Digital Directions: Does Design Matter in Digital Distribution?
An important characteristic of digital content is its ability to deliver to multiple platforms simultaneously—to print, Web and mobile channels. Invariably, the same content will look different when viewed on various output devices, and it should. Each device has its own display characteristics, and the design of the presentation should be optimized for that device. I can hear the groans from publishers already.
Reach for the ibuprofen now, because it gets worse: Content also varies within the same delivery medium. For example, content may be syndicated on the Web to multiple delivery partners, whose respective delivery models require alterations to the design. Even large-print paper editions require repagination and other adjustments.
This raises fundamental questions about the role of design in digital publishing:
• Do our production and design departments need to grapple with all these new modes of delivery?
• Should design of electronic content be the responsibility of the distribution partner or other external service provider rather than the publisher?
• For that matter, is design strategic at all? Is design an important competency for publishers to have internally?
These are tough questions. The answers are not obvious and will vary from organization to organization.
We were able to dodge this bullet somewhat when digital distribution and marketing programs initially asked for only Web-ready PDFs, digital facsimiles of what was printed on paper. “How nice,” many thought. “We can use the same design as the book. This won’t be so hard.”
However, it soon became evident that an image of the paper-page was by no means an optimal experience for Web delivery. For starters, the aspect ratio doesn’t match. And for mobile e-readers like Amazon’s Kindle, they don’t work at all.
Moving away from the use of Web-ready PDFs is a daunting prospect. It requires design departments to understand and deliver multiple designs for different modes of delivery. So daunting is this prospect that many digital-delivery initiatives assumed that this production and design challenge was too great for book publishers to undertake, and the task was off-loaded to the channel partner. Programs as diverse as those of Questia and Project Caravan assumed that the publisher would deliver original-application (manuscript or layout) files from which the channel partner would create the final design for delivery.