09/12/2012 11:52 am ET Updated Nov 12, 2012

A Futureproof Media Idea? Behave Human.

I've downloaded my share of magazine subscriptions. After a short trial, I discontinued most of them. The experience was clunky, and didn't feel like a natural evolution of reading.

As someone passionate about building futureproof brands, this piqued my curiosity. What exactly was it that was so off-putting? Where had the technologists diverged from consumers?

An answer came to me in the form of Morgan Guenther at Next Issue Media.

Next Issue is an app that amalgamates content from a stack of popular magazines on your tablet. This in and of itself isn't new -- there are similar services I've tried and been disappointed with. Seems they always fell short when it came to magazine selection, download file format, or ease of use.

When I mentioned my cynicism to Guenther, he echoed my belief that the technology had missed the point.

"When we started Next Issue, we wanted to capture the magic of reading magazines. The feel of magazines, the way they were racked, the proliferation of titles all laid out in front of us. The opposite of 'download a pdf and start clicking' that people have been subjected to."

The Analog iPad

Guenther made an astute observation that the iPad has become an 'analog' digital tool. Despite its technical prowess, it feels like an old friend, something that comforts us without trying to impress.

His goal was to create a magazine experience that was similarly analog, right down to browsing titles on the newsstand.

"At the newsstand, people don't pick up a magazine and read it cover to cover. They look at a story, then flip through other titles that may be on the rack. "

Next Issue has replicated that experience. The technology is fluid and effortless, giving it the sort of intuitive analog feel you'd expect from an iPad. And yes, you can 'pick up' one magazine, snoop through it, put it back, and pick up another one -- without ever leaving the app. Easy.

This natural behavior is enabled in part by technology, and in part by Next Issue's business model. Instead of subscribing to one title, users subscribe to an entire newsstand of titles (70 leading magazines at last count). And once they've subscribed, they don't have to relearn navigational models with each magazine they pick up. It's as simple as, well, reading magazines.

Deep Insight, Intuitive Design

Possibly the most important part of a futureproof brand is insight into what consumers want today, and tomorrow. In the case of Next Issue, this is simple: people want to while away the hours with both new and favorite magazines, flipping through the entire jumble with a coffee. Regardless if they're reading paper or pixels, the experience is one they treasure.

A second pillar of a futureproof brand is intuitive design. As Guenther said, he didn't want to simply bring technology to the coffee table. He wanted to give his technology the feel of analog, to make it as simple as leafing through pages and flipping from title to title. No instruction manual required.

Lessons To Futureproofers

1. Start with insight -- Products don't drive people: experiences do. Understanding that, and understanding the experiences your consumers want to have, is the starting block for building a more resilient brand.
2. Make it intuitive -- We live in a time of technological chaos and information overload. I don't want to learn any more. Design my experience to be elegantly simple.
3. Step back and look at your business model -- Solar panels didn't work until we discovered they should be owned by utilities and simply placed on our roofs. NextIssue works because you don't buy magazines, you buy a newsrack. Is your product really your product, or should you be taking a step back and rethinking the business model?