Experiment

Here at Storycode, we take pride in re-imagining narratives with our apps. Our goal is to produce apps for mobile devices that truly live in the intersection of content and dynamic user experience. Sometimes this means thinking about the components of our stories in new ways.

Since image-driven navigation is king on mobile devices, finding the right balance between a visual narrative and the written word is vital. While text is absolutely primary to the story, especially when adapting our apps from printed books, it can be secondary to the user experience, even when working within iBooks Author or InDesign DPS.

One of our apps that we believe succeeds in balancing the relationship between words and visuals is the “Stratford Shakespeare Festival Behind the Scenes”. Our objective was to transpose the print product into an interactive experience for iPad. We strove to architect an experience that was fun to use and invited the user to dive deeper into the material. Thanks to the great content that was provided to us by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, we found ways to enrich the experience with an assortment of interactive widgets that included 360 degree spins, location panoramas and videos.

However, when it came to the text, we found it to be an obstacle to the overall flow of the visual story. Our first attempt to include copy resulted in a product that very much resembled the coffee-table book but didn’t live up to the potential of what the iPad was capable of.

The stunning visuals, captions and pull quotes, and interactive elements were eventually woven together to form a narrative that was designed to be consumed in landscape mode only. We then decided to consolidate the text in a self-contained reading experience in portrait, allowing the user to read the copy in the most natural way.

For a different project, “Ali: The Man, The Moves, The Mouth,” we tried another approach to redefine the reading experience. Part of our solution for text with the Ali project was in response to a restraint we faced with using iBooks Author.  Rotating to portrait to read text prevented us from designing the best reading experience possible, since we were restricted by iBooks Author templates.  Instead, we chose to treat the text like a photo slideshow and placed the text within a book graphic; creating enough slides to fit the chapter text.

The narrative thread of Ali is a timeline of images that span several decades of Ali’s remarkable career. All of the elements on the timeline are interactive, allowing the reader to enlarge photos or watch videos. We even custom built a video scrubber widget that allows the user to control a frame-by-frame view of Ali’s fast jabs and hard punches; breaking down the key knockouts from historical fights.

But to read the story, the user must tap on the open book thumbnail to launch a full-screen book-like experience and swipe to get from one page to the next. The text is presented with the most legible line width, line spacing and multiple paragraphs on the page, before requiring the reader to swipe for more (aka the next page).

In both these cases, we struck a balance between the possibilities and limitations of text as an element in visual and interactive narratives for tablets and the expectations a user may have when consuming a digital book. Finding the best solution between these two elements is key to finding a better ways to communicate great stories.