iA’s Oliver Reichstein on secrets, making websites, and “business class” news

Give us a brief summary of what you do/who you are.

I’m an interaction designer, focussing on digital reading and writing interfaces.


Favorite gadget? Favorite non-gadget object?

I’m not a gadget person. I try to use as few electronic toys as my profession allows me to. My kitchen.

Where do you get your news?

As sources: Twitter, Reddit, ZEIT.de, Tages-Anzeiger.ch. I don’t read feeds or newsletters.

iA has designed a number of news websites — ZEIT ONLINEInternazionale, Tages-Anzeiger — so what do you think of the experience on most news sites? Are there some you love? Some you hate?

I’m not that fluent in Italian to daily read Internazionale, but in general I use all of our clients Websites. Not out of loyalty or to spot upsell opportunities, but because we indeed designed them in the way we like news sites.

I also like how both ZEIT ONLINE and Tages-Anzeiger continued to evolve the design system we defined years ago. The flexibility and long-livety of our design system shows how solid our initial design was. That being said, of course, we have eveolved a lot internally and we would do many things differently in the mean time.

In this post on your blog, you talk about a “business class” for news sites where people pay to lose the junk. It got a huge reaction from the online community. Do you think we’ll see sites move to this type of model soon?

No. The marketing departments within the publishing houses are still too powerful and the budgets for news site redesigns are still too low to see anything alike in the next couple of months. I’ve held some distance to newspaper redesigns as all our clients and potential clients were frantically trying to get into the app business and we considered that a waste of resources, after our initial experiences designing news apps and Writer. Nevertheless, the general news app intermezzo has opened new opportunities for Web apps, which is a great side effect. In the frameset of Web apps rather than Web sites I can envision the “business class” concept to work pretty much as we expect it to work.

iA’s mission says it “focuses on the basic principles of interface design and digital typography.” Do you ever fear that being simple or basic equals being boring? How do you walk the fine line?

No. The more design gets out of your way the more space you have to do with an interface what you want to do. Design works, when you don’t notice it. That being said, if you take a step back you will notice that what we do is visually attractive as well. It is aesthetically pleasing in consequence of the functional reduction. Reduction as such is not a goal for itself.

Awhile back, you wrote “News on the iPad, the obvious way” after the launch of an iPad-optimized ZEIT ONLINE. And while the solution you propose is so obvious, still many news sites aren’t optimized for iPad viewing. Where do you see things going as far as presenting news on tablets?

I still thing that the basic problem of reading text on tablets is not solved. The basic problem is: how do you navigate within long text. We are working on different solutions internally. But in general, I don’t talk too much about what we are going to do. Words jinx deeds.

I know you’re working on iA writer for the iPhone, but what would you like to tackle after writer?

iA Writer

Writer is still at the very beginning. If it continues to sell as it does, we have plans for at least five years. We don’t need other projects besides it. I want to keep a strong focus on both the agency and the internal project. That is not as hard as some think. We treat Writer as a big client, and Writer treats us in the same way back. But, just as any big client, it is serious work.

How do you explain what you do to your parents?

I make Websites ans stuff. In the mean time my parents somewhat know what I’m doing because they use iA designs and products; it also helps that my parent’s are less than 20 years older than me. So a lot of their friends can explain to them why Oliver is yet again interviews in yet another magazine…

You can only look at one website for the rest of your life. What would it be?

That’s a secret. It’s something we are working on.

When are you happiest?

Nothing beats a big sunny picnic day with the family.

Larry Buchanan is a designer, columnist living in Bloomington, IN. See more of his work here.

About Larry Buchanan

is a freelance designer and developer living in Brooklyn, NY.

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