This special feature on content production and user experience has five sections:
User Experience (UX)
In this section:
What constitutes good UX?
“Print remains a fantastic media and continues to provide an experience that digital can’t match, especially when it comes to the ‘longer read’,” says Mike Hoy, managing director, Papermule: “There remains a timeless, tactile, ergonomic appeal of the more physical media and the pleasures it delivers.”
For Gareth Roberts, managing director, Bishops Printers, good UX is “where the design and layout is enhanced by the physical qualities of the magazine. Where the choice of paper – its colour, thickness and surface texture work in tandem with the choice of binding and print finishing to create a physical product your target audience wants to spend uninterrupted time with.”
Utility plays a part too.
Publishers need to ask themselves, ‘what does our content need to achieve?’ Richard Hamshere, group production director, Mark Allen Group, says, “it needs to explain the significance of the information to the audience – what does it mean for them? Answer the most important questions likely to be in their mind when they view the content. Help them make decisions about what actions they might take as a result of viewing the content.”
Benn Linfield, head of design and production, Which?, says it’s important “for readers to find what they want quickly and easily, and to enjoy the experience of reading, seeing and using.”
Papermule’s Mike Hoy agrees: “A great layout and design using consistent and appropriate typography and formatting greatly enhances engaging content. Ensuring content is organised and easily navigated with clarity between articles and advertising alike is key to the reader’s journey through the pages. Incorporating high-quality visuals in the form of images, infographics and illustrations helps elevate it further. Presenting all this on appropriately chosen paper for the product and using quality printing techniques to ensure sharp and colourful reproduction.”
“A nice touch to add value,” adds Bishops Printers’ Gareth Roberts, “is to give your printed publication content that isn’t included in a digital version, rewarding and incentivising readers to continue their subscription.”
How print UX can be enhanced
Simply put, print UX can be enhanced, “by employing good designers to design products well,” says Which?’s Benn Linfield.
“I’m biased,” Linfield continues, “but sadly this is still not always the case in publishing. The bridge between editorial ideas, collections of great words and images, and the customer, is a designer. If that role is cut out or compromised, the product will probably be sub-optimal.”
How content is presented has a great bearing on the user experience. Mark Allen Group’s Richard Hamshere recommends “breaking content down in modular elements, boxing out key information on what it means to them and what actions they may take. Making smart use of graphics aids understanding, as does using different colour fonts to state questions, to make them stand out before answering them. Use consistent call outs, for familiarity, to get further information from other sources, which hopefully will be your own website.”
Add the wow factor
Improving UX “depends very much on the objectives, audience and budget of the publication,” advises Gareth Roberts: “You can make your cover design work harder to claim attention and extend your magazine’s reach by introducing special print finishes such as spot gloss UV varnish, metallic or fluorescent inks, foiling or even soft touch lamination. You can add interest by including throw-out pages or sections to make the most of continuous images and special features. You can even mix coated and uncoated paper to add variety and tactility.”
For Koli Pickersgill, production director, Immediate Media, “special offers and enticing covermounts, depending on the category, can add extra value to the consumer.” There are, she continues, “opportunities to give consumers a different experience to reading on a screen with the tactile qualities of foiling, embossing and other special finishes.”
But, a word of caution from Mike Hoy: “Great care should be taken when trying to further enhance the printed reader’s user experience as much of the appeal is in this media’s clean, consistent and conforming structure. Consider your reader’s persona and why they’ve chosen your printed product before targeting inappropriate gimmicks like scent pads, muti-sensory URL links etc. Use these carefully and appropriately for the product.”
Hoy continues: “Consider your reader’s demographic, their social viewpoint and the environmental and sustainability aspects of your products. Would a greener approach enhance their experience and, in turn, engagement?”
Add a digital dimension
Mike Hoy says publishers should review their print and digital outputs, looking at “how, if appropriate, the two hemispheres can collaborate. Link printed readers to extra content, blogs, reviews, puzzles, and online social interactions in measured and easily transited way using short URLs and QR codes, but use these appropriately and ensure the end point is as seamless as possible. Don’t put hurdles in the way!”
