Designing Mobile Apps – Life Beyond the Swipe

One of the things I get most excited about in this job is watching our clients push the boundaries of what can be done with our platform, and providing them tools to do just that. About a year ago, we introduced the ability to disable the thumbnail “scrubber” navigation tool, as well as the ability to swipe. A lot of people asked “Why? Doesn’t that break the magazine?” Our answer was “Yes, and that’s the point.”

Just because we flip pages in print, doesn’t mean we need the same navigational metaphor in digital. There is value in that navigation: it provides for a linear flow so the publisher can control pacing of the content, while also giving the reader that sense of serendipity, as you stumble across new things you didn’t expect. (Flipboard figured this out to their great success years ago and has kept the “flip” animation even in its new web viewer.)

But there are times you should consider whether swiping is the right navigation or if you’re using it just because it’s a default. Two of my favorite apps on the platform illustrate two perfect examples of a non-swiping publication:


photo 1 Panda’s Alphabet [iPad and iPhone] is a children’s app created by one of our employees, Anders Odevik. Anders is a veteran of our support department and now works in mag+ Studios, so he is no stranger to designing mobile apps. The app is a simple alphabet-learning tool, available in Swedish and English, showing off Anders’ great illustration style. Here he’s created a simple four-button navigation: next, back, home and overview. In this app, a linear flow does make sense and a swipe wouldn’t be out of place. But by controlling the flow with buttons, he slows down the pace—kids can’t just swipe quickly past a bunch of letters, they have to pause at each one. (I can tell you from experience, it’s also easier to navigate with your thumbs while you’re holding a kid.) Disabling swipe also makes this feel less like an alphabet magazine and more like the functional app that it is.

United Hemispheres [iPad and iPhone] is the in-flight magazine of United Airlines and has been one of our best looking magazine apps for years, thanks to Ink, the talented custom publishing house that produces it. Always innovative, they recently rolled out an iPhone version, but rather than simply shrink and republish the whole magazine on the small screen, they thought about how people use their phones when designing this app—shorter time spans, more utility—and instead pulled out a popular feature from the magazine, Three Perfect Days in …, and turned it into mini issues. Here, they are using our overlay feature to create a permanent nav bar that immediately tells the user how much content is there and what it is: cover, Days 1-3, photos and a map. That’s it—a perfect bite-size curated guide to a city that you can explore in order or jump right to the day or tab of your choice. Again, swipe could work here, but that would have made a magazine that felt too short rather than a mobile app that feels perfectly sized for its intended use.

Have you seen other apps that break out of the swipe navigation paradigm, on our platform or others? Let us know in the comments below.


More information about designing mobile apps with Mag+.