App Designer And Developer Joe Zeff

- - Design

This is the first post from Heidi Volpe who is joining APE as a regular contributor to provide news and interviews from the perspective of and of interest to Creative Directors and Art Directors. If you have news that she might be interested in email her at Her first interview is with designer and developer Joe Zeff:

I have known Joe Zeff for for a few years now and it has been interesting to see him develop in tandem with the publishing industry and by all accounts contribute to it’s evolution forward. Joe is a designer and developer of noteworthy apps such as The Final Hours of Portal 2 and Solar System for ipad and the Splashlight Studio Tour. You can see more of his work here and check out his blog here.

I wanted to catch up with him about his collaboration with George Steinmetz who best know for his stunning aerial photography and the unique way he captures his images: he flies a motorized paraglider. Here is what Joe had to say about his most recent release Above and Beyond: George Steinmetz.

How do you see this app changing the way George’s images are consumed and enjoyed?

I spent five months looking at George’s amazing photographs, but it wasn’t until the final weeks of production that I truly saw what was there. Hearing George describe the challenges he faced when capturing each image, from weather conditions to equipment malfunctions to police chases. Seeing George run as fast as he can with a flying machine strapped to his back, and marveling at the unbelievable view from a video camera attached to his helmet. Learning that George applies a scientific method to his craft in order to position himself at a precise altitude at a precise time at a precise location. Now I see these images much differently, with a better understanding of what each picture required and a heightened appreciation for what George has achieved through his photography.


With this style of app, photographers are able to develop a multi-narrative arc to the images, the making of, the locations and the actual image, is that your hope? Additional story telling?

I hope that the iPad emerges as a platform for photojournalists who can no longer count on newspapers and magazines to subsidize their work. There has never been a better storytelling device, and by integrating other types of multimedia content the stories resonate even more.

How will these sort of apps complement photographers site/portfolios?

I think that’s up to the photographic community. The depth and quality of the content is much more important than the format. Ideally the format becomes transparent, and is created specifically to support the type of content being presented. Steven Meisel’s work would take shape in a much different way than Walter Iooss’ work or James Nachtwey’s work or Platon’s work. I would hate to see a slew of cookie-cutter portfolio apps result from “Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz.” That was not the intent.

Are these images encrypted with any sort of digital tag?

The images we send through the e-mail sharing forms are watermarked, but the images inside the app are not. The iPad is still new, and effective digital rights management remains to be addressed. The ability to capture any screen image at 1024 x 768, and eventually higher when future devices with higher screen resolution appear, will likely concern photographers, and rightly so.

Is this type of development affordable for photographers? How long did this take to develop?

We had a six-month development cycle, and much of that related to the newness of the idea, George’s travel schedule, and our determination to make it as good as it could be. The next app will likely take less time, as we’ve developed efficiencies along the way.

Apps like this will replace coffee table books before they replace portfolios. There are lower distribution costs, larger potential audiences, higher margins, micropayment processing, and the potential for advertising sponsorships.

If I were to break down your career in segments what would it look like?

I’ve always been a storyteller, whether it was as a sportswriter at The Pittsburgh Press, a designer at the Detroit Free Press, a presentation editor at The New York Times, the Graphics Director of Time magazine, or a 3D illustrator at Joe Zeff Design. Today we can tell stories on the iPad that draw on every one of those experiences, and tell amazing stories like that of George Steinmetz more compellingly than ever.

Another photo App worth mentioning that has been out for two months is 50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic. That said, this new App Above and Beyond offers more user features and better story telling. In fact, Above & Beyond passed the National Geographic App on the iTunes charts for Top Paid Photography Apps and Top Grossing Photography Apps after only three days. Very impressive, thanks Joe.

There Are 7 Comments On This Article.

  1. As someone who was just combing the iTunes store for an app that allows photographers to showcase their own work without looking like everyone else’s iPad portfolio, this really hit the nail on the head of what I was looking for.

    Next step: create an app where photographers can easily customize their own portfolio with this level of interaction, story arc and composition – for either the longevity of a digital coffee table book or the swiftness of a portfolio presentation.

    My only comment regarding the app itself (and this could be that I just haven’t found where to do so yet) is that when swiping across to each image I have to “rehide” the buttons every time. Kind of annoying. But regardless, awesome app and awesome post. Looking forward to more content from Heidi!

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed the app, and apologies for the peek-a-boo buttons! Allow me to explain: We developed the app using WoodWing’s Digital Magazine Tools, and used their hotspot feature to hide the interface. It’s not really intended for that purpose, which is why the buttons return on the next page. We hadn’t anticipated that would be an issue, but now we know for the next revision. Thanks for your feedback!

    The benefit of a platform solution like WoodWing or Adobe is that the programming is simplified — there are set features that are accessed through menus, which lets you stay focused on content. The tradeoff is that you can’t always achieve the same results as you might with a custom-programmed solution. That said, the custom programming would cost significantly more money and take more time, resulting in higher prices in the App Store.

    Not making excuses, just trying to shed light on the types of decisions photographers and others will have to confront as they venture into this new medium. Thanks again for buying the app and providing great feedback!

  3. Joe – thanks for the response. Just checked out WoodWing – really awesome stuff. Going to dig around a bit more, but at first glace it seems a bit intimidating for perhaps the average “designer.” Even though I would consider a lot of APE readers to be above that level, I’m not sure how many people could take a swing at this and come up with something as grand. Hoping to be proven wrong!

  4. @Gary, when I first saw the image I thought it was Antarctica and that the daggers were ice. It wasn’t until George’s audio session that I realized it was the Dead Sea and that the daggers were salt! @Alexandra, good luck! It remains technically and financially challenging for individuals to build apps today. Hoping that will change over the next year. It has to, frankly. There’s an unmet need for an iWeb-easy app development platform that somebody will undoubtedly address.