Digital Directions: Does Design Matter in Digital Distribution?
The ability or desire to invest and develop competency in digital-content design will vary from organization to organization. Indeed, it may vary across publishing programs within an organization. However, some common themes emerge:
• Strategy: Design is of strategic value. Design facilitates communication of content and is necessary to support the publishing organization’s brand to authors and the marketplace. Design is in the publisher’s vested interest.
• The hard truth: Each delivery device and platform will require differential design treatment to some degree.
• Technologies: “Web-ready” PDFs are not a long-term solution. PDFs allowed for some quick wins in digital delivery, helped everyone get their feet wet, and primed the digital ecosystem. But paper-page design will not provide optimal cross-platform presentation. Moving toward XML-based-production approaches will help support cross-device delivery, but the hard work of designing for different delivery modes remains. XML is a component to success, but not a panacea.
• Resources: Internal design staff needs to understand the design implications of the various digital channels and devices, whether they are directly involved in designing for these platforms or not. Digital design skills are key for all publishers.
Not all works can support high levels of direct staff design involvement—decide which titles and programs warrant it. If design is to be handled by distribution partners, your distribution agreements should include sign-off by staff designers before going live. If application files are submitted to distribution partners, ensure that licensing for fonts, illustrations and other embedded design components are consistent with such a hand-off.
I’ll be the first to admit it: This is a big deal for publishers, an area of long-term, fundamental change. It is also a key factor for successfully making the leap into digital content.
Andrew Brenneman is managing director of Finitiv, a digital media consultancy. He has 20 years of experience leading pioneering digital media initiatives in publishing and advertising, including NETg’s Skill Builder, Thomson Learning’s WebTutor, FreeMark Mail and MSDewey.com. Brenneman also founded the Digital Media Group of The University of Chicago Press Books Division, where he led digital distribution and the development of The Chicago Manual of Style Online.