Monday, May 23, 2011

Pedro Monteiro's interview with Joe Zeff, the creator of the iPad book 'Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz'

Three weeks ago TNM posted a look at Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz, a new book app from Joe Zeff Design. A week later Pedro Monteiro conducted an interview with Joe Zeff for his new website Digital Distribution. Here is that interview, reproduced courtesy of the publisher:

Joe Zeff needs no introduction and neither does his work. I’ve been a huge fan of Joe’s work for some time now and it has been with great interest that I’ve been following Joe Zeff Studio work designing and publishing iPad apps.

In the last weeks Joe’s studio launched two new applications that are getting some great reviews. Since I was writing my post Designing for the Touch Interface, I thought it was a great excuse to ask Joe about his views on the subject. Please refer to my article in order to better understand the questions I made to Joe. Most important, don’t forget to check Joe’s latest apps The Final Hours of Portal 2 and Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz.
Digital Distribution: As someone who studies tablet apps, what are the most common mistakes you find on app’s interfaces?

Joe Zeff: I see a lot of apps that confuse users by using every conceivable orientation, without clear signals about how to navigate from one screen to the next. Just because the iPad can flow pages in two directions and present layouts in two orientations doesn’t mean the user wants to continually swipe and turn their device to move from the beginning to the end of an app.

DD: Since the launch of the iPad, early last year, Apple has told developers to take into account that the size of a finger is much bigger and less precise then that of the mouse pointer. When you design your applications UI, how do you take into account this kind of specifications?

JZ: Oversized buttons and ample spacing between tappable elements. We generally make those areas much larger than what’s shown on screen to ensure that each tap delivers the intended result.

DD: From your experience, what other sort of UI constrains are to be taken into account for designing for touch powered navigation devices?

JZ: The best interfaces are intuitive and transparent. “Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz” is an example of this. We did include a How To section, even though the interface is self-evident.

DD: Developers tend to design their apps both for vertical and horizontal orientation of the device’s screen. Do you think that one orientation is more comfortable (hence more used) than the other? Do you also take this into account when designing apps?

JZ: I’m a strong believer in single-orientation apps, most often horizontal. Rather than spend twice the effort to create the same app twice, I’d rather create two different apps. I prefer horizontal format because it allows for bigger images while maintaining a solid text-to-art mix at the top of the screen. But every publication is different. Time seems right as a vertical, while Sports Illustrated seems more comfortable as a horizontal. Go figure.

DD: I’ve been consuming lots of content with my iPad, every other night. By doing this, I have found that, after a while, my arms ache a bit. Even if it’s a lightweight device, the iPad will take its toll when you spend a couple of hours reading on it.
Do you think this should be taken into account, when designing the app UI? How?

JZ: The iPad 2 is far better than the original when it comes to portability and usability. I’m writing this now while laying in bed, and its very comfortable. That said, I find that all of the swiping gets tedious at times. Better to tap an edge to advance screens.

DD: Regarding my ‘aching arms’, I’ve come to think that the more a interface ‘makes you’ hold the tablet with just one hand to tap into content with the other, the more it gets ‘uncomfortable’. Do you think we should refrain our UI design from asking too much interaction from our users?

JZ: Interaction is what makes the iPad special. Rather than limit the opportunities, I’d argue that its more important to ensure that each opportunity delivers a sufficient payoff to the user. The best content is active, not passive, and the emphasis on quality is what matters most.

DD: Any final thoughts you want to share with us?

JZ: Thanks for the opportunity to present my opinions. There are no rights or wrongs – every app is different, and should be designed to best suit its content, purpose and audience. What works for one app doesn’t necessarily make sense for another. The danger in establishing standards is that everything begins to look alike. Best practices are a starting point, not a destination.

DD: Joe, thank you so much and all the best for your next projects. We look forward for what you’ll do next.

– Pedro Monteiro

Update: On Friday Joe Zeff Design released an update to the Above & Beyond app, making some subtle changes in response to user feedback.