magazines to enter the race. The magazine made a bit of a splash when they first debuted their ambitious prototype online. It promised highly designed story pages in an interactive format.

When the finished app was released Saturday, it did not disappoint. While it still has a few rough edges, it offers designers a glimpse into what publication design could be like going forward. Steve Jobs even singled out the app during Thursday’s Apple event.

SND chatted with Matthew Cokeley, the magazine’s art director, for a peek into what it takes to translate a magazine from print to the iPad.

SND: Who were the unsung heroes of the project?
MC: The two most influential people on the project: PopSci’s Sam Syed (Creative Director) and Mike Haney (Editor).

SND: Who is producing the iPad version of Popular Science each month? Is it the same staff doing the print edition?
MC: For now, it is primarily the same staff producing the magazine each month but we are getting additional support from Bonnier’s research and development staff.

SND: And how much time is spent producing the iPad edition vs. the print edition?
MC: We don’t really have an answer to this question yet since we produced the first version of Popular Science+ as the application was being produced. The conversion of the print edition for the app took approximately 2 weeks.

SND: What kind of software is being used to design the iPad edition each month?
MC: Our design team is using InDesign CS4 to re-design the content for the app. The Bonnier R&D team in Sweden, alongside BERG, convert/prep the files for the application format.

SND: The navigation of the magazine is quite different than what we’ve seen from other publications so far. How did you arrive at this solution? And are you happy with the final results?
MC: Popular Science+ began months ago in a collaboration between Bonnier’s global R&D task force and BERG, a London-based design firm when Bonnier set out to create a vision for digital publishing. Bonnier and Berg developed what they dubbed the Mag+ concept which Popular Science+ is based on. At the heart of Mag+ is a set of six design principles that we based Popular Science+ on.

The six design principles that underlie the Mag+ digital platform:

  • Silent mode. Magazines are a luxury that readers can lose themselves in. Mag+ has fewer distractions than the Web. It allows readers to lean back, away from the browser, and just focus on the bold images and rich storytelling. Reduced complexity increases a reader’s immersion.
  • Fluid motion. Magazines are easy to browse, and Mag+ replicates that with a story-to-story navigation that’s more like a panning camera than a flipping page. As we say, “Flow is the new flip.”
  • Designed pages. Magazines are defined by their carefully conceived layouts that give readers an immediate understanding of the content and why it matters to them, a quality that got lost on magazine Web sites. Mag+ brings design back to digital publishing.
  • Defined beginning and end. Unlike the Web, magazines have a defined storyline and flow from front to back. Mag + returns to the notion that something can be, and wants to be, completed. It’s the end of endlessness.
  • Issue-based delivery. One of the great joys of magazines is that feeling of anticipation when a new one arrives. Mag+ maintains that by delivering full issues at once with all the same content as the print edition, and on the same schedule.
  • Advertising as content. Relevant, attractive advertising is as much a part of the magazine experience as the editorial content, and Bonnier wants Mag+ advertising to include both pin-ups and applications readers can appreciate.

SND: Based on what you learned producing the first issue, what improvements can we expect in future editions? Perhaps more interactivity? Links to the web?
MC: Popular Science+ is the beginning not the end — we really look at it as our first step in the digital publishing revolution. From here we’re excited to talk to our readers and advertisers to find out what they think of Popular Science+ and we’ll base changes on their feedback. Some ideas we’re working on now include:

  • Heated mode for the app which will allow users to select text to e-mail, Tweet, post to Facebook or save in a scrapbook.
  • Subscriptions will also be coming to Popular Science+ and other magazines on the Mag+ platform in the next two months.

SND: What were you surprised by in the app store?
MC: Personally, I was surprised by our “overnight” success. As of Monday, the PopularScience+ App had hit 19th on the top PAID Apps list.

You can download the $4.99 app here.

MIKE RICE is the visual team leader / design & graphics at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson and was the Edition Coordinator for SND’s 31st Best of News Design competition. He Pre-ordered his iPad the first hour it was available and is busy trying to figure out which game it is changing.