The Multi-screen Challenge for Digital publishers…

This is the full interview that I did for MediaBriefing.com this week…

The Multi-screen Challenge for Digital publishers…

What is the technical and design process for making apps and magazine content look beautiful on different tablet sizes?

For T3: iPad Edition, the team creates the one build to iPad dimensions, and distributes that to all iPad and large Android tablets. Its not an ideal scenario, but we are able to do it without much extra work for the team. The next challenge, is how we create layouts for smaller tablets, iPhone and smartphones, without adding huge costs. Additionally, a whole different set of assets may need to be commissioned – for example, video content, images, different format, spec, and so on. Some automation in the production process definitely helps, and also adjusting the existing workflow to accommodate these new editions. The same design rules apply – legibility, readability, easy and fast access to all content. Ensuring that the magazine’s design identity is consistent, and that the editorial content is identical across all editions is even more important and just as challenging.

Is the process significantly different than producing digital editions on a smartphone?

We’re learning that magazine layouts need to be quite regimented for phone screens. And just one or two font sizes/weights. Also, the level of interaction needs to be simpler. Faster to use, more accessible and quicker to digest. Phones are for ‘on the move’ consumption, so the content delivery and how it’s presented should reflect that. You also have to think about the download size of each edition. Typical iPad magazines come in at 300MB+. That’s not something that’ll work on phones. Even with a 4G connection! So there is a compromise involved. PDF output will help but only one or two digital publishing platforms use that format at the moment.

Are there any specific challenges/limitations designing for smaller tablets?

We’re aiming to be able to use the iPad layouts and adjust accordingly – with Adobe InDesign CS6 and ‘liquid layout’, each designer is able to create several different-sized layouts within the same InDesign document, and with the same assets. The resource challenge is sub-editing the content as its re-flowed into the smaller ‘pots’. Plus – the smaller the screen, the simpler the layout, is a general rule that could help anyone looking to create a smartphone or 7″ tablet edition.

How does a screen size affect the way people consumer a magazine app or page? Is bigger always better? What sort of content looks good on a smaller tablet?

Bigger is better, yes, but I’ve seen many magazine apps that get it wrong – for example: trying to squeeze in every element from the print edition page into the equivalent screen on the iPad using every interactive trick available – scrolling areas, scrolling type, hotspot layers. The important thing to focus on is readability – is it easy to read, accessible at a glance, and not frustrating to use? Magazine content should look great on all tablet sizes, if designed well, but then I’m biased! The PDF replica option is still a viable one, as users can tap and zoom in to read, and there’s little additional investment required for the publisher. As many magazine publishers are proving, PDF replica editions can perform well. But those magazine apps really don’t compare to the fully-interactive editions currently leading the way.

Do you use the same designers for different tablet versions, or separate teams?

Aside from any research and development work, we aim to use the same team. Although we could perhaps bring in freelance designers for the additional workload – though I would probably bankrupt the company if I insisted on additional full-time designers! Using the existing editorial team and adapting the production workflow is a much more integrated and progressive strategy instead of throwing huge amounts of resource and budget into designing for a platform that may or may not take off or even disappear (see HP’s Touchpad, and the Blackberry Playbook, for example).

Specifically on the iPhone 5, what do you think of the 16:9 aspect ratio?

It’s perfect for movie-watching on the go. Plus, there are more apps displayed on the home screen. I’m not sure about how good the wider (or taller) images from the iPhone 5 camera will come out, as I’m a bit of an old school SLR photographer!

Do you think designers will design apps and content for the iPhone 5 first, or stick to working for older models?

> Initially, designers will probably create one solution for both, early on. But at some point we’ll need to work out a solution for both iPhone screens, or the user may see black bars above and below the content on the ‘5’. It may simply be the case of tweaking each layout to fit each resolution and compromising a little on the design. It’s also a retina device, as per the iPhone 4 and iPad 3, so the content will be equally as pin-sharp.

Finally, do you think that magazine publishers should be creating digital editions across all platforms?

It’s still very early days, so things will definitely change as people’s reading habits on mobile devices and platforms become more defined.
With the current interactive design tools and the range of content management and distribution solutions at our disposal, and the rate of improvement and understanding in interactive magazine design, I would hope that the majority of editorial teams across magazine publishing will be able to adapt their workflows and create pixel-perfect magazine solutions for most devices within the next few years.
But it will take time to adjust. Publishing in general needs to be more adaptive and ready to commit when new platforms and devices come our way.

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About tabletdesigner

Mobile Product Consultant and Creative Director, consulting across design agencies, publishers and brands on digital publishing, apps, UX and interactive design. I also train designers how to use Adobe DPS, and inspire new ideas for getting content working on mobile devices...

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