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Mike Matas

How one software maverick is pioneering the future of digital publishing

by Meghan Killeen in Design on 16 June 2011

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Digital design prodigy Mike Matas combines the ease of navigating the physical world to create lifelike interfaces that feel so unobtrusive you hardly notice you're using complex technology. Motivated by the desire to do things on a computer more like in reality, Matas set out to create virtual interfaces driven by touch. "If you want to do something [on a computer] you should just be able to reach out your hand and do it, no buttons, and no user interface required," concludes Matas.

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Near the end of high school, Matas along with genius coder Wil Shipley founded the proprietary software company Delicious Monster, creators of Delicious Library, a media cataloging application for Mac OS X. The system enables users to visually categorize their multimedia library by placing photo-realistic icons of the products on a simulated bookshelf. Extending the library theme, Delicious Library also offers barcode scanning capabilities via the Mac webcam software, iSight, and allows interloan connections with friends.

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The ingenuity and authenticity of Delicious Library earned it the coveted Apple Design Awards "Best Mac OS X User Experience" (2005) and "Best OS X Leopard Application" (2007), catapulting Matas' design talents into the spotlight. He reflects, "It was a pretty radical departure from what most software looked like at that time and people reacted very positively to it."

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At the mere age of 19, Matas captured the attention of Apple and was invited to join the company's Human Interface team. Anticipating the design of Apple's desktop computer operating system, Matas quickly discovered that he would instead be working on an innovative, covert project—the iPhone. "Working on the original iPhone was a lot of fun because it was a completely new product where nothing was off limits," states Matas. Capitalizing on its multi-touch conventions, Matas went on to design interfaces for the iPhone's interactive maps and camera applications, including the iPhone's phosphorescent green battery screen.

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After just four years with Apple, Matas left in 2009 to partner with friend and fellow Apple alum, Kimon Tsinteris. They launched Push Pop Press, a publishing company offering dynamic digital solutions without the fuss of labor intensive and pricey programming. Approached by publishing firm Melcher Media, Matas began to develop the first full-length interactive book for iPad, "Our Choice," the sequel to Al Gore's cautionary environmental tale "An Inconvenient Truth."

Matas demoed the digitized book at the recent TED conference, highlighting its specialized pinch-and-place navigation, culminating in a mind-blowing demonstration of Matas powering an animated windmill on the screen with his breath. "You can navigate the entire book this way, without any extra computer interface to stumble over and distraction from the content. The technology disappears and you can get lost in the content," explains Matas.

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Push Pop's watershed title release is as revolutionary as it is rudimentary, bringing a human touch to touch-screen technology. Matas' eye for design and interaction is also revealed through his stunning photography. Armed with a backpack full of lenses, Matas captures lush images of nature and documents his globetrotting travels through beautifully rendered time-lapse videos. His photo talent also graces the food blog he runs with his girlfriend, called My Cooking Diary.

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Balancing functionality and emotion are key elements for pioneering the future of digital publishing, however, Matas also predicts its potential. "I think digital publishing is going to look less and less like a scanned printed book under glass and more like its own thing that was born to be digital."

The Audi Icons series, inspired by the all-new Audi A7, showcases 16 leading figures united by their dedication to innovation and design.

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