When inspiration strikes, out of the blue, as you’re making coffee or walking the dog, the feeling of uplift and excitement is hard to match. For most of us, these are purely chance moments, when events and surroundings combine to create a spark. But for those in the creative professions, it can’t be like that. There simply isn’t time to wait around for the mental light bulb to flicker into life. For creatives, inspiration needs to be engineered, manufactured even, and most achieve this by collecting inspiring stuff and keeping it nearby.
The scrapbooks and swatches once used for this purpose have now been replaced by digital formats. Some folks go for social (Pinterest), some for private (Icebergs & Ember), but the recurring theme is the clipping of digital files into virtual pinboards of creative ideas.
Strangely, the iPad, a device that seems so suited to visuals and is intuitive in its operation, has yet to see much love in the scrapbooking genre — a fact which an aptly named new app, Curator, wants to change. With a sleek, minimalist interface and simple controls, Curator will certainly appeal to creative folk on an aesthetic level; but what about on a practical one?
When I say Curator takes a minimalist approach to design, I should really qualify that; this might be the most minimal app I’ve ever seen. The vast majority of what you see is white or grey, and there’s certainly nothing of any vibrance. Distraction from your clippings seems highly unlikely to occur.
The other striking feature of Curator’s design is its similarity to Paper — well, it’s striking if you’ve ever downloaded FiftyThree‘s most high-profile product, anyway. The Boards, filled with clippings, are held in that familiar kind of side-swiping carousel. However, I actually prefer Curator’s version, mostly because it reacts to your gestures with smooth momentum. It’s just like scrolling down a web page with a Magic Mouse or Pad, in that regard.
If Pinterest is the most restrictive of clipping solutions, and Icebergs the most uninhibited, I would say that Curator lies somewhere in the middle.
The Boards of content in Curator are not the masonry grids that are usually employed by apps in this genre. Rather, they are made up of 25 portrait-format Cells, each holding a clipping. And that’s 25, exactly, by the way. It seems bizarre to restrict Boards to an arbitrary number of Cells, but this may have something to do with the restrictions applied to the free version of Curator — if you want more than five Boards, you’ll need a $4.99 upgrade.
In terms of content, though, Curator is more flexible. Tapping a vacant Cell unveils the three types of content that are supported.
Images can be included from your iPad’s Photostream, or from your Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, Dropbox and Google Drive accounts via Filepicker, and you can even image search the web from within the app.
Whole web pages can be clipped, too, which allows for the inclusion of media types other than those natively recognized by Curator. However, this isn’t the bookmarklet-based process you might expect, with Curator again opting for the in-app search approach. Unfortunately, this means that the clipping of anything you happen to stumble upon requires a convoluted detour. Once the sought-after page has been found, at least Curator doesn’t require any further action, since it makes a note of the current page, and allows you simply to exit the Cell to save.
The final Cell-filling option is text. There’s no formatting available, which isn’t all that surprising (although from my perspective, Markdown support would have been appreciated), but at least the by-product of this is simplicity. These Cells look good, too, thanks to the stylish modernist font in which they are displayed.
Alternatively, text can be attached to Boards and Cells as an accompanying note, this being achieved by tapping the icon in the bottom right. If only formatting — especially links — had been included, these captions would have been very useful for recording the provenance of the clipped content. But it wasn’t. At least you can include some info, I suppose.
Browsing and Organizing
Due to Curator’s fixed-size Boards and the resulting lack of scrolling, browsing the clipped content is a relatively static affair. Once you’ve selected a Board from your collection, you just tap content to open it up to its full size. All three forms of content fill the width of the screen (bearing in mind that Curator is locked in portrait mode), and your caption can be accessed, once again, via that icon in the bottom right. The caption pop-up also includes a couple of basic sharing controls.
Perhaps Curator’s most useful feature is its drag-and-drop organization. It’s easy to see how the reordering of Cells in this manner would be useful for creating mood boards on the fly, or for sorting ideas into those that are preferred or disliked.
Equally, getting rid of Cell content merely requires a long tap, followed by a tap of the X.
Simplicity, when matched with excellent design and function, is the key to a great product. In Curator, we have an app which provides absolute simplicity in terms of its design, but which is somewhat lacking in the function department.
I wouldn’t say that it is a poorly made app, though — not by any stretch of the imagination. It is fast, unbuggy, deader-than-dead simple to operate, and anyone would be perfectly happy to use it with a client. It has that upmarket, Tate gallery kind of feel to it.
It does, however, need some revisions to make it to the next level. It needs text formatting, it needs more Cells per Board, and it needs more types of media. Oh, and a few display options would be nice.
Overall, then, Curator is a respectable clipping app, with a sleek design, which will leave you wishing it had just a little bit more to give.