chess design: everything you really need to know about designing for an iPad

I love magazines. And I love print. We’ve had a happy, satisfying relationship for years. So what happens when you fall in love all over again? With a new girl? Prettier. Smarter. One that gives you all the joys of print, but with even more “functionality.” The short answer is that you embrace her and love her even more!

That’s how I feel about designing for the iPad. Sure I miss the feel of matte paper, the smell of ink, and the excitement when your box of new magazines arrives in the mail. But my new app magazine gives me motion, animation, sound, transitions, unlimited real estate, and best of all, glowing RGB images on a Retina Display screen. Beat that print.

That’s how I feel about Assets, the new digital magazine we built from scratch for UCLA Anderson. You can take her out for a test ride in the app store. And she’s free!


Cover is a time-lapse video of the sun rising over Anderson. Music by San Diego band Dirty Gold. Video by Hugh Hamilton.

So here’s what I’ve learned this past year as we developed the app, designed it, programmed it and shipped it off to Apple.

1. Get a great client! (This is actually true for every job. So much so that my actual business model is “don’t work for assholes!” Really.) In this case, I found a client, Dianne Dillingham and UCLA Anderson, who wanted something well designed, original, and innovative, the tangible reflection of a prestigious business school leaping both feet into the future.


The Table of Contents is both a visual representation of the contents of the magazine and a interactive short-cut to each story.

2. Get your client to start a magazine from scratch. Most app magazines are a pretty close approximation of their print edition, with a few extra bells-and-whistles. If you have the opportunity to design something new, not beholden to the conventions of print, the sky’s the limit. It’s so liberating. You don’t have to think linearly, front to back, or about the limited real estate of the printed page.


The issues won’t be dated. They’ll be themed. This, our first issue, is The Reinvention Issue. And Evan Kleiman, chef, blogger, podcaster and app maker is our poster girl. Photos by Amanda Friedman.

3. Get your client to hire a great app developer. It’s scary making the leap from print to tablet. There are lots of technical issues to sort out. And lots of new ways to tell stories. If you’ve never done this before don’t be afraid to ask for help. In our case we were smart enough to enlist Joe Zeff Design. They helped us strategize, asked all the right questions and held our hand every step of the way. 


Built For Speed, a story about one man’s incredible collection of vintage French race cars. Thanks to the limitless potential of the tablet we were able to run 18 full-screen images vs. the usual 3 or 4 we would have run in print. Photos by Dave Lauridsen.

4. Forget half of what you knew about magazine design, and seriously question the other half. Yes, it’s still about storytelling. It’s still about copy, type, color palettes and images. But in order to fully realize the potential of the app it’s best to tear it all down and start fresh. Clear your mind of every old design trick and crutch. Rethink every design decision. And take some chances. It’s a new medium that’s being consumed and delivered in different ways. Carpe diem!


Every story opened with a full-screen splash page like a front cover. For a story on the burgeoning tech scene Silicon Beach Heads of State created this animated illustration, a tribute to the iconic Endless Summer poster.

So that’s an introduction to my new girlfriend. Hope you like her. 

Next post will be about all the fancy, new bells-and-whistles I’ve so happily embraced, and can’t wait to push further. Just as soon as I figure out how to upload video to Tumblr!!