Designed, but only in a rudimentary fashion

The Daily iPad app launched to much fanfare but its clumsy design approach lacks the personality needed to truly engage readers

Plenty of fuss accompanied the recent arrival of Rupert Murdoch’s standalone iPad news app, The Daily. A launch at New York’s Guggenheim was due to be jointly hosted by Murdoch and Steve Jobs until the Apple CEO’s health issues forced him to stand down. Speculation had grown through launch delays, reaching a crescendo when it finally did appear.

Why the fuss? The Daily is Murdoch’s latest attempt to monetise digital news via a traditional sales/ subscription publishing model. Digital purists mock him while many print publishers quietly hope he succeeds as he puts another load of cash (for this, $30m start-up costs) to the cause.

But regardless of the money and hopes attached to the app, what does a daily iPad newspaper look like? Is this the future of news? The first thing to note is that, like all news publications, The Daily occupies a particular space in the news spectrum. It is a very American newspaper (if newspaper is the word), with the slightly flat, serious editorial tone that I associate with USA Today. Perhaps the nearest to it in the UK would be the Daily Mail, but without that newspaper’s habit of hectoring the reader.

The Daily’s design ambition reflects this positioning. As designers, if we don’t rave about The Guardian’s every move we can at least admire the rigour of its approach to editorial design and the way its team apply their system across different media. We can enjoy the brutalism of The Sun and appreciate that its unity of content and design often involves harder graft on a daily schedule than the Guardian system. In the Daily Mail, meanwhile, any focus on design is more likely to be as content rather than form: as a waste of money, the subject of a news story about the government blowing thousands on a logo for the NHS, perhaps.

So it is with The Daily. It’s hard to imagine a more banal rendering of those two words than that used as their logo/icon. The need to create something that works as both 70 × 70 pixel iOS icon and larger scale logo causes all sorts of new problems for the designer, yet the clumsy detail of the finished item is astonishing. Even the option of different detailing for the two versions (the two words stacked, or side by side) is missed. A similar graphic approach applies throughout the app, which I assume has had more coding than design attention. One of the advantages iPad apps offer over a website is the potential to create a distinct visual personality so this is as disappointing as Steve Jobs’ enthusiasm for the project is surprising.

The app deals better with its navigation design. After a rough simulation of a magazine front cover, an iTunes-like cover flow allows the reader to flick through to select pages. Once read, the pages are marked as viewed, a nice touch. Its six sections (News, Gossip etc) are accessible via the cover flow or a menu at the top of the screen. There is a single running order to the pages, and most are static and run horizontally, although, rather confusingly, a couple scroll vertically.

In summary, The Daily is very much a work in progress. But is it a newspaper? Perhaps in the old, updated once-a-day sense it is. But for actual news there are not only better apps out there but the whole web, updated by the minute. The Daily is really a daily magazine with news articles, a hard sell I’d suggest, particularly when so lacking in personality and character.

Jeremy Leslie runs the magCulture.com blog

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