Content design for tablets: swipe versus scroll

A while ago, Mario Garcia, renowned newspaper and magazine design consultant, asked me to comment on tablet design for an article he was writing for the Austrian marketing and media magazine Horizont. His question came through Twitter: “What is your take on swipe vs. scrolling?”

I sent him an email back, and while we wait for the Austrian to English translation of the Horizont article, I thought I would share my response here.

What’s the difference?

“Swiping” happens between two distinct pages, whether they move vertically or horizontally, whereas scrolling is a continuous movement. We are familiar with vertical scrolling from web pages, but horizontal scrolling also occurs with the introduction of “carousels” or “sliders”.

The curated experience – print reinvented

Before getting into the differences, let’s talk about an over arching trend in tablet content apps. Whether they are static (updated periodically) or dynamic (web based, connected to an RSS feed or similar), many apps try to create the sense of an edition based, finite and curated experience. This is true both for newspaper and magazine apps as well as aggregator apps like Flipboard or Editions by AOL.

It can be argued that we are entering the era of “Curated Computing“, a term coined by Sarah Rotman Epps from Forrester. It basically means that people are looking for less but more relevant content, packaged for easy consumption.

This trend is important to note when discussing swiping versus scrolling.

 Swipe signals a start and an end

For publishers attempting to create an “edition based” experience similar to print, swiping from page to page gives readers a sense of familiarity. They’ve done this before. Progressing from one page to another, they use a gesture very similar to what they would have used in the good old print days. Because of that they sense there is a start and an end.

I believe a big group of users are looking for that familiarity and experience. Even apps not founded in legacy newspapers/magazines are attempting to create that sense of familiarity: The Daily, Project Magazine, and all the aggregator apps as I mentioned before, such as Flipboard, Zite, Editions by AOL and the latest, Livestand from Yahoo!. (For more reading on the rise of aggregator apps, check out these articles from Nieman Journalism Lab and Hoosier40.com). Continue reading