Joe Zeff Design

A boutique agency that blends software with storytelling, helping the world's largest companies tell better stories.

Our story . . .

Reinvent Everything

At the WoodWing Xperience conference today in Amsterdam, Joe Zeff opened the Business track with a presentation entitled “Reinvent Everything — Your Content, Your Business Model, Your Future,” pulling back the curtain on some of the discordant thinking that is rapidly transforming the publishing industry and creating exciting new opportunities for those who dare to be different. The highlights: ***

"Reinvent Everything — Your Content, Your Business Model, Your Future"

Fourteen months after the launch of the iPad, mainstream publishers continue to focus on how to turn their past . . .

. . . into their future by moving their brands onto tablet devices such as the iPad.

They're not alone. Beyond the newsstand, other industries are undergoing similar transformation. Education, government, military, medicine, advertising, corporate, retail, and more. As well as the game industry.

Monopoly was created in 1935, not long after Time magazine was introduced. The game has tremendous brand awareness, as more than 1 billion people have played Monopoly over the past 76 years. And like magazine and newspaper publishers, Hasbro is now migrating Monopoly and other games to tablets and mobile devices.

Hasbro isn't playing games, and its Monopoly app is one of the top-ranking properties in the iTunes App Store. But it lags beyond newcomers like Angry Birds, a much newer property from a much newer company that uses new technology to build new relationships with new audiences. Its Finnish developers, Rovio, have only just begun. They quickly built a $70 million franchise that continues to expand through licensing, marketing, publishing and other media.

Back in the publishing world, Joe Zeff Design produced two apps last month that turned heads throughout the publishing industry. Whether either tracks the arc of Angry Birds remains to be seen, but they certainly demonstrated the potential for independent content creators to challenge mainstream publishers. The first was "The Final Hours of Portal 2," a 15,000-word manuscript by Geoff Keighley about Valve Software's blockbuster game that we brought to life through interactive features and multimedia content.

The app immediately flew to the top of the News apps category and showed that long-form journalism had a place on the iPad. Today it remains near the top of the charts and continues to receive plaudits from USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and Fast Company for its unique approach. It was Gizmodo's App of the Day, describing it as what "a good 'iPad magazine' would look like."

The other was "Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz," a brand we created to tell the stories of inspiring individuals like Steinmetz, an aerial photographer whose work appears in National Geographic and other magazines. We designed and developed an iPad app that marries his imagery with audio, video, satellite maps and interactive graphics to provide an experiential way to enjoy photography.

Both of our apps have enjoyed widespread attention from consumers. One has a five-star rating in the iTunes App Store and the other is close behind at four-and-a-half stars. Both have outshined more established brands in the iTunes App Store by turning the conventional publishing model upside down. Only three years ago, "The Final Hours" might have been a manuscript sold to a magazine. Today it is published as a standalone app by its author and outsells apps produced by some of those magazines.

"Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz" was singled out by Apple as a New and Noteworthy selection on its iTunes App Store home page and soared to No. 35 in the Top Paid iPad Apps rankings — not just in Photography but the entire iTunes Store. It won glowing reviews from Time magazine and the Society of Publication Designers, which said the app "not only reinvents what a publication can be on the iPad, but also the traditional editorial and publication model."

(Incidentally, we created one of the graphics in the App of the Week selection, "Gems and Jewels," too!)

What does all this mean? It means, to quote the philosopher Robert Allen Zimmerman, that the times they are a'changin'.

As times change, so must we. A year ago, Joe Zeff Design was best known for designing and illustrating magazine covers.

Today we are helping to reinvent publishing by creating groundbreaking apps, and hopefully setting an example that will inspire and inform others.

Independent publishers benefit from a fresh start. There is no yesterday to reinvent, only today and tomorrow. We are firmly rooted in the present — the audiences, the technologies, the buying habits, the synergies. There is an entrepreneurial spirit that drives our products; they succeed because they must. This is the playing field on which the larger publishers must compete, and by embracing a similar approach they can once again lead the way. Otherwise, we are poised for a monumental shift in who sets the pace for the publishing industry.

This is how we approach building apps at Joe Zeff Design, and how we are reinventing what we do. One thing that hasn't changed — a great product begins with a great idea.

There are a few simple rules:

That's one of the interesting byproducts of the tablet revolution, the opportunity to take the richness of digital publishing and extend it to other industries. We've been contacted by telecoms, corporations, broadcast networks, restaurateurs, medical companies — all looking for new ways to connect with audiences and deliver content more effectively. Their stories can be integrated with business processes, marketing opportunities or online storefronts to transform how corporations operate and generate new revenue. The future of publishing goes well beyond magazines and newspapers; it's everywhere.

There's no reason that the multiplatform approach has to be confined to tablets. Rather than go straight from the iPad to other tablet devices — hint, stay tuned — we helped Geoff port the app to a format that could be sold on Valve Software's game distribution platform, Steam, which immediately made the content available to 30 million gamers.

The lesson: take your content to where your audience lives. It makes sense for Fortune to be on a BlackBerry PlayBook. It doesn't necessarily make sense for a rich photography app like "Above & Beyond" to be on such a small screen.

Innovation requires everyone to be sitting around the same table. That doesn't mean that the programmers are on one side of the room and the designers on the other. It's not "us" vs. "them" anymore. It's "us" vs. everyone. And in order to win, the "us" needs to be as inclusive as possible, so that each can leverage the insights of others to identify bottlenecks before they happen and solve them collaboratively.

Partnerships are a very important part of that matrix, as they can not only accelerate revenue growth but business transformation. We value our relationships with Dr. Mario Garcia and his clients throughout the world; with WoodWing Software and its industry-changing software; and with TRVL Magazine and its experiences producing a successful iPad-only magazine that attracts 40,000 downloads every month.

We develop apps using WoodWing's Digital Magazine Tools, an infinitely flexible workflow solution used by more than 200 publishers worldwide, including Time Inc., Meredith and Project. The software provides point-and-click tools for deploying interactive features using Adobe InDesign, offering HTML5 compatibility for adding features beyond what's provided. We learned WoodWing in three days and published our first app a month later, far faster and less expensively than traditional programming would allow.

Congratulations! You're now one of more than 65,000 apps in the iTunes App Store. Now the real work begins:

App-specific webpages help to stimulate initial activity, as they can be easily linked from press releases. They live outside of the App Store and help lead prospective buyers to the cash register. At, we offer a promotional video about the app, a description of its content, screen captures, a Facebook like button and a link to the iTunes Store.

At, prospective buyers can find a detailed Q&A with the author, blog and samples, as well as that all-important link to the App Store.

Buzz — and sales — typically peak shortly after launch; the challenge is sustaining both.

Here are some of the second-wave elements we've built into our apps: an integrated feedback section that has resulted in more than 1,100 comments in "The Final Hours of Portal 2," providing key insights into what platforms and features to address in future revisions.

Sharing tools that turn consumers into marketers. The most effective promotion is one that comes from a colleague, friend or relative, and we've provided the tools for users to share their favorite content through e-mail.

Easy access to the iTunes review page. We're confident you'll like our app, and we have made it easy to let others know about that, particularly those who are about to make a buying decision. Further, we need that feedback in order to improve. We scrutinize every comment with the same level of attention that an editor would regard a sharply-worded memo from his or her publisher. If something isn't right, we immediately set out to fix what we can.

As soon as each app is released, all efforts go into extending the brand. We were interviewing candidates for Above & Beyond within a day of the release of Volume 1. Look for it in the iTunes App Store this summer.