Apple Watch

News from the Apple world

Webstock: Josh Clark, expert iPhone dabbler

Add a comment
Josh Clark. Photo / Supplied
Josh Clark. Photo / Supplied

Josh Clark is currently designer, developer, and author specialising in mobile design strategy and user experience, but his background is in US Public Television documentary making at Boston's WGBH.

He is author of the O'Reilly books Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps and Best iPhone Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders. Josh's outfit, Global Moxie offers workshops and consulting services to help creative companies build mobile apps you want to use and effective websites.

He was born in 1971, grew up in Minnesota and North Carolina and graduated in 1991 from Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"I don't have a formal computing background in the sense that I don't have a degree in computer science. I've been somebody like a lot of people who go into technology; I've been a dabbler. When I was a kid I was programming little adventure games.

He's been a developer for the last seven or eight years. Since Clark became one after working for television, I commented that this wasn't exactly a normal transition.

"While I loved that process of creating and editing a very linear story for broadcast, two things ultimately frustrated me. It's a very conservative culture so that, as a young man coming into the business, I realised it was going to be a very long time before someone came along and said 'Josh, here's two million dollars, go make us a film'. So there's was a frustration of authorship.

"And I felt straitjacketed by the formula of how you make a documentary. Documentaries had to go X-Y-Z." And Josh thinks this formula, if anything, has become even more ingrained.

"And right about that time - around 1995 - the web was starting to gain traction. So I thought 'I can have authorship here, at no cost'. Create my own stories, if you will. And also that there was an entirely new form to explore where you can create an environment in which your audience participates as a primary actor.

"So I made the leap into internet journalism. As editor of an online magazine called the Next Big Thing. Which unfortunately very much wasn't." The business magazine folded with the DotCom bust.

Now "I think that's what us designers do: we craft environments to let stories breathe. Even as simple-seeming as a small-focus iPhone app, there is real story and conversation to be told.

"One of the things we designers have as a focus and a rule is simplicity. But that can be misinterpreted that we can't have complexity. And complexity gives our lives texture, and as designers and developers, we can't help our audience take on tough tasks or deal with complex information if we don't embrace complexity in our own designs.

"So that's one of the things I help people do. How can you have complex information and tasks in what seems to be a simple interface? One of the ways to do that is to step back and think about your interface's story, as a way to draw your user into a path of exploring information. As conversation, almost.

"And with the touchscreen interfaces, there's a real chance to interact directly with the content. Instead of having buttons and interface, there's a real opportunity to touch the content itself, in a way that asks a question, to tell you more about the information. But it doesn't necessarily overwhelm you, until you ask for it.

Until now, "We've been interacting with a prosthetic - a mouse and a pointer. And now that we can interact with it directly, more intimately. I believe touch will be able to sweep away a whole lot of the administrative debris - the buttons, the menus - that are kind of interface hacks that we have created.

"Buttons are a hack, as they always work at a distance. To turn on a switch over there, to turn on a light over here, is not intuitive or obvious. It's necessary. And we've created it for a reason. But it's not a direct interaction.

"As we explore what it means for touch screens, we get to think about what it's like to work directly with the content. To use the content as controls. And there are emerging examples and experiments with it, but it's unfamiliar, especially for us as technologists.

Clark recommends watching how children interact with iPads as a lesson. "They get it." He makes a good point: we may have spent 30 years using desktop computers, but we've spent millions using touch to manipulate our environments.

I asked Clark's opinion on the future of journalism, when sources which are often indiscriminate (or discriminate) are available for free and while online news services don't seem to be able to present a model wherein people will pay for content. Where's the revenue to pay for 'real' journalism? Naturally, Rupert Murdoch's iPad-only Daily came up in the discussion.

He posits an excellent model. When you buy a newspaper, you're buying a lot of content which doesn't interest you, which is bundled along with the content that does. The Daily follows this model for iPad.

"News on the web has all been atomised. You only need to look at what you want. On the Daily's model, you have to buy the Daily - the entire thing. It's very reminiscent of what people used to chafe about music albums - you just wanted the single, but you had to buy the whole album. Yet when they unbundled it" (for example, in the iTunes' model) "it actually turns out sales are OK.

"So it seems to me the web has let the genie out of the bottle. People can assemble their own collections of content. So it seems to me that the future of media is not going to be a media organisation trying to get a subscription out of someone for a body of the work that organisation produces. There has to be a larger, bigger-picture billing model that embraces all media.

"For example, Flipboard is incredibly promising. It takes the massive firehose of information from Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, etcetera - takes the news that you care about and formats it in a calm and accessible way.

"*Readability has started as a content payment service. You pay what you wish per month to use their bookmark service. And they track the sources of the articles you use Readability (and Instapaper) on, and they will route payment to those."

(*Readability's Open Source component is what powers the Reader part of the Safari browser.)

"I don't know if it's going to work or not, but I love the idea of it, the spirit of it and I'm paying them $10 per month."

I asked if there was a future in this model for documentary.

"Wow, I hope so. That's a great idea."

Mark Webster is currently reporting from Webstock in Wellington.

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n4 at 14 Jul 2014 09:31:55 Processing Time: 4429ms