Design Delight

Ever clicked a link on Twitter or Facebook to a news article that sounded interesting and then realized you don’t have time to read it now, but want to save it for later?

I have this problem all the time, and recently found ReadItLaterList, now called Pocket. It’s a browser plug-in and a collection of apps that allow you to save articles for later. On the iPhone and iPad, the interface is extremely clean and easy to read, giving you just the text and the photos or video from the article (although this is not without some bugs/missed text, due largely, I believe to legacy design elements on webpages like drop caps and text that is actually an image).

Anyway, I’ve been enjoying this app both at work on my Firefox browser and at home, and especially appreciate the ability to save and view articles across browsers/apps using a single log-in.

What I really want to talk about, though, is one particular function that I find, well, delightful.

When reading articles in the iPad app, if the device is rotated, the app immediately asks if you want to lock the rotation, by bringing up the Apple “rotation lock” icon in the center of the screen. One touch and the screen is locked so you can view the page from any angle (say, laying on your side in bed) without triggering the screen rotation.

The first time this happened, I locked the screen rotation and kept reading, not thinking much about it. But the next time it happened, I realized what a delightful function this was. Screen rotation isn’t inherently a function or problem associated with this basic reader app, but it’s something that would require at least a couple of touches to adjust, if not for the built-in icon. Few apps consider these user experience issues for things only tangentially associated with the function of their apps.

And it’s the same for many websites, but not all.

Nieman Journalism Lab, a blog that focuses on news about news and the media, and on cutting edge news technologies, has a very subtle, but charming user experience function that few people might notice, but that makes reading it’s articles easier and more attractive.

When you click on an article, it takes you to a standard page, with menus, sidebars, and a header. But as you scroll down (or, as I like to think about it, engage the page), the sidebars fade to almost invisible, leaving the text of the article the only thing your eye focuses on. If you scroll over the sidebar, it reappears so you can click additional links.

This seemingly small and almost invisible function makes reading an article easy and eliminates distraction, focusing the entire user attention on the writing, which is key purpose of the site.

These two examples share a certain aesthetic, which I admit not everyone will find attractive, but I appreciate the simplicity and beauty of the site and app almost as much as I do the content, and it definitely makes me more likely to return (as a counter example, see Salon.com, which I think has the ugliest user interface on the web, and as a consequence, rarely finish articles on that site, even when they’re really interesting).