How Rodale approaches tablet design
The rise of the tablet edition has arguably placed the biggest operational burden on a publication’s design staff. Publishers are addressing tablet edition staffing, skills and budget issues through plenty of trial and occasional error.
At Rodale, tablet editions have spurred the creation of a dedicated interactive design team that serves the enthusiast publisher’s Healthy Living Group, which includes Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Prevention and Organic Gardening. Sean Bumgarner, the group’s interactive design director, leads an eight-person team that focuses exclusively on tablet editions. The group, with a mix of full-time and freelance staff, works closely with the brands but has tablet-specific expertise.
Deciding whether to keep app design and development in-house is one of the key decisions publishers face as they build up their mobile offerings. Some prefer to outsource all aspects of mobile app development to remain focused on their core competency: content development. Others attempt to layer mobile onto existing design and production workflows – often placing an undue burden on existing staff. Still others, like Rodale, have created dedicated digital edition teams, which tend to have a little more freedom to experiment with new techniques and are not hidebound by traditional print conventions.
“We have experts with the technology who work with the experts on the brand experience,” Bumgarner said in a recent phone interview. “This allows us to be more agile, more responsive and more thoughtful about our digital editions.”
Parallel with print
Developing interactive content for the iPad editions of Men’s Health and the recently released Women’s Health app occurs in parallel with the print editorial cycle. For example, photo shoots for the Workout Poster – a staple of the Men’s Health print magazine – now include video capture, which the design team turns into interactive iPad content with swipeable frames that lead a user through the workout step by step.
When the design teams began rethinking Men’s Health for the iPad last fall, the goal was to optimize every page for the tablet. Templates were redesigned to take advantage of the iPad’s navigability. The table of contents, for example, lists every page in the issue, since tablet users tend to use the TOC more than print users for navigating among stories and departments.
“We’re telling the same stories, but in a different form than the print edition,” said Bumgarner, who joined Rodale from Conde Nast in January.
Elevating the user experience
While every page is optimized for the iPad, the design team is careful not to overload the reader with bells and whistles.
“We look for five or six moments in each issue where we want to get the most bang for the buck and elevate the experience for the reader,” Bumgarner explained. “We want to create something that people can show off to their friends – but that also tells the story in a better way.”
As an example of some of the cooler interactive content his team has created, Bumgarner pointed to the features on skin cancer protection in this month's iPad editions of Men's Health and Women's Health. Especially noteworthy is a GPS-enabled UV index that auto-loads current UV risk-factor readings based on the user’s location.
The design team uses Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) to produce the iPad editions. For now, it’s focused on the iOS platform, with customized iPad apps along with the forthcoming iPhone edition of Men’s Health, built using Adobe’s new Content Viewer technology in DPS. Support for Android and Kindle Fire is currently limited to PDF replica editions.
“We would love to have an optimized experience across all editions, but you have to choose your focus, and our core audience for Men’s Health is heavy iPad users,” Bumgarner said. “Guys also take their iPhones to the gym, so we see opportunity [with the iPhone app] to rethink how the magazine operates on a smartphone.”
Rodale has been investing heavily in mobile apps. The company has 34 iPhone apps and 13 iPad apps in Apple’s App Store across all of its brands. A spokeswoman said Rodale does not disclose download figures but that the company is “very happy with the success of our digital editions across all of our brands.”