There's been a lot of stuff being posted about the future of magazines, newspapers, journalists, in fact anything to do with print. Karl Schneider, Editorial Director at RBI, had makes some good points on his blog about the future role of the production desk.
Part of my remit at Flight and ICIS is to ensure that our magazines are not just online text versions of the printed articles, but a different, richer, offering. This could include things such as the original recorded interview available as a podcast, truly interactive information graphics and video.
Now, to get to this stage means that the information gatherers (aka journalists) think about how they gather the information, what information they gather and how it will appear. In the past, the final offering was a double page spread with a picture of the bloke being interviewed, the location (maybe) and a couple of links at the end to relevant websites. Obviously (I say obviously, but you'd be surprised how many people don't or won't get it) it's time to think about all the stuff that can be offered, then pare it down for print.
This means, arguably, a different approach to laying out a feature if you have the rich version online. Do you have the full text article online or just in print? Do you have an extended (uncut?) version online or have a precis and refer to the print version?
My concern is that the design of both print and web complement each other. It reinforces the brand awareness. As Mark Porter, Creative Director at the Guardian, said at a symposium late last year, the online version doesn't need to look exactly like the print version. Elements can be used that are common to both. For example the colour palette or pullquote style, even some of the font usage. And refer to the print version as well.
Designers need to be able to lay out a web page as easily as they can a printed page. An online version of Quark or InDesign. Something that is as easy to use as these packages, with similar functionality such as style sheets, text control and colour palettes. There are few things more depressing than creating a visual of a web page then giving it to the developers to code and getting something that sort of looks like what you want, but Microsofted (Mac users, you know what I mean, the subtleness of a Mac is lost somehow missing on a PC). But it's not just the ability to use a software package. Print designers need to be retrained to appreciate how a web page works: type usage, where does the reader look first, image use, colour use. We designers are visually literate and know the mechanics of a printed page, it shouldn't take much to build on that. A lot of editorial designers I know were put off web design because of the perceived notion of all the coding that would need to be done. And why should we have somebody else lay out the feature on the web? After all, if you've gone to great lengths in commissioning a photograph or illustration, you would've thought about how it was going to work with the rest of the layout – the interaction with the headline or standfirst, for example. Obviously if you are commissioning this stuff (lucky you!) then you'll also be able to think about how it will be used on the web.
And as Karl said in his blog, new skills will also have to learnt: maybe a bit of Flash or some video editing, for example. This should be straightforward. A lot of designers already dabble with this sort of stuff, even if it's in their own time. We are already heading back to the time when designer meant just that, a DESIGNER who can (and want to) turn their hand to most design problems. Think of Eric Gill: type designer, architect, sculptor, engraver and artist; or Neville Brody, type designer, who went from record sleeve design, to art director of seminal publication the Face, to web design (the Guardian website, for one) and online communication. He redesigned the Times a couple of years ago.
At RBI we are moving our web platforms over to something called EpiServer. This, apparently, will offer us a lot of the functionality we (as magazine designers) would like. We are told it will be as easy to use as InDesign, It will offer a host of other things as well, such as the ability to move things around a screen a la Netvibes. It is also being touted that it so easy to use anybody can design a page and upload it.
This is where I start to have reservations. Not everyone has a designers' eye for detail or composition or colour awareness. And not to detract from the enthusiasm that these people have, there needs to be safeguards in place so that the professional image of the brand/publication are not damaged. Printed publications have a workflow in place to ensure the best possible product is delivered in the time available. It would be reasonable to assume that a design workflow suitable for web-first publishing is established to ensure that high standards are maintained. Designers need to be part of this discussion.
What do you think?