At work with: Bethany Powell, National Geographic
As director of mobile design at National Geographic, Bethany Powell is responsible for the popular phone and tablet versions of the much-loved international publication. We catch up with her as the magazine prepares to publish content via Facebook’s new Instant Articles programme.
Where are you today?
At National Geographic’s headquarters in Washington, DC.
What can you see from the window?
Trees in our courtyard blowing in the wind.
Are you a morning or evening person?
Which magazine do you first remember?
I know this might sound ridiculous, but the first magazine I remember is National Geographic. My aunt was a member and I would spend hours looking at the photographs.
What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
This is tough. There are a lot of magazines I really love. This morning? I’ll say Victory Journal. It’s big, bold and tactile. It’s the opposite of a small screen experience -- which is what I am looking for when in a print magazine. That said, they also have a fantastic screen-based presentation of their magazine stories. I’m not a huge fan of sports, but VJ does a wonderful job of engaging readers with their raw presentation of photographs.
What is your favourite app this morning?
Instagram. Every morning.
What is the current National Geographic mobile experience like and how will it change with Facebook’s Instant Articles?
Our mobile experience, like our digital experience in general, is evolving. We are constantly experimenting to create a better, more personal, user experience in our mobile apps and online. Instant Articles gives us tools to create multimedia stories specifically for a small screen, and to share our visual traditions.
By distributing articles via Facebook, companies have raised concern that this will draw reader's away from their website. Is this a worry for you?
There are always risks associated with innovation but we see a bigger risk in not embracing this experience. As an authentic nonprofit we have a responsibility to share our content with as large a global audience as possible. National Geographic is fortunate that our website is not limited to editorial content. I think the larger question for us is how much of what we produce should be published in the Instant Article format, and what the cadence should be.
In the magazine and online, National Geographic imagery is conventionally large, immersive photography. How do you go about adapting this for a small screen?
This is a challenge. We had some experience from building Nat Geo View, our native iOS app that launched in February. The app has some engaging UX features that let you see a portion of a photograph full screen and then slide it to see it full frame. Facebook took a different approach but they make it possible to see full screen images, and then either tilt, tap or rotate the phone to see the entire photograph. Through the multimedia storytelling we have done on our website, we are conscious about the sequence and size of our photographs, and use audio, video, and interactive maps and graphics to help create immersive experiences on a small screen. It's all about thoughtful editing and good design, just on a smaller scale.
What are you most looking forward to this week?
Checking out Shirin Neshat’s photography and video exhibition at the Hirschhorn Museum.
What are you least looking forward to this week?
Meetings, meetings and more meetings.
What will you be doing after this chat?
Attending coverage plan meetings for two upcoming stories in National Geographic magazine, but these are the meetings I love.