August 6, 2014 Last Updated 12:07 pm

Joe Zeff to close studio, will join ScrollMotion as its VP/Executive Creative Director

The difficulties with the tablet magazine market may have claimed one of the digital publishing industry’s most talented design firms, Joe Zeff Design

The design firm behind such great apps as The Final Hours of Portal 2 and Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz, Joe Zeff, will be shuttering his design studio and joining the NYC company ScrollMotion.

Newsweek-Cover-Colbert“The next frontier for phones and tablets is the workplace,” Zeff wrote on the company website blog. “And to seize that opportunity, I’m closing the studio I founded 14 years ago and joining ScrollMotion as its Vice President/Executive Creative Director.”

Zeff listed three reasons for the move: the IBM-Apple partnership will boost tablets in business; custom apps are expensive (a JZD specialty) but off-the-shelf tools will help businesses build their own apps; and the difficulties being experienced with tablet magazines.

“It’s getting harder to justify making magazines for tablets,” Zeff wrote. “Phones, not tablets, are the primary vehicle by which consumers access content. As wonderful as tablet magazines can be, they remain hard to find, tedious to download and inaccessible to those who don’t have the right device with the right software.”

Zeff’s new role will be to manage teams in New York and San Diego that design and develop custom apps based on ScrollMotion’s SmartStudio. Zeff will shutdown Joe Zeff Design at the end of August and join ScrollMotion in NYC in mid-September.

Joe Zeff started out in the newspaper industry, working first at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Detroit Free Press and then The New York Times.

FC-iPad-cover“I worked at eight different newspapers in the course of eight years and during that time opportunities emerged to jump from the copy editing side and the reporting side of the business to the design side of the business,” Zeff told TNM last year. “And once I was there there was no turning back because i felt I could tell stories visually, with more impact, than I could as a writer.”

Zeff started working with WoodWing in 2010, a company which eventually partnered with Adobe. Since then JZD has specialized in creating apps using the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite and has been listed as an Adobe reseller.

“We have not resold very many of their products, but it’s a good relationship because we are able to answer a lot of the questions that people who are interested in Adobe DPS have to ask. And that relationship has strengthened over the past year or so as Adobe has ventured outside of traditional publishing and so have we,” Zeff said last year.

But Zeff started to sour on the prospects of selling digital magazine apps recently, telling TNM that “selling apps to consumers is a very challenging task – selling applications to marketers makes a lot more sense.”

The company Zeff will be going to was founded by Josh Koppel and was an early pioneer in thinking about how magazines would be able to take advantage of the soon-to-be-launched tablet market. ScrollMotion worked with Esquire on its first efforts, months before the iPad was first unveiled in January of 2010. (Another of those companies was The Wonderfactory, which created a demonstration video for Sports Illustrated.)

One of the first media companies ScrollMotion worked with was The Tribune Company during the first days of the mobile and tablet publishing platforms.

The company now concentrates on the corporate segment of the market, listing Campbell’s GE, Mercer, Bravo and Pacific Life as some of the companies it has worked with. Last year the company earned just under $12 million in revenue and had 140 employees, according to a report in the New York Business Journal.

Update: Joe Zeff wants everyone to know that the reason for closing JZD was not because of poor business:

“We’re not closing because business is bad. In fact, we’ve nearly matched last year’s revenue in the first seven months of this year. We’re closing because business is good, and has the potential to get even better if we’re focused exclusively on the opportunity to transform the enterprise through tablets. We’ve been held back by the inability to deliver functionality. Storytelling is a big part of what makes apps great. But it’s not the only part. ScrollMotion is determined to fill those gaps and make tablets indispensable to businesses.” – Joe Zeff

By the way, if you are interested in reading the entire interview with Joe Zeff conducted last year, you’ll want to download the interactive eBook version of Talking Digital, which not only contains the interview with Zeff, but also the one conducted by Pedro Monteiro on the Above & Beyond app. That chapter, the last in the book, also contains the video of Zeff talking about the Fast Company tablet edition.

  • John Trefethen 3 years ago

    Hey Joe, I will assume it was a bitter-sweet decision. I am certain you’ll bring a proven and highly creative talent to the teams you direct. I wish you all the best. It’s a small world, with us both having similar roles to play in the same space, I bet we cross paths again sooner or later.


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