I’ve been hinting at this for a while, but the time has finally come for me to talk about the next issue of Letter to Jane. If you’ve read anything I’ve said for a while I’ve probably included the word “different” in there somewhere. Looking back I now realize that I’ve probably overused that word already before things have even gotten started. It was really all I could say because for a long time I didn’t know what the next issue would look like, I just knew it couldn’t be the same. Now I don’t want to say too much because I don’t have the issue finished. I have some things setup, tech demos made, interviews scheduled, etc, but nothing is at the point where I want to speculate what the exact final version will look like. I guess I know what I want, but I don’t want to settle yet. I do want to take a moment to try to get past “different” and get into some real details, or at least bring up some points for continued discussion.
So here’s what “different” means so far:
A new design: I’ve come up with some early models that are less cluttered, but still has all the options as before. There will be a better flow in this issue. That’s one thing I really wanted to fix from previous issue. It’s hard to find that fine line between “sections” like Letter to Jane and “pages” like other apps. Working on the Port Magazine app solved this issue to me. It won’t be exactly the same because it will be a different design, but that is definitely where I want to go with it.
Break it down into real sections: I don’t know if Four Stories will be the official title when all is said and done, but it is really what I’m aiming towards. I want to do a Rashomon type of thing, focus on different ways to tell a story. Even though Moral Tales was broken up into sections those were kinda just for show. It was still very much just one long stream of content. I want to make more clearly defined sections in this issue, with each section having a particular theme, such as one section being more text heavy or video centric. It will still flow like one whole magazine, but I still think the iPad has a problem with giving you a sense of place. In a print magazine the weight and the amount of pages give you a feel for where you are in the publication. On an iPad it feels like just a long stream. It’s something Port and The Guardian have really tried to tackle well and I want to make that a focus too.
Move away from pixel perfect design: One of the iPad’s strengths so far has been the ability to have pixel perfect designs, just like print. It’s something the web can’t do and what has turned off a lot of designers from digital work. I want to move slightly away from this though, not the entire issue, but parts of it. All iPad magazines are composites of fullscreen images, even mine. I just break it up for more interaction, but how Moral Tales works isn’t much different from a Conde Nast app. This is fine now but soon screen resolutions are going to change and making a fullscreen image for each size is going to be difficult. Other options are getting better in iOS that will allow for more of the design work to be rendered in the app. One example of this is that I’m going to get rid of the “Text Mode” I have in previous issues and make all text in this issue be embedded so that you can select and copy whatever you want. I want to explore some designs that can be resolution independent and future proof it a bit. It’s another area where I’m trying to find the right balance and I’m not quite there yet.
Original content: I’m still going to feature artist’s portfolios, that’s not going away, but I want to expand that and shake it up a bit. I also want to make more content in-house. With this issue I’m interested in looking at Letter to Jane not as a magazine, but more as a studio in a way. I’m producing content that already has a built-in distribution channel, and I want to take advantage of that as best as I can. I want to have original video and short films, and soundtrack, and more interactive features. Like I’ve always said, I want to use the iPad’s strengths to my advantage, and I think I can do that now in a more fluid way.
Give the app room to grow: One of the things I hate about apps is that they’re hard to update. If I want to tweak something then I have to resubmit it to Apple and you have to redownload everything and it’s just not ideal for anyone. So I want to make a section of the app that is HTML. I want an online section that will allow you to at least read all the interviews from every issue and stay up to date with what is going on with Letter to Jane. I think if I had come up with this in Moral Tales then I would’ve tried to make every feature have some HTML in it, but these days I have a little more sense and know that it’s better to give it its own section and not throw the kitchen sink at every feature.
Sell the source code: I still don’t know if this was a genius move or an idiotic move, but either way it feels good to me. There’s one great thing I love about art that I don’t get to experience too often with Letter to Jane and that is that sense of passing knowledge along. It’s one of my favorite things about music. I can hear a song and get so much enjoyment out of just listening to it, but I can also pick up my guitar and learn how to play it, and by learning how to play it, I learn a new skill on my guitar that I can apply to my own music. There is a lot of things about the iPad that are just invisible to the consumer, you don’t get to see the process. Maybe that’s why the iPad is considered “magical” to many. I realized there are a lot of people that want to have their zine on the iPad and are pretty technically savvy, but don’t know the steps to take. I was in the same boat and it took me a long time to get to a place where I think I can help others like me, but now I think I can. iOS has also simplified a great deal since I started with iPhone SDK 3.0. I think Apple has gone to great lengths to eliminate the mistakes that get new programmers stuck. So I felt it was a good time to sell the project to help out other designers. I priced it at $200 dollars because I felt that was a fair price considering Adobe’s new single issue solution. This won’t be something you can just drop in your text and images and you have your own magazine, there is still a bit of work you have to do on your own to come up with your own magazine, just like if you bought a website template for your blog. The advantage of buying the source code is that you’ll now have the answers to how everything works. I’ll explain everything and be straightforward and visual as possible, but you’ll still need to know the basics, like how to navigate in Xcode, the difference between .h, .m, and .xib files, and how to submit an app to Apple. I’ll of course provide links to get tutorials, but I just want to make sure people know that there’s so much I can do to simplify things. That’s one reason for the price, the other is that I have been looking for a way to encourage more publishers to take a native app approach. I think there’s a great benefit and that it’s a great tool to learn how to use. I think the Port app is a great example of the advantages to native apps. The fact that we were able to come up with an idea from scratch and then keep tuning and tweaking it till we got the interaction we wanted just right is what really makes that app special. It may not be the right solution for everyone, but for some this will really open up great new displays of creativity that we haven’t even thought of yet.
Funding: One of the biggest things that is different this time around is that I’m asking for funding. I hope I was able to give you some idea as to why I think that’s necessary. I’m not just updating the content or refreshing the look. I really am trying to do something different, in every sense of that word. Doing something like this takes time and it I’ll need the help of others. It would take me twice as long and be twice as bad if I tried to do everything on my own again like I did before. Luckily I have very talented friends who are offering there services for free or for cheap, but they still need to be compensated for time and travel and things like that. It costs money to produce content and get supplies, to test things, and so forth. Letter to Jane has always been a personal project that came out of my pocket and is usually made at a loss. Well my pockets are empty now and I need your help. There have already been many of you who have been generous with your support and I hope many more of you can do the same. The fundraiser will go on for 30 days, so right before Thanksgiving. There are a lot of great rewards for backers that I hope you can take advantage of. I tried to set the levels accordingly so that fans could get a little something extra and professionals can also get something extra that appeals to them. I hope you can donate something to this project today, if not money than time. Just a little time to share this project with others and help get the word out. If you have any questions about this project please let me know. If all goes well I hope to have the new issue done in late December early January.