The New Harper’s Magazine App
I spend a lot of my time these days traveling around Manhattan to various doctors offices and hospitals. It’s all part of the rehab and recovery that I’m undergoing in the wake of my accident in March. The result is that I spend many hours on city buses and subways, and waiting in medical offices. I have a lot of down time, and if the office TV isn’t blaring Live! with Kelly and Michael too loudly, I like to catch up on reading while I wait. That’s why I’m thankful for the recent relaunch of the Harper’s magazine app, created and designed by 29th Street Publishing.
The Harper’s app is very simple, and very easy to access and use. Like the print magazine, it’s primarily a reading experience, with long text stories and large, singular, elegant illustrations and photographs. The design is based on the print edition, but whether it’s the backlit screen of the iPad or what seems to be a bigger point size, I find the tablet and phone editions much easier and more pleasant to read. The app will no doubt draw comparisons (favorably, I think) to The New Yorker‘s digital editions, in that both are heavy reading experiences with generally static design and imagery. There are no bells and whistles on the Harper‘s app, but that’s the way it should be! And I especially like the mobile edition, which is simply a joy to use and read; it’s a great experience.
The design is crisp and smart, and as with the text reading, I find it more appealing than the print edition. The illustrations and photographs are very striking, and work to great effect in the iPad format. Readers familiar with Adobe DPS-produced apps may have some problems, as I did, maneuvering through the ads. If you poke them in the wrong place you end up stuck on the advertiser’s website, and the ads and sites are not generally pretty to visit. The iPad app also suffers from the same problem many print-to-digital replicas have, in that it replicates an architecture, structure, and pacing that is designed to work best in a print edition. This manifests itself in the Harper’s app in page after page of all text with no images for the first approximately 1/4 of the magazine. At first I thought the app was image-free, until I finally got to what appears to be the feature well in the print magazine. As many smarter folks than I have pointed out (repeatedly), platforms are not agnostic when publishing content and imagery. Editors and designers need to think about making at least slight alterations to the structure and pacing of their pages when converting print magazines to digital replicas. In the Harper’s app, for example, there’s a powerful photo essay near the back of the issue that could have been reimagined to the very front of the app, and would have given the issue a much more exciting and dynamic introduction.
Overall, however, this is a very exciting app magazine. 29th Street Publishing has launched a number of brilliantly-conceived and designed free-standing magazine apps (Maura Magazine, The Awl), but this is the first app they’ve created based on an existing print publication. It’s a richly- and elegantly-designed, user-friendly edition that for my money is far superior to the Harper’s print magazine. Forget about its slight flaws; this is state-of-the-art replica magazine app design that makes a very static, reading-based print experience much more dynamic and energetic. One final note: the mobile/phone version of the app is truly wonderful to read. It’s simple to access, and easy on the eyes. It’s the perfect design for its platform and perfect to look at for those who are somewhat dubious about the idea of reading longform stories on mobile devices.