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  • Writer's pictureM. Huijgen


Updated: Oct 7, 2019

TXT Maytal Huijgen | IMGS Maytal Huijgen

[maybe the most obvious one, but still]

In this image - my cookbooks pile. Some of them are travelling with me since my first apartment in the big city (1998, I daresay), one borrowed for good from my late grandma, one I just bought 3 days ago (@nogeenvouwdiger2, @pascalenaessens)

Why cookbooks should be digital is easy to say: digital formats gives them great added values. You can have video tutorials or image galleries with handy "how to's", you can have an interactive grocery checklist, you can set a timer to your oven time and so on and so forth. And indeed, cookbooks have the widest digital presence: Cooking blogs, recipes facebook pages, baking Instagrams and chefs' apps.

But cookbooks are also still very strong in print. A recent NBC article reveals a 21% rise in cookbooks sales in the USA in 2018. The article states several advantages of the printed books, such as being gathered around one theme, the healthy home-cooking trend and the sense of inspiration print supplies, as opposed to information search on websites. They also mention two technical disadvantage to the use of screen vs paper - the screen's light-dimness and dirty-hands touch issues. I would add print being such a great gift.

I admit that personally, as a massive recipes consumer, my pragmatic approach will seek an article-based collecting method for cooking-content: pick up articles from all different sources and gather them in my own container or library. (There are, btw, few apps offering this option, but that's for a different discussion). But on the other hand, a well-designed recipes-container, gathered around a solid theme, enriched with smart interactive features will also get my cents. Baking-content even better! And, it would also be a great digital gift to give to many of my friends.

Digital Cooking-Content Experiences

As mentioned above, recipes - greatly combined with lifestyle content - have an extensive digital presence. Endless amount of websites, blogs and social media pages are producing non-stop cooking-content. Accordingly, the cooking-content is already being produced with enriched features, suitable for digital consumption. On that aspect, cooking-content is ready for the New Digital Reading Experience. The main change will be a different sense of experience, reaching more to the one gained by the printed content than the practical web experience. And that experience relays mainly on a distinctively different design.

left: an issue cover | right: a lifestyle article
screenshots from Donna Hay's app magazine / left: an issue cover / right: a lifestyle article

A great example of differently designed digital cooking-content was created by the Australian cooking empire, Donna Hay. The Donna Hay brand includes cooking books, magazines, styled kitchenware, labelled cooking ingredients and even a food and lifestyle festival. 

Donna Hay has created an Adobe DPS-based magazine app, designed for tablets and smartphones. The app was a library for Donna Hay's monthly magazine. It remained loyal to the printed version by part of the content and the visual style of the Donna Hay brand but made smart use of the digital possibilities. They added to the content short, whimsey animations for recipes' covers; there were clickable links for purchasing their products; there were inspirational image galleries of themed dinner parties. From the issue's cover to the index page, through lifestyle articles and naturally, the recipes themselves, the app's content was edited with a digital outcome at mind. 

Next to the digitally-thought content, the app had two digitally-constructed layouts - one for tablets and the other for smartphones. There were a few design elements that completely separated the magazine experience from culinary websites. In this article, I would like to refer to the smart use of layers.

layers of information

The design of this app abandoned the conventional list form that is normally used for digital recipes display. Instead, the design presented the content using layers. In this way, scrolling is minimised or constrained to a scrolling box and the reader's focus remains on the content's mainframe.

While each article or recipe opened with full-screen powerful imagery or a short animation, additional content was 'hidden' in invisible layers: the ingredients list, the cooking steps and extra tips. Revealing the information had to be done actively, by pressing the desired information's button.

The layering method allows a different reading experience. It takes 'print' elements such as full-page top-styled image and elegant typography and combines it with a simple interactive action. The design of the layers considers content - what will the layer include? design - typography, colours, composition etc. and positioning - where will it open in the format? (and how will it close?). Layers can include from the most minimalistic content to the most complex one.

The excitement of revealing a layer can resemble the excitement of flipping a new page. The more innovative the layers are, the greater the experience would be.

The Donna Hay magazine app remained active for 10 years and went off the app-stores a year ago, due to changes in partnership at the company. Fortunately, I bought a few issues and they live happily on my iPad. I go back to them time after time.

@donnahay, will you renew your magazine app?


Short comments on other digital cooking-content experiences

* After many years of cheating the digital readers with PDFs, Jamie Oliver issued a mobile app called 'Jamie's Recipes'. The freemium-model app uses many interactive features such as step-by-step image gallery, an interactive ingredients list, favourite recipes and more.

* Tasty's app has a basic web-app design. The nice thing about Tasty is the photographic language they created to illustrate recipes by filming all the cooking steps from above and presenting it in fast-forward. This form of photography has become their signature visual and a role model to many other cooking-content producers.

* Martha Stewart's 'Living' app is based on her magazine with the same title. The magazine is basically but clearly translated to mobile layout on smartphones, though with hardly any additional interactive functions. The tablet, on the other hand, is a great disappointment: it's the print's PDF.

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