Project Train wreck: Virgin’s new magazine app is crap

If the instructions for your magazine app looks like this, you shouldn’t call it a magazine.

Peter Kafka of All Things D has this to say about Project, “the revolutionary magazine built for iPad:

“It’s pretty similar to most of the other iPad magazine apps you’ve seen so far. Except more confusing–the navigation on all of these things changes from app to app, but this one seems even more random.”

That was nice, compared to Robert Andrews of, after it took him 2 1/2 hours to download the app.):

“Project‘s UI is all over the place.”

Unfortunately, I can’t judge for myself because, like Robert, I can’t get the current issue to download. Well, I take that back: I got it to download, but then it wouldn’t work. That’s never happened before with any app.

As I’ve been saying since nearly the first day I saw something called a “magazine app” on an iPad, “Why, oh why, do the designers of iPad “magazine” apps think their job involves ignoring the way people have learned to interact with technology over the past 30 years? Why do they ignore three decades of user-interface conventions? Why do they park common sense at the door of their studio? Why do they completely waste an opportunity to do something great and truly revolutionary — and choose instead to be self-indulgent and hostile to their user?

And why do their backers then call the resulting crap “a magazine app”?

I knew magazines. Magazines were friends of mine. Project Magazine, you’re no magazine.

Here’s a suggestion, if you call something a “magazine,” maybe you can imagine (try very, very hard) that some people are attracted to magazines because they want to “read.” If you’re creating something for viewers or listeners or players, maybe use another metaphor than magazine — maybe call it a “media noise-maker app,” if all it does is package up bells and whistles.

Rather than continue this rant, I’ll point to last month’s post by designer-extraordinaire Khoi Vihn, an essay that has become a must-read on the topic of “magazine app” design.

I believe the iPad offers an incredible opportunity to magazine publishers, and would-be publishers. I just don’t think that opportunity has anything to do with what Project is trying to do.

Update: I give. For the second time, after and hour-long download, this is what happened…

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  • Anonymous

    So I did get it installed and working. I guarantee you that the problem is the massive load of video that they force you to download. This thing is beyond train wreck, though I would say no more so than Wired or what have you. Just fatter. nnAs a designer, I’d also like to say this is not just an issue of design. This is an issue of the definition of magazine. Story Editors and Art Directors (visual editors) have this idea that it’s this collection of stories on leaves of paper stapled or glued together and packaged in a group. I realize that people think they can take this thing and use it as a metaphor for what happens on a screen, but I’m trying to reject that. As we’re working on our own iPad app, the team assembled on this is trying to look at what a magazine is first and foremost–a collection of voices telling stories in a coherent and thoughtfully coordinated way, issue in and issue out–and adapting this idea of the magazine to the platform of a screen you twirl and poke. nnThe result may or may not be salable, but I’d like to think that consumers are smarter than publishers are currently giving them credit for. And I’m hopeful, because I work in publishing after all, that it is in fact very, very salable. The way I see it, if Branson can put his name on this trash and sell it, why can’t we put our name on something better and see if it sticks?nnAny other magazine apps out there people actually like?

  • I think any media app developers should take a long, hard look at NPR’s News & Music Apps. They are brilliant. They use design to serve the “user,” not as an exercise in mashing-up gimmicks. They’ve included features (like building a playlist of audio news or music stories) that provide the user an entirely new way to discover and enjoy their original content, yet it is done in such a way that the first-time user can intuit how it works — no directions required: *that’s* what great design does.

  • When I began my first job as an engineer, I made a list of technologies I wanted to become proficient with. I spent the next five years pursuing that list and gave my notice shortly after checking off the last item. I’m not proud to admit this, because it resulted in a very selfish point of view where my projects’ proposals were “spun” in a way that supported my objectives primarily and the company’s secondarily.It seems to me that these magazine app designers are taking a similar approach. You gave it a pretty good name; “mashing-up gimicks.” They’re taking a list of things that tablet devices can do that paper can’t and starting there. Like my early career strategy, it may satisfy their own goals of leveraging new technology but it leaves the reader wondering, “Why did you think I needed this crap?” The answer is that the reader was never the primary consideration; checking everything off of the list was.

  • Though our upcoming magazine app is no where near as “enhanced” as Project, I decided early on that I wanted to make navigation as simple as “actually reading a magazine”. So while we support both orientations… you go from page to page just as you would in a paper mag. No articles that go up and down, no holding the ipad sideways while you put your left foot on green.

  • Agree with Rex that NPR app is exactly the right direction. Also look at Entertainment Weekly’s Must List. What about just Instapaper, for goodness sake? Mario Batali’s cooking app is a vision of a 21st century “magazine” about food. There are plenty of great models out there that could incorporate all the important elements of print magazines, including the ads. What’s holding people back?

  • It’s like the early days of the web — iPad app developers has just discovered the “blink” tag. They’ll get over it, maybe. And yes, perhaps Instapaper is the best “magazine” app there is — for people who associate magazines w/ reading.