TRANSCRIPT: UX Week 2010 – Sara Ohrvall
The Mag+ Concept: The Silent Mode of Digital Magazine Reading
Hi, I’m Sara. It’s great to be here. I wanna share with you today our Mag Plus project, a platform for digital magazines, and the launch of the Popular Science app. I wanna take you on a journey throughout that development, share with you our insights, problems, and also some upcoming features that I hope to get your feedback on.
So why are digital magazines interesting at all? Well, when there’s a new technical device – in this case the mighty, shiny iPad – there is always a major media behavioral change. And being a media company, obviously that’s where you want to be.
At Bonnier we have a lot of magazines, and magazines are pretty good starting points for new digital products. And why? Well, they’re pretty helpful products. When you ask people, they claim that magazines for them, more than any other media product, stimulates their imagination; it inspires them; it makes them think. And with the iPad, for the first time, with this beautiful screen, natural interface, and controlled environment, we could at least give it a try to reengineer exactly that experience, to maintain those relaxed and inspiring magazine features and presenting impactful stories.
What you see running in the background is a concept video that we did back in December 2009. At that point in time, as everyone else, we were just listening to the rumors about the iPad to come. And we got a bit tired of the rumors, so we thought, “Let’s make a video and just imagine how it could be to present the magazine on this possible near-future product.”
I wanna share with you the design principles we had at that point in time, because we’ve actually stayed with them throughout the project. And the first design principle that we used – let’s see if this works – we called “silent mode.” Silent mode is all about that “time for myself” that people appreciate so much with a magazine, that lean-back experience when you cuddle up in the couch, and it’s about less distractions. And we really believe and we wanted to design a concept that had less complexity, simply because we believe that that increases emotion.
The second design principles we used was a clearly defined beginning and end, a simple linear flow, a defined storyline. And going back to the notion that some things can be and wants to be completed, that sense of completion.
The third design principle we used was designed pages – carefully, artistically crafted pages in every issue, every article. That might sound obvious, being a media company, but honestly, on the Web we forgot quite a lot about it. So this is all about going back to what we’re good at. We worked a lot about how ads should be less interruptive and more part of the flow, adding either commercial arts to the consumers or being useful in other ways.
And more importantly, maybe, and finally, we talked a lot about fluid motion, about going away from the page-flipping experience and rather think about the Mag Plus concept as a panning camera. And the reason why we thought that was important is simply because if – let’s see if this works – if this would be the main thing for us to translate moving forward to digital words, to bring back from print, I think we’d have pretty big problems, being media companies. We may have problems anyway, but…
So we did this video, and it was pretty much fun. We got some good feedback. Then Steve came and he presented the iPad. So we thought, “Wow, now we have to move from the video and really do something, a real app?” And Steve, you know, he gave us 60 days, but no iPad, so we had to make our own.
The first part of our project, as you see, was pretty lo-tech. We had no iPad. We had pieces of paper. We did a lot of cutting. We did a lot of deconstructing of print magazines. And we rebuilt it all on numbers of iPods. But realizing a lot of problems when you move from print to digital, in the way you have to work differently with images, in the way the parallel stories, you have a print, you know a lot of articles have the same page has to be much more linear, following the way your hands read through an iPad.
So pretty useful exercises, and 60 days later we did launch the Popular Science app. It’s pretty intuitive digiography. Articles are vertical. They sit next to each other, and horizontally. And it’s a deconstructed print experience, so there are basically two layers that are connected to each other and interrelated, but you can easily swap between them. And one of the layers is more focusing on the browsing experience, with beautiful images, and the other one is more of the core reading experience. And in that way, we built a platform where the content is flexible in relationship to each other, rather than rigid.
One of our design – or our experience vision, you could say, was to build not the wrist screen presenting – sorry, was to build the actual watch – sorry, I have to go to my – yeah, our experience vision was to build not a wrist screen running clock software, but the actual watch. And what we do mean with that is that you should not work through layers of buttons and through the screen to experience the product. It should feel like you’re touching the actual magazine using your body language and using your natural interface.
So we launched this app. We were pretty happy with the results. We were on top-20 list the first week, and we were the best-selling magazine. But, however, we also pretty soon discovered a lot of problems, one of them being that in the mighty app world you’re just one among many – one magazine among games, among utility apps, among all sorts of things. And the UI paradigm of the app store just give you one way to present your content through that little icon, and obviously, that’s not so easy when you want to engage and attract new readers.
So we realized pretty quickly that we had to build something more. We had to build more of a world for magazine fans, and we had to increase the number of engagement that the reader can have with their app, as well as the number of reading moments. And around 45 percent of all apps bought are bought as a consequence of a social recommendation. But that happens outside of the app store, and we as magazine publishers, we’re not part of that game, which is a problem moving forward.
