Many design companies, like us here at HL Studios, come from a print or web-based background and have had to do some serious upgrading (of software, equipment and especially skills) to keep up with the multitude of digital devices available on the market today. Designing for these devices is quite complex, as each device has different characteristics that impact on the user experience.
Every digital project we undertake has different problems to overcome. In an ideal world we would start from a blank document and produce content for a single digital format, but as no single job is the same we frequently find ourselves dealing with legacy print documents that are required in multiple formats for multi-channel publishing. This situation is unlikely to change anytime soon and may never merge into a single universal standard.
Our starting point is always the format required – ePub, PDF, MOBI/PRC, AZW, IBA (iBooks Author) or stand-alone app. Usually the client dictates this, but in consultation one format may work better for the end user, especially if a more visually attractive media is needed. Thankfully, when multiple formats are required most layout software allows for the export of different formats, with the minimal of changes to any files. IBooks Author is slightly different. At the moment there is no direct way of importing InDesign or Quark files into the program – there are some work-arounds to this, but none of which are entirely satisfactory, as yet. We are working with our programmers to create an InDesign plug-in that can export directly to iBooks – which we hope will make the process of conversion smoother.
The next important thing to think about is the orientation – Landscape or Portrait, Fixed or Fluid – this may have implications on the construction of the document. Re-flowable and re-sizeable text aside, an ePub file has the issue of what to do with design features such as chapter headings and chapter openers. In a print-first workflow where the design features have been commissioned with the printed book in mind, there is an inevitable conflict between preserving the ‘look’ of the book and retaining the usability of the e-book.
Another good practice is to ensure the correct usage of stylesheets. Tags and stylesheets enable efficient single source, multi-channel publishing. And the most effective technology for employing tags and stylesheets is xml. Using an xml workflow or book production smoothes the transition from print to digital.
Size becomes an issue (don’t laugh) if you pack an e-book full of all the exciting interactive features available. Most digital marketplaces have strict guidelines on the maximum size allowed for each document.
There are many other things to take in to account, for instance black backgrounds enhance glare on most devices and font choices become irrelevant when using formats like ePub. We also need to design with the finger in mind. An adult finger is larger, but a young child’s finger is less accurate, so it’s important to ensure that any design works for all potential users. Links need to be large enough to click. Allowing for the navigation features on each device is important, for instance, the iPAD has a pop-up navigation bar at the top (44px) and a toolbar at the bottom (40px); any clickable feature in an e-book needs to be clear of this area. Other devices have similar navigation bars that need to be designed around. We have found that leaving an area of about 50px around all sides usually covers most tablets or smartphones.
The initial construction of a print document has the greatest impact on the conversion into an e-book, so good practice in a workflow is essential. If you would like tips on how to do this successfully, feel free to contact us at HL Studios, be it just for an informal chat or to arrange a full professional presentation.