There are seemingly an infinite different ways to get the news online these days, but one of my favorite content apps to use on the iPhone is The Daily Beast “Read This, Skip That” app, which is linked to the site TheDailyBeast.com. Their articles range from topics including politics, pop-culture, world news and more.
Instead of making the app a mobile clone of their desktop site, the designers chose to go simple. There is just one primary screen, with a list of current article headlines. There are no category tabs and no search functionality — just articles to read — which is really all I want when I’m looking for something to browse when on the go. The “Read This, Skip That” theme helps you sift through the articles, so that you only have to see the articles that you plan to read. The top bar lists how many articles are available to read on the left, and how many you’ve read or skipped on the right.
When you click on an article headline, you are shown an image, the date it was written, the topic (such as US News or Entertainment), the author’s name, and the text of the article.
You can either read the article in full or click “Back” if you don’t want to read the whole thing. If you scroll to the bottom of the article, then that article is marked as “Read” at the top right of the app. If there is an article that you are not interested in, you can choose to “SKIP” it by swiping the article to the left.
Each article also includes a button that allows you to share the article via message, email, Facebook, etc. The share icon is visible both on the article level as well as on the home screen to the right of each headline.
This app really excels at properly utilizing what Norman refers to as constraints. The limited functions that work on the app – touch, swipe or share – constrain the user to do only those three actions: read an article (by touching the headline and scrolling through the text), skip an article (by swiping left), or digitally share the article (by clicking the ‘share’ icon and choosing the sharing method). The cultural constraints of the way iPhone apps are known to work also help the user make the right choices in this app – iPhone users are accustomed to swiping up to scroll through an article and popular apps such as Tinder have taught users that swiping left is a negative action, which in this case means skipping an article. The share icon does not need explanation to iPhone users, as it is standard across most iPhone apps, but a novice user might be unfamiliar with it.
The app also does particularly well at providing feedback for the user. Once an article has been viewed, the headline is then greyed out on the main screen. There is a thin red line displayed at the bottom of the greyed out box to show the progress you’ve made in reading the article. When you’re finished reading an article, a large check mark is placed over that article so it is very clear what has been read and not read.
Even if you were unaware that swiping left means to skip, the app reinforces the meaning of the action by displaying “SKIP” in bold and red when you begin to swipe the article.
Although they’re subtle, the app uses small angles to designate which direction the user should scroll or swipe. On the article page, a downward angle tells the user to scroll down to read the article, and a left-pointing angle below the word “Back” tells the user that this action will take you back to the home screen. Since most mobile webpages are read by scrolling, the user would likely already know to do these actions without the help of the symbol, but it’s nice to have these affordances. The act of scrolling up and down with your finger is a good use of mapping, though that’s not unique to this app.
My one complaint about these affordances is the downward angle on the home screen. The function of this symbol is not visibly clear just by looking at the screen. My instinct when seeing this symbol is to drag down on the icon, which triggers the app to refresh the articles list. When you simply touch the symbol (instead of dragging down on it), a screen comes down that shows you “The Daily Breakdown” screen. This page lists the number of articles you’ve read and skipped for the day, the number of articles other users have read and skipped, as well as the topics of the articles you’ve read. This is a useful page, but the app could benefit from clear visibility and an added affordance such as descriptive text.