July 22, 2015 Last Updated 12:24 pm

First look: Material Design, from Scuola di Architettura di Ferrara

New app for the iPad uses the Apple Newsstand to experiment with the digital medium, and as a way to communicate with a select audience of readers with the same interests in design

The Apple Newsstand is not proving to be a very profitable environment for digital publishers, but as a distribution channel for targeted publications it remains sufficient to attract new publications every month.

MD-iPad-coverThe first ones to realize this were the automakers, who were among the first brands to create interesting, native, digital editions. Volkswagen and its agency, Amsterdam-based Readershouse Brand Media, released Das back in May of 2010.

“Don’t look for high-quality magazine content, this is a marketing piece,” I wrote at the time. “But it is a very useful demonstration piece for publishers who need to see something different in order to “get” the iPad’s potential.” (See original TNM article on the old website.) Das is long gone now, replaced by a series of more obviously commercial efforts, and the need to outsource a digital publication to a specialized agency probably no longer exists, as well.

Meanwhile, other entities such as universities and institutions have experimented with digital editions as a way to distribute news and information to select audiences. The casual reader may sometimes stumble upon these digital publications, but the real targeted audience usually finds them when sent the direct link by the institution or company. Need to know about your school, here is a link to an app that will tell you more about us.

MD-iPad-scrollThe Material Design Research Laboratory, which operates within the Department of Architecture of the University of Ferrara, has recently launched its own digital magazine called Material Design. The new app has the feel of an experiment as the app description is more a statement of purpose than an attempt to attract readers.

The app itself offers only one issue, free, and there is no subscription mechanism built into the app – at least at this point. Material Design appears under the developer account of Michele Zannoni who is a professor at the Università desgli Studi della Repubblica di San Marino. This is, as you’d suspect, the first app to appear under the account name.

Material Design is very simple in design, and appears to be using the Baker Framework. Designed to be read in portrait only, each page looks like it could have been designed as a PDF until one comes across the odd page that requires scrolling (like that seen at left).

Since the goals are modest here, the only thing I wish the designers had done to make the digital edition more interesting would have been to allow the reader to tap some of the illustrations in order to bring up fullscreen versions.

No, Material Design is not an important new digital magazine, and so many digital publishers and designers may well move right past it. But the new app is an example of kinds of experiments we continue to see today – and even if many traditional publishers begin to shy away from creating new digital edition apps I know we will continue to see others launch them as a way of broadening their audience or offering targeted audience a publication just for them.

One point to make: this new app appears in the Literary Magazines & Journals section of the Newsstand. In the regular part of the Apple App Store, it is under Books. This is something we regularly see, especially with digital magazines coming from Asia.

The question I have is this: if, with iOS 9, the Newsstand goes away, will its categories go away, as well? If so, publishers better check their apps to see if they are properly categorized. It is possible that the Newsstand store is going away within the Newsstand folder – which becomes a standard folder in iOS 9, but that the Newsstand as a category within the App Store will remain.

It would be nice if Apple provided developers a little guidance.

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