There’s an understanding in the publishing world that digital readers are different than print readers, and they expect a different reading experience. By and large, this is true: digital readers want more from the experience than simply flipping the page and viewing the replicated pages of a print magazine. What is true of all readers, however, is the desire for slick design, clear legibility and navigation, and a consistent experience with a particular brand.
Recently, the Guardian tackled these issues in a two-fold approach to providing a congruent experience for readers across mobile, desktop and print reading. It started in the final week of May when the Guardian announced relaunching their app to use the same “design language” across all of its digital platforms. Design Week interviewed the Guardian creative director Alex Breuer on the reasons the publisher was taking on a large redesign project. Breuer expressed readers had completely different experiences with the core Guardian brand depending on the platform they used. He listed, “We have our Editions app, we had the old smartphone app, we had an Android app that was slightly different, we had desktop website and we had a mobile site worked on by a third party which also had a different design – all of which were vague interpretations of the original Berliner newspaper design.” (Read the full interview by Design Week here.)
The Guardian is not alone in its struggle to not only split from the legacy of print design, but also to provide a consistent experience when varied devices and platforms have different rules regarding design, real estate availability, and limitations. However, underlying all of the digital design was a responsive design-style grid system which can be used across multiple digital platforms. They started to use this grid system to provide more consistency from device to device.
The next step meant bringing the print edition in line with the digital look and feel. In a turnkey move, the Guardian shifts the focus from strictly digital, to embracing the print audience’s need to relate to the core brand as well. Breuer tells Design Week “We’ve been evolving a new design language and brand identity to reflect the fact that the Guardian is now a global entity. Up until now the focus has been on our digital platforms, but we’ve now adapted this to work cohesively with our distinct print design.” (Read the full Design Week article here.)
The consistency in design across print and digital means readers in both mediums are given the same experience with the brand, and are provided a seamless read if they switch between reading the print to taking it on the go with mobile. The new design has been launched.
Other steps the Guardian has taken to unifying the reading experience for multi-platform users is using a coherent color scheme to help readers to more easily navigate similar story types in the digital environment. Where print offers a linear reading experience, digital relies on readers to click on a headline or clip to jump to the full story. For readers who enjoy the feature articles, this could mean getting lost in a sidebar or blog piece, rather than the story they intended. Sports fans might end up on an opinion piece, rather than an article covering the stats of the last game. By using colors as an identifier of the type of story and topic, a reader can more quickly navigate between stories in their category of interest and choose the ones they want. This holds true across the mobile and desktop experience.
There are some experiences that will stay unique to the individual platform. For instance, the Breuer talked with DesignWeek about the app experience, describing it as, “a more tactile experience, so the interactions demand that animations and transitions feel more graceful and elegant than web technology currently allows you to do.” Mobile will also have slightly different navigation, and apps will have greater opportunities for personalization than even a cooked website.
A key ingredient to discovering the design and usability that works for the publishing team as well as the readers is the ability to try and test. “We have a great UX and testing lab here, led by Nick Haley,” Breuer told DesignWeek. They tested it from the social perspective, from an understanding of multiple news sources and takes, and from the belief that people come to the Guardian for their particular point of view. Then they designed rough prototypes, tested in Beta, and let their audience play with it.
September 24th, 2014 by Joy Beachy