So it’s really pretty basic. It’s all about increasing those reading moments. People read their magazines, either print or digital, in many different places, on many different screens, and we just have to be there. But people also do a lot of other things with their magazines, and you may not wanna know all about them, ’cause some are pretty weird.
But what you do wanna know is that around 90 percent of all people, among many of our titles, they save their magazines for more than a year. And the average magazine gets passed along about six to seven times to friends. And we also know that sites, like Polyvore, that use fashion content to build what they call fashion sets – that is, just scrapbooks, more or less – they have like 20 million scrapbooks produced that people do and create based on content. Once again, we’re not part of that game.
So we have to be, and we have to increase those magazine moments. It cannot only about reading in that specific app. And that’s not new, obviously. We can take lessons from games media, from multiple social networks, like Xbox Live, for example, where social relationships encouraged more gaming moments. And you can say that Last.fm has done the same thing for music. You can say that LibraryThing and Goodreads has done the same thing for books. But for magazines, there is no such world.
So what I wanted to talk about today is about how to move forward from a reading app and what else that can be done to digital magazines. And I wanna talk about a future project that we have initiated to start to build, and share with you some of those features. And they’re about activating my magazine collection, to do more things, things that “I, me, myself” can do, managing my magazines. But it’s also about “us” and better ways of sharing, better ways of socializing the magazine content.
So we call this concept, as a companion to the Mag Plus, “Service Plus.” Very exciting name. But the actual features, I hope you find interesting. Looking at me managing, we’ve used as a starting point a very natural and familiar metaphor of the stack. We want to stay close to the design principles, and we wanted to, in one way there, to translate that emotional attachment that people have to the physical objects or magazines. So we want to represent the digital magazines any way it looks in the real world, because people are pretty proud of their stacks at home. They’re something that defines them as person.
And looking at how we could be in the digital world, this is now the stack. And in the stack, the spines are built up by the imagery and the design from each brand, so they’re all represented. If you scroll down, you’ll get your older issues, because the default view is a chronological order.
And as you can see, there are also smaller items in between the spines, and those are the articles that you’ve saved to read later or that’s been recommended to you by friends. The stack is also a way where you can rifle through all the different issues so you can get more information about each magazine, as what’s in there, what’s the content, who else is reading it, so you can participate in the social conversation around the magazine.
Another powerful way of sorting your titles is by brand, and then each brand gets a tab. You can read more about each brand, the content of an issue. And there’s also a way of having ghost spines that, when you purchase them, they get colored in, so you can recommend that you’re missing a piece in your collection and please buy that magazine.
Obviously, you need to save for later. As I said earlier, we need to increase the magazine moments. People want to save things and they want to read them when it suits them, maybe in another device, in a phone or a similar thing.
And people love to do many things, as I said, with their magazine. They usually draw on them, so obviously we have to allow them to do that. They cut out things. And they build different sort of scrapbooks that we obviously should provide to them as a way of organizing that material.
Looking at the sharing part of Service Plus, obviously there’s a need to communicate with the users, to tell them about there are new issues coming that you should read, but also to get all sorts of social information, or that trees’ worth, the paper you have saved. But things that friends have done, other ways of recommending that you should start to read more.
What’s interesting also with the stack is that they can become a very powerful social tool. You can use the stack to pick out your favorite issues, your favorite articles, and, with a natural gesture, package them, swipe to the right, and you create reading lists that you can share with friends or with family or whoever you want to. Give them a title, and then send them away.
Finally, to make digital magazines more contemporary objects, they obviously need to catch a little bit more of the wind from the Web. So each article do need a permanent URL so people can refer to it, talk about it, share it, blog about it. And quite honestly, it’s a bit of a shame that we have digital magazines that are – where the text is less useful than the Web has been for 15 years. So there is some improvement that’s necessary.
But once that’s done, we think it’s interesting that you can easily build different ways of – or making it possible for people to monitor the activity streams that’s going around the magazine – what’s available, what are other people reading, other people doing stacks, obviously your own reading pattern (what have you read, what have you not read, what’s left for you), managing your alerts, and not the least, indulge in more or less important pop charts of the magazine world – what’s happening right now, what are people talking about, and what are people reading.
And you can do less important things, like comparing your reading rhythm compared to how other people read. But we can also, as media publisher, present our magazines in a more interesting social context. The next issue can be presented with not only what’s in there, the content, but also who else is reading it, who else is talking about it, and why is this issue important outside of the actual app.
So that was our vision, or actually, even our product plan, what we want to build for Mag Plus coming up. So with those words, I just wanted to say thank you from the Mag Plus team, and thank you from me.
[End of Audio]
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