Talk to Mario Garcia and he'll tell you it's an interesting time in his life. After 40 years in the print newspaper design business, Garcia has transformed himself from one of the most sought-after print newspaper designers in the industry to become a highly sought-after tablet designer.
Indeed, he says more than half of the work he is doing is in tablet design - among his most recent endeavors was a project for The New Straits Times in Malaysia, which launched its tablet edition late last year.
With an arsenal of experience, publishers listen when he talks. And he's got some strong advice for newspapers as they make the shift to tablet distribution.
"The tablet is a very unique medium, and you simply do not dump content from the newspaper into it," he told News & Tech. "Print is designed for the brain and the eye - the tablet is designed for the brain, eye and finger."
To get it right, he said, newspapers must devote the proper manpower to tablet development, including a content editor, photo editor and videographer.
Garcia also cautioned on some of the pitfalls and distractions newspapers should avoid in tablet design.
"You don't want this to be Christmas morning, the 4th of July and Disneyworld all at once."
Excerpts from Garcia's interview with News & Tech:
N&T: What will be the tablet's role in staving off the demise of printed newspapers?
Garcia: Publishers will have online, print and tablets and you have to understand the lifestyles of the people who are reading your newspaper. It is about the story first. The lean-back experience includes print and tablet, with online serving the need to be constantly updated. People go online for a couple minutes at a time, several times a day - they snack on it.
N&T: You have said that the tablet should "make the finger happy." Explain.
Garcia: Print is designed for the brain and the eye. The tablet is designed for the brain, eye and finger. If you have a linear experience where all you do is flip, then it's no different for the reader than print.
I have a tablet and I want it to do all that a tablet is supposed to do and take advantage of all of those features. If you are frustrated with a tablet edition, you are not going to go back to it again, so publishers lose people right away.
N&T: You've said that newspapers need to forget the printed product when it comes to tablet design and start from scratch. Do you have any advice to help them do that?
Garcia: We do a workshop and take one specific edition and sit with the editors. In the tablet edition we tell them that they need to give stories longer legs. When editors are curating an evening edition they need to think about which stories people are going to sit back and sink their teeth into.
We know that the tablet is a companion to the television, while newspapers and TV compete. People take off their shoes, lie on the couch or in bed and look at the TV and tablet almost simultaneously.
People expect more of a relaxing experience there, but every time we go for a total lean-back experience, we discover that people also want to lean forward, for news updates before bed, or whenever they want to get that last update of the day. So the complete tablet edition should have the ability to update constantly. It should offer a curated series of articles and then as a third component, even a PDF of the paper so readers can get the full newspaper if they want it.
N&T: What newspapers do you think are getting it right when it comes to tablet editions?
Garcia: In the United States, The Orange County (Calif.) Register. They really have curated their evening edition well and it's one of the best I've seen.
I think The New York Times, in terms of looks, is too much like the look of the paper, but it is very easy to use, although I wish they had more for the finger. I think they'll eventually graduate to that - we are all learning as we go.
And, (tablet-only newspaper) The Daily is beginning to improve. I think they are doing great things; it's not easy to do this every day, but (nearly a year later) they are doing better. They did some great things on the 9/11 anniversary.
N&T: What about magazines?
Garcia: Reader's Digest has a really nice app. As one of the oldest magazines it has done a really nice job with its tablet edition.
Magazines have done much better than newspapers in transferring their products to the tablet. The newspaper mentality is very deeply rooted into their age and not wanting to rock the boat.
Publishers are always afraid to lose their oldest readers, but what they don't realize is that the number of older people using tablets is amazing. A tablet allows people that are intimidated by computers to get that experience. There are less buttons and you can make the type as large as you want.
N&T: What are some of the biggest distractions in tablet design that you would caution publishers to avoid?
Garcia: Things that are too gimmicky. They get into the sandbox and want to do it all in one edition. The idea is the multigenre experience. People love to read, so let them read the full article. Allow them to see video by giving them a little pop-up with a small story, but you don't want to have every headline turn into something. You cannot have everything be flashy.
N&T: Do you think any of the other tablets on the market will gain significant traction vs. the iPad?
Garcia: We'll have to see what the Kindle Fire is going to do. But I travel the world and I have not had a single client asking me to prepare a project for any device other than the iPad. They have 82 percent of the market, so it will be the iPad for a while and I think it will be a least a couple of years before there are competitors.
N&T: How do newspapers find harmony in designing a tablet edition that attracts eyeballs while not detracting from the printed product? Readers have to invest more time to be consumers of both so should tablet editions be designed with different audiences in mind, or as one piece of the equation?
Garcia: There is the argument that there will always be print - maybe not daily, but there is a certain luxury of not being "connected." People want to be able to unplug and go take a printed product to read while they sit on the beach, for example. I think the two do not cannibalize each other, especially if you offer a different experience for each. If all you do is dump one into the other then you risk cannibalizing.
Publishers have a DNA, a brand that drives them and people come to that DNA on various platforms. If you do it right and your readers understand it, it will work.
N&T: Have you found any one "sure thing" in terms of design that is a big hit with consumers?
Garcia: Pop ups. If you have a picture and you can pop us a story about an actress' shoes, people will take a look. Tablets aren't a medium for just a caption; so let the finger tap into details about the hat someone is wearing, for example. I always encourage newspapers to write many stories - there can be four or five possibilities for a single photo.
N&T: Are there any "no-nos" you've identified as design elements that publishers should avoid?
Garcia: Don't make it so heavy that people get frustrated. Use the 10-second rule. You have to allow readers to get from here to there in 10 seconds. Make it sophisticatedly simple.
N&T: What are the biggest design challenges you encounter in print and other platforms, including Web, tablet and mobile?
Garcia: The human element. Changing the mentality of people is the toughest part of the job.
I play the cheerleader role and I am happy to do that, but there are still cases where I throw my hands up in the air.
N&T: Do you think publishers will be able to successfully monetize tablet editions in the long term?
Garcia: I think the tablet is the only platform of the future that will make money for publishers. The model I can recommend is bundling because people will not consume through a single platform. You can't think that people are only going to read - they are going to tailor their lifestyle to how they consume information.