Profile: The Noble Union

Though it was set up by brothers Ryan and Adam Shelton, there’s no time for petulant fraternal arguing at this studio. Their mission to design great-looking iPhone and iPad apps keeps them very busy, as Garrick Webster discovers

’I would say I’m a bit more bossy,’ says Ryan Shelton, smiling. For the past 18 months he’s partnered his brother Adam, forming The Noble Union. ’He does have more experience so it sits well with me, anyway,’ laughs Adam.

Their little studio above Megan’s Deli on London’s King’s Road specialises in apps for the iPhone and iPad. To them, the name The Noble Union refers not only to the fact that they’re brothers, but what they want their business to stand for. ’We wanted to form a company that would be based on honesty, integrity and all those good things that you’d hope a company is going to be based on,’ explains Ryan. ’Maybe it sounds a little grander than just “two brothers working together”.’

One of their most important projects has been the BBC News app, in both iPhone and iPad formats. The iPad version was released overseas in April alongside the iPad’s launch, but only came out in the UK last month. The BBC was hesitant about the domestic release because of the corporation’s charter. Would it be competing with privately made apps while the BBC benefits from public funding via the license fee? Despite the controversy, its eventual release brought TNU great acclaim.

’You can scan through a lot more stories on the iPad than on the website. When we designed the app, the whole thing was about skimming and dipping. It’s got video in there, so it’s not your average newspaper where you’ve got just text. There’s a live news feed that gives you news headlines. The BBC’s statistics say that the same user reads more stories on the iPad than on the website,’ says Ryan.

To follow that up, The Noble Union is now bringing four magazines by one of the UK’s biggest media companies to the iPad. The project is under wraps, but TNU already has a track record with publishing brands. Its iPhone app for Empire includes a database of all the magazine’s film reviews, while the Parker’s app puts second-hand car prices in your pocket. Meanwhile, MCN Ride Logger steers away from content and capitalises on the iPhone’s technology. GPS tracks a motorcyclist’s route, logging top speed, average speed and even the G-force experienced by the rider when accelerating and braking.

When it comes to magazines migrating from paper to iPad, all the honesty at the core of TNU comes to the fore. The Sheltons admit it won’t be easy. ’At the moment I’d still rather pick up a magazine than an iPad,’ says Ryan. ’It’s really nice to flick through with your fingers and see a rough overview of the magazine pages without going into something. I don’t think anyone’s really cracked being able to do that on the iPad, and that’s something that we’re trying to do.’

Although the brothers came to app design from the online world, the solution for them isn’t based on Web metaphors. Instead, they’re looking at how magazines are made, concentrating on text and image and In Design layouts rather than copying words into a Web CMS. But they are also seeking to augment the experience with the iPad. This could be via background music, video snips or 360-degree panoramas. They’re developing the latter for a travel app for Samsung’s upcoming tablet, which will run on the Android platform.

This is beginning to sound technical, but TNU stays focused purely on design, striving to ensure the user experience is as close to perfect as possible. It counts on developers like Future Workshops and Mobile IQ for the back end. When it’s time to plan an app, from the look and feel to functionality, they head downstairs to Megan’s Deli, which the Sheltons call their ’cafe boardroom’. ’They do very good coffee and amazing lunches,’ says Adam. ’It’s a nice atmosphere, simple decor but comfortable, and they’ve got a nice eight-seater table that’s quite useful for meetings.’

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