Not only does Ian Adelman have extensive industry experience as Director of Design & User Experience for nymag.com that included developing some successful (and not so successful) apps, his newest role is Director of Digital Design for The New York Times. He also brings a strong technology background to the table, including experience with product user interface design, which seems to heavily influence his approach to digital publications. Ian’s session was focused on the technical, with lots of concrete “how to’s” and examples, but he also provided really insightful perspectives on why he approaches web design the way he does.
There were many, many takeaways from this session, but I’ve narrowed them down for you into to the Top 5 Tips for Creating a Great Magazine Website.
Unbinding was a central theme throughout Ian’s presentation. He acknowledges the current prejudice against digital – that it is somehow less craft than print, but he argues that it is all “making”. It is also interesting to note that he stopped saying he worked at a magazine a few years back as it had become multi-platform media and he feels the distinction is important.
Ian believes that the key to creating great multi-platform media is the ability to unbind content and then reassemble it in creative ways that fulfills the wants and needs of the audience. Simple as that!
2. The User Comes First, then the Advertiser
Ian did get into many functional specifics on how to build a great magazine website and they all involved putting the user first and keeping things as simple as possible, with both the interface design and the development. This is key to smaller publications with limited resources.
Some of Ian’s specific points re: page design were:
- the article page (not the home page) is the single most important factor on a magazine’s website
- establish clean content hierarchy
- navigation should provide a window into the entirety of the site content
- make site tools & functional elements visually distinct
- homepage should have more to do with what’s new than where they content originates
- make sure daily/hourly updated stuff is at the top and to the left on homepage!
- make sure to find the right balance of automation and curation on the homepage
- provide visual variety, but use clean, consistent templates
When asked his opinions on ad sizes and placement for websites, his main piece of advice was to always put the user experience first and then find ways to expand revenue opps within that experience. Specific tips included:
- the key is to keep people on the site, so don’t use a lot of the page for subscription offers
- likes AJAX and small movements in ads
- it is better when the user experience is textured in terms of advertising, when the user is allowed to experience the website rather than bombarding them all at one time
- above the fold isn’t as much of an issue as it used to be
- recommends bigger ads and fewer of them so they will have more value
- small ad tiles kill good design (amen!)
- track and learn from user behaviour
3. Be Careful with Apps
When Ian was with nymag.com they built an iPad app. It was a generalized app that basically replicated the publication. It failed. While the experience was painful, Ian and his team learned some critical lessons that they were able to apply to their next app, that turned out to be a huge success (it was App of the Week on the App Store).
Ian’s top app development tips:
- create focused, not generalized apps
- know what content your audience is looking for and how the are typically using the technology (nymag’s app focused on fashion and pretty pictures, drawing on on of the key strengths of iPad technology)
- keep the project stripped down with a small team (they built the app in 2 months and 8 days)
4. Build the right team before building anything else
The advertising/editorial lines are blurred much more on the web than in print. Ian stressed that there needs to be collaboration between advertising and editorial staff in order to ensure the right balance is there. In the end it is about the bottom line.
Ian’s key to success with his team boiled down to empowering a small team with a clear mission.
Also, a note on social media. Ian recommends that unless you have people who can create relationships with audience through twitter (or any SM), don’t do it – and we wholeheartedly agree!