Digital Tailoring

— Aug 2012

I wrote a piece titled Made to Measure for a Contents issue 04, which focuses on inventing and reworking editorial formats.

Print design isn’t something we should dotingly copy, but the comparison points out what we, makers of digital publications, have chosen to ignore. Our work is made up of beeps and blips that can be endlessly reworked, so why are our design systems more rigid than ink locked on paper? The fine work from our reporters and photographers and data artists deserves to be showcased. Instead, our dependence on fitting into template defaults sands away the unique contours of the work.

If we compare digital editorial design to the craft of men’s shirt-making, art-directed pages would be bespoke shirts—luxury items uniquely made for an individual. On the opposite end of the spectrum are off-the-rack shirts, idealized designs manufactured en masse. Like article templates, these are ill-fitting, because standard-sized shirts can not fit every wearer’s body. But there’s also a middle path, which is to buy a good off-the-rack shirt and entrust it to a specialist, who takes the wearer’s measurements and then shortens and sculpts the shirt to fit. The shirt is, in other words, tailored.

Designers of these systems will need to move beyond designs that don’t change once they’re handed over. Articles are made of many elements with different visual treatments: headlines, ledes, body text, photos, pull quotes—instead of providing a specific template, designers could supply ranges and options for different elements, along with guidelines on using them.

Read the rest over at Contents Magazine and poke at the examples.