The Chronicle of Higher Education is the leading news source for all things academia related in the United States and around the world. As a subscription incentive, The Chronicle boasts that print subscribers also receive free access to the Chronicle’s digital edition via their iPad app. As a print subscriber to The Chronicle and an iPad owner, I was excited at the prospect of having immediate access to each new edition and not having to wait until my print edition arrived by mail each week. However, after downloading The Chronicle app my excitement quickly turned to disappointment as it seemed less like an added bonus for subscribing and more like an afterthought due to the overall poor design of its user interface. This can best be explained by applying Don Norman’s “principles of good design” from his book, The Design of Everyday Things.
One of the biggest flaws in the design of The Chronicle’s app are its lack of affordances (i.e., suggestions on how to interact with it). For example, there are no clues whatsoever that the digital edition of the Chronicle is only viewable in Portrait orientation. In fact, it actually offers clues to the contrary. When opening the app while the iPad is in landscape orientation the initial screens will also be in landscape orientation, and there is also a news feed function within the app that connects to The Chronicle’s webpage, which can also be viewed in either portrait or landscape. Furthermore, the screenshots of the app on its iTunes store page are misleading and actually show a digital edition of The Chronicle being displayed in a landscape orientation. However, once the actual digital edition of The Chronicle is selected in the app it will always come up in portrait mode regardless of the current orientation of the iPad itself. When I first noticed this problem I assumed it was a mistake and searched through the app to see if I could change the settings, but no such setting seems to exist nor was it stated anywhere that digital edition can only be viewed in portrait mode. This is especially frustrating for me as I prefer to keep my iPad in a keyboard case which constrains the iPad’s orientation to landscape.
Other issues in the design of The Chronicle app are poor visibility (i.e., making the interface visible and inferring the right messages to the user) and mapping (i.e., linking what the user wants to do and what is perceived possible). For instance, when pulling up a digital edition of The Chronicle, users can either begin by intuitively swiping right to “turn the page” to the next article or by simply selecting an article from the front page and jumping directly to that article. The issue of visibility lies in the latter option as there are no clear indicators that the headlines of the articles are links; the page simply looks like a PDF of its print counterpart. I was unaware of this option for months until I accidentally “clicked” an article on a front page one day, and was pleasantly surprised that I no longer had to swipe through page after page to get to the article I wanted. This leads me to an issue of mapping for once I discovered this I assumed there must be other linkable items in the digital edition of The Chronicle as well. As is common on news apps (e.g., The New York Times app) and websites (including The Chronicle’s website) there can be many linkable items within an article (e.g., keywords link to a list of articles tagged with that keyword). However, after unsuccessfully tapping on several author’s names it was clear that the only similarity between those other news apps/websites and The Chronicle digital edition was being able to click the headlines.
The Chronicle of Higher Education is a top-notch publication with well-written and informative articles and absolutely worth the subscription price. Unfortunately, their app is a bit clunky and convoluted, which can take away from the enjoyment of reading the articles.