It’s a different world, not just a different medium

Like print, the iPad (and other digital tablets) are great for displaying text and images. And that, is pretty much where the similarities end. So it’s time to stop trying to have our cake, and eat it too when designing and developing content for this and other digital mediums.

Back in the early days of web development the Holy Grail was a visual, WYSIWYG editor. People thought we just needed better layout tools, and so we got products like NetObjects Fusion, PageMill, GoLive and countless other products with camel-capped names. Before these products, web development was pretty much a text editor and Photoshop.

Fast forward to today and no serious developer is using those tools. Ironically, we are pretty much back to the old way. However, the text editors have gotten to be more sophisticated.

The visual, layout-oriented editors turned out to be nothing more than a band-aid. Eventually you realize things like;

  1. Digital isn’t static. Users can change its form whether it’s resizing fonts, scrolling, and moving windows around. Content becomes a fluid, moving target.
  2. Visual editors enabled us to make tweaks to fit the design into the form. Since the end form can change most of those tweaks won’t make a difference.
  3. Consistency is the wrong goal. Realistically, no one reads both the print and the digital edition of a story. They don’t need to be alike, they need to be the best version of their form.
  4. We mistake nostalgia for the old form as a user requirement. Every medium has it’s own value proposition and affordances. They’re great for some things and awful for others. Early adopters figure this out right away, while others lament the passing of the old guard. Eventually everyone moves on.
  5. We’re working between different worlds not just different mediums.

The lesson here is embrace the differences the new platforms afford us. Sure, we’ll need a transition strategy. But you are going to have to learn something new to survive, just like going to a foreign land. Let’s move on. The perfect tool isn’t coming. It’s already here. If you want proof, just look at how many great tablet user experiences exist today.