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Cross-device Portability Demands, Part II

Posted on Saturday, April 30, 2016 at 11:21 AM

Making content fit and serve reader needs no matter what device is used.

By William Dunkerley

Publishers are facing unique challenges in adapting to today's digital environment. In the February issue of STRAT I wrote:

"Take layout, for instance. Designs for print and old-style online formats were fixed by a publication designer. But that's a concept that is out the window when it comes to content that is dynamically adjusted for the reader's screen characteristics. Just think about the chore of having a design that one minute is being presented in a landscape format on a desktop and the next is being served to a smartphone using a portrait orientation. This means it's necessary for magazine designers to think up entirely new approaches to making words and visuals work together."

Google has spoken on this topic too:

"The use of mobile devices to surf the Web is growing at an astronomical pace, but unfortunately much of the Web isn't optimized for those mobile devices. Mobile devices are often constrained by display size and require a different approach to how content is laid out on screen.

"There is a multitude of different screen sizes across phones, 'phablets', tablets, desktops, game consoles, TVs, even wearables. Screen sizes will always be changing, so it's important that your site can adapt to any screen size, today or in the future."

What's the solution? According to Google it's "responsive Web design":

"The layout changes based on the size and capabilities of the device. For example, on a phone, users would see content shown in a single column view; a tablet might show the same content in two columns."

Obviously this design paradigm is very different from that of print magazines and Web publications that are patterned after print practices.

Print magazines have dimensional rigidity. If you design a page to print in the 8-3/16 x 10-7/8 format, that's exactly how it will appear when a reader opens the page. The design is fixed, period. What's more, a print magazine allows the designer to establish a page flow throughout the issue.

In today's Web-based environment those considerations are no longer practical or desirable. Instead of dimensional rigidity a publication must be dimensionally agile. That concept may be mind-blowing for some conventional magazine designers. But it is today's reality.

You can't be wed to a dimensionally fixed page design. You can't even storyboard an issue. Now the user is in control of many of the design parameters.

There is more than one approach to design responsivity. A basic form of implementation was dubbed "mostly fluid" by designer Luke Wroblewski. You can see an example here. Resize your browser window and then move the width back and forth. You'll see the various color blocks reconfigure themselves to a narrower or wider screen view.

That's a pretty basic responsive design. Most magazines will likely require greater sophistication. That's what Wroblewski calls "layout shifter" design.

Food Sense is an online informational resource that employs the layout shifter technique. You can see the site here. Again move the width of your browser back and forth and you'll see how it reformats various elements differently.

Transitioning to a responsive design will involve far more than simply implementing new site development software. Trying to cram a print design into a responsive layout will keep you from achieving the greatest level of readability.

The whole concept of how content is presented needs to be rethought. A linear article flow may not be optimal at all. A transition objective should be to figure out how your basic content can be best presented. You may be surprised by some of the conclusions you'll reach.

In a future issue we'll explore the task of producing content that's best suited for responsive design approaches. Stay tuned.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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