User Experience Principles for Digital Magazines

Hester Gras

Designing a digital magazine app that gives users a pleasing experience requires attention to their
reading behavior. Do today’s readers want static magazines or interactive magazines, and how
interactive should a magazine be? ImgZine spoke to Keith Martin to find out.

Keith Martin is a Senior Lecturer at London College of Communication and is also the Technical Editor of MacUser magazine.
He has written a wide range of magazine articles and books covering design and production for print and digital media. His books
include The Digital Designer’s Bible (co-authored), Web Colour: Start HereCreative Suite 3 IntegrationInDesign Essentials (co-authored), the Haynes Mac ManualGo Digital, and others.

How do you explain the word user experience?
Literally, it is the experience of a user while using something. This experience can be good or bad, but it is up to the developer to pick the right user needs. Does
the interface or design help or hinder the experience? Companies often create products because they are the ones who like it, instead of thinking enough about their customers.

User experience today focuses on the experience people with interactive applications. Do you notice a change in todays user behavior, compared to when the iPad was launched (2010)?
The iPad has made the average reader much more aware of and ready for interaction. Many publishers still produce a PDF replica of print, because it is easier and cheaper to produce. You might think these publishers will lose more and more readers, because a PDF replica might not be what their readers want. Looking at a wider perspective, however, not many publishers make a lot of money at all from digital. Their print circulation may be declining, but it is still relatively high. Digital circulation is rising, but compared to print the circulation is still really low.

Katachi magazine user interface
Katachi Magazine

Katachi magazine (check out, it’s an amazing magazine), on the other  hand, provides a fully native digital experience; it makes very good use of what the iPad can do. Some love it, others feel is over the top. The question is whether this is done purely because the developers want this, or because their audience wants it. People may not enjoy this much interaction, so it has to be done for good reasons.

Another magazine, Wired, got a lot of praise, initially, but later some criticism. It can be compared to a CD-ROM from the 1990s, because it is closed to the outside world. This means, for example, that articles cannot be shared via social media. I see this as a problem, because social sharing and integration is becoming more and more important in digital publishing.

Part of the problem for publishers lies in the software used to create a digital magazine; Adobe DPS and many other publishing tools make products that are not inherently searchable or shareable. However, for magazines based on HTML5, the underlying structure is different, and more inherently social. I think HTML5 is the future for digital magazine production. I don’t mean everything will become a web site, but the structure of the issues will be HTML5-based. See App Studio and Padify for examples.

How do you believe publishers should adapt their digital magazine to meet the desires of users?
I think publishers should try to be more sophisticated. Today’s readers are more used to digital magazines, and PDF replica page-turners are becoming less acceptable. Readers are increasingly happy with interaction in magazines, as long as it is appropriate and clear.

user experience homer simpson carAs always, beware of using surveys to work out what you should do; there is a difference in what readers say they want and what they need. Apple’s approach, for example, is to look for what customers need. They do not ask users for their opinions, but they look at people: what do they do, what are they going to want. And they are [almost] always right.

A good example of the difference between what a consumer says they want and what they actually need is a Simpsons episode when Homer designed his own car. In the end, the car had everything he wanted, but it was a disaster…

Do you think you can talk about a general user experiencesince user experience
may be considered subjective in nature? It is, after all, about individual perception.

Yes, in general, you can talk about it. However, it is always going to be subjective. In the end, it all goes back to the concept of appropriateness: does it fit the user and is it needed? You also need to think of the future. There is a saying in ice hockey:
Skate to where the puck will be. The idea is that if you skate to where the puck is now, it won’t be there when you arrive.
We need to work out what our users will need in the future rather than just chasing what they say they want right now.

Do you agree or disagree with Keith? Share your thoughts with us in the comments
and follow imgZine on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for more facts and insights.

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