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Post #1403

Popular Science+

In December, we showed Mag+, a digital magazine concept produced with our friends at Bonnier.

Late January, Apple announced the iPad.

So today Popular Science, published by Bonnier and the largest science+tech magazine in the world, is launching Popular Science+ — the first magazine on the Mag+ platform, and you can get it on the iPad tomorrow. It’s the April 2010 issue, it’s $4.99, and you buy more issues from inside the magazine itself.

See Popular Science+ in the iTunes Store now.

Here’s Jack, speaking about the app, its background, and what we learned about art direction for magazines using Mag+.

Articles are arranged side by side. You swipe left and right to go between them. For big pictures, it’s fun to hold your finger between two pages, holding and moving to pan around.

You swipe down to read. Tap left to see the pictures, tap right to read again. These two modes of the reading experience are about browsing and drinking in the magazine, versus close reading.

Pull the drawer up with two fingers to see the table of contents and your other issues. Swipe right and left with two fingers to zip across pages to the next section. Dog-ear a page by turning down the top-right corner.

There’s a store in the magazine. When a new issue comes out, you purchase it right there.


Working with the Popular Science team and their editorial has been wonderful, and we’ve been working together to re-imagine the form of magazines. Art direction for print is so much about composition. There are a 1,000 tiny tweaks to tune a page to get it to really sing. But what does layout mean when readers can make the text disappear, when the images move across one another, and the page itself changes shape as the iPad rotates?

We discovered safe areas. We found little games to play with the reader, having them assemble infographics in the act of scrolling, and making pages that span multiple panes, only revealing themselves when the reader does a double-finger swipe to zoom across them.

It helps that Popular Science has great photography, a real variety of content, and an engaged and open team.

What amazes me is that you don’t feel like you’re using a website, or even that you’re using an e-reader on a new tablet device — which, technically, is what it is. It feels like you’re reading a magazine.

Apple made the first media device you can curl up with, and I think we’ve done it, and Popular Science, justice.

From concept to production

The story, for me, is that the design work behind the Mag+ concept video was strong enough to spin up a team to produce Popular Science+ in only two months.

Not only that, but an authoring system that understands workflow. And InDesign integration so art directors are in control, not technologists. And an e-commerce back-end capable of handling business models suitable for magazines. And a new file format, “MIB,” that strikes the balance between simple enough for anyone to implement, and expressive enough to let the typography, pictures, and layout shine. And it’s set up to do it all again in 30 days. And more.

It’s all basic, sure. But it’ll grow. We’ve built in ways for it to grow.

But we’ve always said that good design is rooted not just in doing good by the material, but by understanding the opportunities in the networks of organisations and people too.

A digital magazine is great, immersive content on the screen. But behind those pixels are creative processes and commercial systems that also have to come together.

Inventing something, be it a toy or new media, always means assembling networks such as these. And design is our approach on how to do it.

I’m pleased we were able to work with Popular Science and Bonnier, to get to a chance to do this, and to bring something new into the world.


Thank you to the BERG team for sterling work on El Morro these last two months, especially the core team who have sunk so much into this: Campbell Orme, James Darling, Lei Bramley, Nick Ludlam and Timo Arnall. Also Jack Schulze, Matt Jones, Phil Gyford, Tom Armitage, and Tom Taylor.

Thanks to the Popular Science team, Mike Haney and Sam Syed in particular, Mark Poulalion and his team from Bonnier, and of course Bonnier R&D and Sara Öhrvall, the grand assembler!

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to work with each and every one of you.

See also…

38 Comments and Trackbacks

  • 1. Joe Clark said on 2 April 2010...

    Gosh. A new file format?

  • 2. Arron Tierney said on 2 April 2010...

    Great to see another example of a magazine migrating to the ipad, has anybody seen the wired US attempt?

  • 3. Greg Borenstein said on 3 April 2010...

    I love the motion graphics in these videos you do of Jack talking about Mag+ and now Popular Science+. Such a natural blend of the warmth of the footage of him with the aesthetic of the concept. Are you guys doing these in After Effects? Do motion graphics play a big role in either your concept working or its presentation throughout the studio? Are they done in-house or elsewhere? Would be very interested to see a blog post about the use of motion graphics in your/other people’s design process. I’m just learning After Effects now from an animation perspective, but it struck me that it could be a great rapid prototyping tool for some of these new interfaces…

  • 4. Craig M said on 3 April 2010...

    So excited about this – I was entranced by the Mag+ video, it embodied all of the same thoughts I had about how most digital magazines had missed the point up until now with page-flips and lack of thought for the medium.

    I’m trying to write an HTML5 style magazine system that distills some of the ideas into a web accessible version (apps are lovely, but it does mean that the info is locked away in a silo and not contributing to the cloud of data that’s web indexible), but it’s a bit hard without a real device to test it on!

    But I can’t wait to see how the brains behind mag+ translate it to a real iPad app like Popular Science. Congratulations!!

  • 5. Hummy said on 9 April 2010...

    Wow, this looks great!

  • 6. Shane said on 9 April 2010...

    Is there any thought to making this format open so anyone could use it? I’d also love to hear more about the InDesign integration.

  • 7. Nick Christensen said on 1 March 2011...

    Hey Matt,

    the magazine looks gorgeous. I think we’re not gonna see too many “real magazines” in a few years if the quality and easiness of use is that high in the iPad versions.

  • 8. P. Johansson said on 21 June 2011...

    Wow :) although I love to read and touch regular magazines, I think I have to get used to this new technology and buy IPad at some point. Image quality is great and it seems like really easy to use.

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