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Beautiful E-Mags Miss the Point


Everyone who can afford to, and who goes a little weak kneed for thoughtful design has released an e-mag concept. Time, Conde Nast, and this especially snazzy one from Bonnier are among the highlights.

E-Mag designers are paid by magazine companies, not readers.

It shows.

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

Remember What it Means to be Human

I love these, and I give Bonnier mad props for hitting the video production mark here. It looks like it was shot on a 5D Mk2, but super clean animations were added. It’s the media design geek equivalent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  It has the hi-fi-lo-fi aesthetic that I believe will characterize the coming age of media consumption. So why does it fail?

My beef isn’t with all the great work going on. It’s that the designers by en large miss THE significant point. Magazines, newspapers, TV shows, video games—all of them, are not terribly important to us in a vacuum.

Bonnier boy in the video touches on it when he says that covers are “a badge”, and that they can become iconic. What he should be saying is that the content producers who can be successful, and make use of all these brilliant and horrendously expensive designs will be the ones who embrace social interactions as a means of distribution as well as connection.

What matters as much, IF NOT MORE than what the mag looks like on a touch screen, is how it looks when shared. Does the link that is created on Facebook reflect the brand, UI, lifestyle and ethic of the magazine? Do the Ads people see in their social spaces reflect the same things? Can the user seamlessly deepen their interest, identification and involvement in a magazine while simultaneously showcasing those changes and accompanying social cues to the people who matter to them?

The next wave of profitable magazines need to have social features placed front and center in their UIs, and allow people to talk about, identify with, argue over, share, trade and, yes, wear as a badge the content within.

Yes, rubbing content to “make it hot” and activate meta actions is great. Lets get the UI right, by all means. But aside from a pretty petal shaped menu with a twitter option, how are these design thinkers building function into their form.

Maybe my Stanford stripes are showing here, but it seems to me that there is a disconnect for e-mag developers.

Designers can fall into the trap of thinking their client is the business that hired them, or worse, start the masturbatory cycle of designing for each others’ affections. It can happen in every business, and lets be honest we’ve all seen deigns that came from these circle jerks.

What will fix it?

Rethink what it means today to be a magazine reader, or more accurately, remember what it really meant to be a magazine reader all along. It’s all about ME.

It starts with the social cues—that Economist sticking out of your seatback pocket on the flight. He’s the guy who does what I’ll call “Mast head dropping.” You know what I mean— the guy at the party who says something like, “Yeah, there was this great article, I can’t remember where, maybe The Economist.” He is broadcasting to potential mates and challengers that he reads so much he can’t remember if this particular factoid came from The Economist or one of the many other high caliber publications he reads. He is affluent, dominant and virile.

Then comes the real trading and interaction. You clip stories, loan friends your copy when you’ve finished with it, ask them what they thought, and have the shared experience of discussion on your next car ride together. This is an act of strengthening community through shared resources, shared ideas and identifying others as more like ones self through consensus reached.

Humans NEED to feel safe and secure with their friends; it’s why we have the word “friends” to distinguish them from everyone else. Magazines (or newspapers, TV, record companies etc.) probably know on some level that these things are true, but have yet to take into account how close to the content these subtle interactions take place today.

How do designers locate these truths? By going out and asking. Do the work of developing empathy for your users, and remember that your users aren’t who hired you. They are who will use your product.

How it Will be

Yesterday the media=related reader interactions took place over an aging piece of paper that was a little more wrinkled with each person it was passed too. The content was beautiful, but dead; like cut flowers. Today we can send living content back and forth across social network’s whose primitive architectures approximate the sorts of interactions I talked about above.

Tomorrow, the users will be molding their own experience like never before, and it will be good for everyone.

So I’m throwing the gauntlet down. Show me a content presentation model that speaks to the human truths that have been ingrained into the human-media-human experience. You don’t need to be true to the clipping  or link metaphor. Those are scaffolding like paper and ink. Design for the human experience underneath and provide added value for the reader in doing so. I’d pay for that. And yeah, it can have really cool multi-touch gestures.

2 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Simply beautiful: the analysis is spot-on; beautifully written. And these words are an incredibly important if (to some) self-evident insight: “how it looks when shared…”

    Looking at it from the other side — the UI for sharing — I use Diigo to share articles and highlighted passages via email. It takes a few steps. I'd like to enable a feature that enables me to highlight a passage in any publication and have a pull-down list of the people I usually send clips to appear automagically in the margin. But that's from the how to share side. The important question you raise is yet to be answered. Maybe you'll come up with some answers?

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