What's next for digital publishing?

In contrast to the traditional magazine approach of regular issues, unique content and bespoke design is the content-serving approach. Take Flipboard, for example. It is still an app, but one that can be personalised with reader-selected content, and can be replicated in-browser. TweetMag is a similar concept, but this and Flipboard are, from a design point of view, more akin to web design where a one-off template is created and new content deployed into this skin.

These concepts do hint at the direction publications may move toward, though. Flipboard shows interesting potential for serving automatically designed content, because it's neither a magazine nor a website but a satisfying hybrid that shows a possible way forward. Still, in examples like these the designer's role is in creating a one-off template, reducing the creative potential of the app. Like front-end web design, Photoshop, Fireworks and Dreamweaver are the tools of choice, as well as an understanding of JavaScript, HTML5 and CSS.

The sensible money is on a union of the app-based model paired with the flexibility and openness of a content-server approach proving successful. If the publishers find a way to make the economics of this model work, it could be the next standard for designers to work in.

So what technical skills should designers covet in preparation for this new dawn of digital publishing? The answer, for now at least, is nothing radical. Digital magazines bear closer comparison to websites. User experience, navigation and a clear hierarchy of content are imperative to successful digital magazine design, as is an appreciation of the reader and the content they want to interact with.

"On the one hand, print design at its best is about understanding how a magazine or newspaper is produced and how readers read it," says John-Henry Barac of Barac Consulting, who created The Guardian's well-received iPhone app. "On the other, it's about who those readers are and what they like."

Barac believes the role of the traditional designer is not outmoded in digital publications, rather their core skills form a solid base. But that base needs to be augmented with an appreciation of the technical capabilities that apps offer.

"Designers bring a particular perspective, taste and hopefully courage to what they do," remarks Barac on their strengths. "These skills are not limited to one platform. However, designing for apps does require other skills: an understanding or readiness to learn about user interface, animation and structuring, so the content is easy to navigate. It's also important to talk to developers, and pick up enough about their skills to know what's possible."

This opinion is shared by Oliver Reichenstein. He believes that traditional print design skills, such as typography use, colour and image choice paired with a sensible grid structure, will still have their place. But designers need to recognise the technical differences in formats before they can reach creative potential.

"Even the typographic sensitivity for digital magazines is of a completely different nature," says Reichenstein. "Print magazines are made to flip. Digital magazines should be structured in a way that requires as few interactions as possible. Low input, high output is the magic formula of good interface design."

Reichenstein also points out that tablet-based publication design is hampered by the lack of bespoke design elements available. Standard web fonts are often too small, while print fonts are generally too large. Couple this with the huge differences in contrast and reading distance, and the gulf between print and tablet design becomes clear.

"These aren't rules, they are guidelines," adds Reichenstein. "Bigger leading is key, with a wider measure [to compensate for a] further reading distance. Plus designers need to modify the contrast of their work - type on paper compared to a backlit display of a tablet is completely different," he reasons.

Regardless of the model of the tablet, the style of the digital edition, the reader profile, or the technical trappings available to bring the content to life, Jeremy Leslie believes designers creating for digital magazines should remember the fundamentals of design above all else. "Print designers shouldn't enter the digital realm just because of a plug-in," Leslie explains, "but because they want to learn something completely new. One critical design skill that is common across print and iPad is that every part of the design has to be there for a reason."

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The Creative Bloq team is made up of a group of design fans, and has changed and evolved since Creative Bloq began back in 2012. The current website team consists of eight full-time members of staff: Editor Georgia Coggan, Deputy Editor Rosie Hilder, Deals Editor Beren Neale, Senior News Editor Daniel Piper, Digital Arts and Design Editor Ian Dean, Tech Reviews Editor Erlingur Einarsson and Ecommerce Writer Beth Nicholls and Staff Writer Natalie Fear, as well as a roster of freelancers from around the world. The 3D World and ImagineFX magazine teams also pitch in, ensuring that content from 3D World and ImagineFX is represented on Creative Bloq.