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Designing a Reader-Friendly Digital Edition



By Matt Kinsman
08/27/2009

Critics of digital magazines often cite “flat presentation” and small fonts as drawbacks of the medium. It’s also a problem when publishers force in too much rich media that actually detracts from, rather than enhances, the reader experience.

However, there are ways to make the product more engaging. Folio: spoke with several vendors about what tips they share with clients on how to make a reader-friendly digital edition.

1. Layout and Aspect: Landscape, not portrait. While mobile is increasingly becoming a priority, most digital magazines are still designed for computer screens, which typically means a landscape as opposed to portrait format.

"It is more about aspect ratio than raw size as we will scale based on width,” said Trish Connolly, CEO of Advanced. “The best ratio that fits most monitors is a 1:1.6 (h:w) ratio.  For example 8" high by 12.8" wide (or 8.5 x 14).”

Texterity advises 14” x 8.5” as it fits a standard computer screen and prints well on legal or letter-sized paper in landscape mode. “One way a digital edition differs from a Web site is that it feels paginated and laid out,” said senior vice president of marketing and business development Cimarron Buser.

Use bright colorful graphics and bullets. “In some ways, designing a digital edition is like designing a magazine cover,” said Buser. “You’re trying to create that same sense of excitement.”

Give the reader control where it makes sense. “Let the reader control the point size and anything else to make the experience enjoyable,” said Campion Primm, creative director with Zinio and VIVmag.

2.  Fonts: Think big. “The font needs to be larger than a print magazine so zooming isn’t necessary to read the book,” said Jeremy Smith, design manager for Nxtbook Media’s custom publishing group.

Use spacing to your advantage. “One that has good spacing between the letters helps with the resulting clarity,” said Connolly.

Take a cue from some print versions, such as Reader’s Digest. “The original Reader's Digest works perfectly,” said Buser. “There’s less density and more white space. Organic Style is an example of a magazine that has a large font size—things are spread out, but you know it’s a magazine.”

Specific font choices vary widely, but most digital magazine vendors say a Sans Serif font works. However, Smith recommends avoiding Serif fonts as they may fade out on some monitors.

Keep an eye out for future font developments. “David Berlow, Roger Black and The Font Bureau are developing better versions of fonts that render on every screen,” said Primm. “Font clarity is the most important aspect of any digital publication solution. The equivalent in paper would be show-through on your (paper) stock and screen resolution.”

3.    Leading: Think even bigger.  Leading should be four to five points more than font size, according to Smith. This gives more white space and allows the eye to flow through the text.

4.    Interactive: Make links visible. The use of hotlinks throughout the articles gets readers more involved by taking them to more in-depth articles or videos.

However, if you’re including URLs, make sure readers can see them. “Even for magazines that are using a traditional page layout, make sure the URL is above the fold and not buried at the bottom in tiny little font,” said Buser. “In some cases, advertisers may have multiple places to send people or a call to action such as ‘click here to go to our Web site.’ Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t do that. If you’re thinking about print ads, you're not thinking about accessing it from computer screen."

5. Rich Media: It helps, but don’t get too cute. Smith says publishers should consider some Flash within the cover, articles or ads. “Do things that you can’t do in print to make it more appealing,” he said.

However, don’t go overboard. “What’s the point of a magazine?” said Buser. “Reading. You want to complement that experience without taking it over and turning it into a giant Flash presentation. If every single page has a video that opens up, a lot of people don’t like that because they feel like they don’t have control over the experience, especially in a b-to-b environment, where people are reading at work.”

Readers who spend too much time downloading or waiting for content to load will go elsewhere. “Their time is important and digital publishers must be respectful of that,” said Primm.

Publishers may want to include a play-on-demand component instead.

6. Folio Size: Stay smaller than print. Digital magazines can offer a more interactive experience than print, but the trade off is the digital version should have fewer pages than print. Most people don’t want to read a hundred page magazine on-screen.

By Matt Kinsman
08/27/2009







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