BRISTOL, United Kingdom – “We wanted to make an authentically digital approach to content and show people that reading on a phone can be better in some ways than reading on paper,” says Tim Geoghegan, the lead designer for Nokia Reading, a Nokia Lumia exclusive service.
It’s easy to describe how a phone-based reader is better than a real book: it’s always with you for one thing; useful stuff you find can be shared easily with your friends; and it doesn’t bother your other half if you’re reading late at night. But how is that achieved in practise?
The service attracted a lot of attention when we announced its coming availability last week. One reason for that is that it looks rather stunning. So we tracked down the person who’s responsible for a lot of that to Nokia’s Bristol office.
Tim leads a team of User experience and User interface designers. The first task is defining what the app will do: “I start off with the central business proposition. In this case, reading on your phone. And then I look at how people might want to do that and we try to make those experiences as easy and pleasant as possible.”
It can be a long time before the team even touches a computer. “We talk things through using whiteboard sketches and pieces of paper. We think about ‘user journeys’ such as ‘this person wants to carry on reading the book they started yesterday’ and try to make sure there’s as little friction in that journey as possible. We make an information architecture that supports what people want to do and what we want to do as a reading service.”
“Reading a book on a phone is different to reading, say, a paperback.
“We realised early on that people were more likely to ‘snack’ on a phone-based book. They’ll most likely use it for shorter periods of time: while they’re on the bus or waiting for their kids to come out of school, for example. But it should be an immersive reading experience, nonetheless.
“In this case, there are two things in particular that we added to make things easy. First of all, every time you stop reading, the app automatically creates a bookmark where you finished. Then, you can make a book into a Live Tile, and that will notify readers of the first couple of lines on the page where you stopped. It reminds you where you’re up to before you’ve even opened the app. If you tap on it, it’ll take you right back to where you finished.
“Further to that, on the main panorama, when you open the app, it’s got the three last books you looked at ready to go. Tap on the book you want to pick up with and you’re right back where you left off.”
“We also made a really nice table of contents view. There’s more we want to add in terms of search, bookmarks and indices.
“We work using an Agile methodology at Nokia in Bristol. So that means we set the most crucial goals for the first phase, get them done and out. In this case, that means ‘getting and reading books’. Then we evaluate what the priorities are for the next release.
“Agile lets us get the main things done fast, and really well; and then we add on value with every new release, based on what people are asking for and the business needs.
“There are a lot of extra features we want to add – and we’re listening carefully to what users say. Better navigation, the News Stream that brings people shorter-form news items from sources they choose, a dictionary and, well, dozens of other possibilities.”
But there are also design priorities that were clear from the start.
“One thing we didn’t want is to pretend that this was a paper book. There’s no page-curl effect at the bottom of the screen, or some page-turning animation when you move forward. There’s no need to pretend it’s a book: this is better than a book.
“We wanted to make an authentically digital approach to content and show people that reading on a phone can be better in some ways than reading on paper.”
Touches like this make Tim proud of the app, but when we asked him the element of which he’s most proud, the answer is simple:
“It’s got to be the reading view: it’s the core of the application. We think it’s the best experience available yet for reading on a mobile phone. The typography – the size, spacing and leading of the font- it just looks great.”