Monday, January 25, 2010

Design must make a resurgence as print publishers move to mobile media production

Art directors: under appreciated, under paid, and probably under trained will be one of the keys to leading your publications in the soon to emerge mobile and tablet publications industry.  This post talks about multimedia, tablet/reader products, collaborative publishing and Flyp.

I have only one thing to say about the web design produced by print publishers: yuck.

OK, I'm exaggerating. Maybe.

The work I like best right now is not even being seen by the public -- it can be seen, however, in the video publishers and creative labs have been producing to demonstrate that they are ready for tablets and e-readers (and can be seen here under "favorites").  Another example is the work being done at Flyp Media.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
An article written by Karthika Muthukumaraswamy on the Online Journalism Blog is surprisingly positive about Flyp's approach, despite a headline that proclaims "Flyp Media: where the medium is the message".  Flyp's design, while unfortunately incorporating the cliched page turning swishing sound that really needs to go away, is a tour de force of multimedia publishing.

At first, after viewing a story I wanted to be negative -- this is just a flip book, right?

No. Look a little deeper and you will see that this is an online native publication -- not the first, but certainly one of the few that takes into account the fact that the online reading experience is vastly different than the print environment.

In an interview for Media Shift, Jim Gaines, editor in chief, is confident that people will pay for the new multimedia magazines. "People will pay for this. If you had told me as a kid that people would pay for water, I would have told you that you were nuts. The same with coffee. Clearly there was a need I did not perceive in Starbucks. People will pay for what they want. "

I have my doubts, however, as this is really just another argument about paid content versus free Internet content. But Gaines' views about the need for a multimedia approach is definitely spot on.

When asked if multimedia reading comes naturally to print readers, Gaines replies "Our experience with focus groups and our own readers suggests it comes naturally. And they are amazed there isn't more of it available."

What Flyp does to create their stories online has more to tell us than their actual online magazine -- which, I believe, will be perfect for tablet reading.  I believe that tablet reading will be different than online reading, as online reading is different that print. Online, reading on a desktop or laptop, a reader skims headlines, jumps from story to story. A tablet, though, will be an entertainment device -- allowing users to view videos, play games, consume media, as well as more mundane tasks such as e-mail and instant messaging. Tablet readers will use their devices in the same environments they now enjoy print: relaxing at home, on the train, in a plane -- with time to explore the multimedia aspects of a tablet publication.

Flyp, though, can teach us a lot about the way forward.  "It's a lot more collaborative, it's a lot less hierarchical, it's flat. It's everyone sitting around a table -- the director of videography, the art director, the reporter, the writer, the researcher, the designer, the animator -- all thinking through what is the kernel of this idea. So you do this meeting before you've even started the story and then after all the media is back," said Gaines.

Fashion magazines, like Vogue and others, are used to the writer-art director-editor-publisher collaboration necessary to create a graphic intensive fashion feature, for instance. But this model, where the art director is directly involved with decisions concerning how stories are told up front (rather than simply receiving finished copy with a few art elements), is absolutely necessary if stories are to include video, Flash elements, and other uses of online multimedia.

Today, with the exception of Flyp and a few other publishers, most of the work being done that can translate to tablets and multimedia capable e-readers is being done by media labs. Bonnier deserves credit for creating and publicly distributing this video below. Their introduction states that "The purpose of publishing this concept video is first and foremost to spark a discussion around the digital reading experience in general, and digital reading platforms in particular."

Bonnier's design partners, BERG, are the creative force behind the video. And your design partners are?

If you are a small newspaper or magazine the answer, of course, is your art directors. A little over 20 years ago, the pressing issue for publishers involving art direction was "how are we going to get our production people properly trained in Photoshop and Quark?" Many seamlessly made the transition; in some cases, new people had to be brought in.

Now we are facing a similar transitional period. Not all print publications will need to, or want to, create tablet or smart phone versions of their publications. But if a publication wants to move in this direction, there will be two obvious ways publishers can do it: outsource to vendors (possibly their existing flip book vendors) or have their art directors take on the assignment. That means either training or adding to staff.

Publishers have a window of time between the introduction of new mobile products, such as Wednesday's Apple production introduction, and the time when tablets and e-readers will be the norm. As a publishing executive, there is a limited time to make the next big decision: are we going further into electronic publishing, or will we limit our efforts to print and web?

I would argue that enhancing the talents and responsibilities of your art directors is a wise investment. First, by creating a more collaborative publishing regime you will be helping your magazines and especially your web site publishing efforts.  Second, it will provide you internal options should you decide that you should launch new electronic products.

Publishing is about to experience yet another technological shift as radical as desktop publishing or the web. The time is now for publishers to prepare and act.