A new iPad app called Das Referenz takes its inspiration from old encyclopaedias and typeface design for a beautiful Wikipedia browsing experience.
Wikipedia is functional, and in that sense, its design works, but it would be difficult to argue that it provides an aesthetically pleasant experience. Cue Das Referenz — a new free iPad app by user interface designer Raureif that seeks to wrap the website in a book-inspired design for an intuitive and beautiful experience.
"Encyclopedias have always showcased culture and style," the description reads. "Das Referenz strives to build on this heritage. With an eye for detail, Das Referenz puts Wikipedia's vast amount of knowledge into a sleek package of clear layouts, world-class typography, and playful interactions."
The app is, indeed, sleek. Searching for a topic brings up a list, most relevant first, with titles in a clear yellow font accompanied by short summaries — something Wikipedia doesn't offer — on a dark grey background. You can skim the list quickly to find the article you want with a minimum of messing about.
Tapping a link brings up the article in a pop-up, with 12 fonts, including ligatures and hyphenation, to break up what Raureif refers to as the "Arial wasteland", on a parchment-coloured background, recalling the hue of old pages. Links are marked with a subtle highlight, and the page layout keeps everything easy to read: text on the right, images on the left.
All images appear on the page in black and white; tapping on one pulls it up in full-colour full resolution, but otherwise the layout is clean and open, with minimal visual clutter.
The navigation is particularly great: swiping to the left navigates you through your searched articles, which means it's easy to find what you had been looking at previously. It also pulls information on Wikidata, embedding information such as timelines and graphs into the articles — something else that hasn't yet been implemented on Wikipedia itself.
Das Referenz is available for free for iPad, with a one-off payment of AU$3.79 or AU$6.49 (including a tip) to remove ads. An iPhone version may come sometime in the future; however, the company has no plans at this point for an Android version.