The graphic designer's guide to interactive design

Apps are a viable interactive design alternative to websites. Alistair even believes tablets have the layout clout to “bring about the renaissance of beautiful page design and typography arising from traditional print design skills”, compared to the web’s “rectangles and rubbish typography”.

But apps aren’t for everyone. “Whether they’re best for you depends on your goals as a designer,” says illustrator and designer Geri Coady. “Are you interested in designing for a controlled environment, accessible by those who own a specific device, or do you prefer to build something accessible from any browser or device?”

For print designers, publishing to a specific platform or device is probably a major convenience: working with a specific tablet, you’ve a single target.

But apps still have variables. The iPad is designed for portrait and landscape orientation, so you may need to consider designing two versions of every page (which also impacts on adverts), significantly increasing workload.

Thinkology has produced sites for firms including high-end bridal wear shop Frilly Frocks (top) and clothes retailer Fabric (above). “Partnering with someone who loves code as much as you love Helvetica” is the best way forward for new web designers, says MD Simon Milton, but you must understand what the other person needs and knows

“There’s a belief it’s the tablet that magically rotates the design, rather than designers working into the early hours,” jokes Wallpaper* art director Meirion Pritchard. Target other tablets (such as the 7-inch Amazon Kindle Fire or RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook), and you must rework content for yet more screen sizes.

Development software and systems for making apps vary widely. Beyond pinch-and-zoom PDF-based editions, there are several options for designing or converting magazines for the tablet screen (see From InDesign to iPad). One option we don’t cover is the tool that created the Wallpaper* app – a tool built into the Woodwing editorial workflow management system used by magazines and newspapers. In a move which reflects just how much this is still an emerging field and in a state of flux, Woodwing has now ditched its own tablet publishing tools in favour of Adobe’s Digital Publishing System. DPS is more widely used and likely to be a reliable investment as Adobe has made it an integral part of its new Creative Cloud solution.

Alistair says DPS is buggy, but the interactive functions, including “luxuriously smooth visual effects”, are already built into InDesign. This lets you to preview pages “live on your own iPad within an hour of downloading the extra software and following the tutorial”.

However, unless you go for the forthcoming Single Edition version of DPS, the system has a complex per-download pricing structure, which competing solutions such as Quark’s App Studio and Moving Media’s Mag+ do not.

None of these systems will help you sidestep font licensing issues. As Alistair says of DPS, “You can compress pages using PDF, so font embedding can come into play. Even when using DPS’s raster page formats, you can’t run away from legal obligations.”

The issue here is that standard font licences from many foundries and font sites don’t allow you to use their products in software – and that includes apps, that you might see as magazines or brochures. Always check the font licence before publishing.

As with the web, your best chance of success in the app arena lies in altering your mindset to suit the medium. “Disable CMYK process colour management in software and your head,” says Alistair. “Think sRGB and play with light, not inks.”

Your workflow will have to be adapted, too. When constructing layout and UI mock-ups, “Use layers extensively, name and group them logically,” Matt suggests. “Unify where possible – a single button style betters three different ones. Consider every relevant case. If there are multiple tabs with different content, your developer needs to see how every tab looks.”

Balkan reiterates that the biggest problem any print designer will face is that “without training and experience in interaction design, they aren’t equipped”. He adds: “Just as we don’t get graphic designers to design aircraft, we don’t ask graphic designers to design apps.”

In other words, study and understand the medium before designing for it – but the main way to gain experience is through immersing yourself, regardless of how you decide to get interactive.

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