With Paper, we saw what could happen when smart design honed the iPad as a creative tool for drawing. And now with Storehouse, launching today (free), we’re getting a first taste of what the iPad can do when the same care is given to rich storytelling.
In essence, Storehouse is a way to read and tell visually driven stories–what might happen if you crossed Medium with The Big Picture. You can import images from your photo library, Dropbox, Flickr, or Instagram, then easily drag and pinch them into a gorgeous layout, peppered with as much written narrative as you’d like. On the flipside, if you just feel like exploring other people’s work, you can swipe through a simple feed of stories that you might want to read.
The nine-person company behind Storehouse was co-founded by Mark Kawano and Timothy Donnelly. Donnelly hails from The Daily, while Kawano has done stints at Frog, Adobe, and most recently, Apple, where he designed platforms like Aperture and iPhoto before serving as Apple’s User Experience Evangelist to rally and guide iOS app developers.
“One of the things we’re trying to achieve [with Storehouse] is the feeling you get from physical paper. We’re really trying to think, what is the mental model of a person when they’re interacting with paper?” Kawano tells Co.Design. “And that’s not replicating the physical look or physics of the paper, but recreating, completely from scratch the digital equivalent–evoking that for a person.”
This tactile approach makes Storehouse’s interface as approachable as it is avant-garde. Creation and consumption seem to meld into one, as each story in your feed is also a pinch-to-zoomable, fully twistable image or video. Your news feed feels like it’s your media library. Every other person’s post, in some small way, feels like it’s touchable and it’s yours.
But when you intentionally tap or zoom into a news feed photo, it effortlessly grows into a poised, gridded story. Images fade in as you scroll down the page, hinting at parallax trends without ever getting cheesy. And when you’re done reading the story, either pinch your way out, or continue scrolling through the bottom to be redirected back to the main news feed. All roads lead to Rome, in essence. Having two options to close a post is a brilliant piece of redundancy in the UI that accommodates multiple ways someone might gesture their way through media.
Creating a post of your own isn’t much more difficult. “I think a lot of people, when they think about creation on the iPad, really try to mimic the idea of creation on the Mac and PC,” Kawano says. “But what the iPad is great at is the direct manipulation.”
Again, the designers focused on the feeling of interacting with something that felt tactile but wasn’t skeuomorphic. In turn, they focused on the immediacy of rearranging photos on your desk. Their editing system imports your images as neatly organized thumbnails, which you can stretch, crop, and zoom to your heart’s content. But much like the aforementioned app Paper, you can’t totally screw things up, because Storehouse has engineered some tasteful logic into the backend, meaning that your photos and text, however intensely you manipulate them, will always find some grounding visual sense rather than resembling an overzealous five-year-old’s scrapbook.
“It’s about putting the right constraints on a tool, so people can be more creative themselves,” Kawano explains. “We also think that’s what’s great about the iPad…because of the constraints, we can get more creative with the app itself.”
Today, Storehouse has launched as a fairly bohemian creation and consumption tool, ripe for casually posting recipes or travel logs, but missing some of the core organizational elements you’d expect it to have–like subscribing to posts written by your friends, or even searching for stories you’d like to read by topic. And until those features exist, the news feed content will remain a bit random, so it’s hard to imagine the average person having much of a long tail with the product.
But these organizational structures will be fairly simple to add because Storehouse has already nailed the harder part of the experience: actually creating things on the iPad.