Scope for innovation
“Innovation can come from the least expected direction and print has managed well over the centuries to evolve and adapt,” says Mike Hoy: “We should remember that the fundamental aspects and terminology used in digital publishing today all stem from our rich and long print legacy!”
Immediate Media’s Koli Pickersgill sees innovation coming from “more personalisation, print on demand, better utilisation of QR codes and VR experiences that take the consumer on a more sensory journey from the printed page.”
“Publishers are increasingly looking for ways to link print to digital and that is where I can see the greatest scope for innovation,” says Richard Hamshere: “Readers are spending more time with digital but print has more physical qualities that readers can engage with. So, there is the ability to provide high quality, unique content (and advertising) paired with digital.”
Benn Linfield adds: “I’m interested in the ways that print and digital products can work together, to provide extra or unique content, or content that can also be bespoke to a format, providing customers with a feeling of owning or enjoying something that has been lovingly created. To connect different formats and technologies is exciting as a user or customer, and having the choice of how we want to enjoy what we own, read, or use is vital. Keep looking for ways to connect things.”
Gareth Roberts says: “QR codes are a great way for publishers and advertisers to bring together the advantages of the physical and digital worlds. From quick and easy access to landing pages, extra and updated content, to audio, video and augmented reality, the possibilities are huge.”
Andy Brown, CEO, Canvasflow, agrees that “integrating augmented reality into print materials can create interactive and immersive experiences. By using mobile devices or dedicated AR apps, readers can scan pages or images to access additional content, such as videos, and interactive elements.”
“Converging the print UX with a digital one continues to be the holy grail,” says Mike Hoy, “but the challenges here are immense – the switching between medias remains a speed bump that deters readers but once ‘cracked’ will certainly change the landscape.”
“The potential for using customer profiles to deliver elements of personalisation has so far been largely untapped. And I don’t mean simply printing a subscriber’s name on the front cover of your magazine. Adverts, special features, offers and product recommendations could all be tailored to specific audience segments,” says Gareth Roberts.
The use of variable data printing, agrees Canvasflow’s Andy Brown, “allows for the customisation of printed materials on a large scale. Publishers can leverage this innovation to create personalised books or magazines, tailoring content, images, or even covers to individual readers based on their preferences, demographics, or purchase history.”
What constitutes good UX?
“A good user experience encompasses a comprehensive range of features, including design, layout, responsiveness, speed, navigation, and well-written content with minimal distractions,” says Mike Hoy.
For Matt Poole, chief product officer, Immediate Media, “the most desired outcome of any successful user experience is a wholly satisfied user that engages and returns. Multiple factors contribute to this success – from speed and performance of page loads and interactions, to how intuitive and easy to navigate and, ultimately, how relevant and engaging the content is.
“It’s fundamental to be responsive and accessible regardless of the user’s chosen device, offering alternatives for content consumption such as image to text.
“In addition, ensuring intuitiveness and consistency in content structure, typography, and user interaction patterns does much to reduce the cognitive load for the user.”
“Good UX is customer-centric and reduces stress and friction for users when carrying out any action,” says David Coveney, director, interconnect. This means publishers considering “the user’s likely mental state, their preferences, and what you’re offering.”
“Evolving with the changing needs of your users is central to good UX design,” agrees Adam Snook, technical consultant, OpenAthens: “Understanding your users and making sure you meet their needs is absolutely critical to delivery.”
“Websites should be designed with accessibility in mind,” says Andy Brown, “ensuring that all users, including those with disabilities, can access and use the site effectively. This involves providing alternative text for images, using proper heading structures, keyboard navigation support, and other accessibility best practices.”
OpenAthens’ Adam Snook adds: “An accessibility-first product design makes it easy for everyone to use. Build in accessibility into the start of any new product upgrade or feature and not as an afterthought halfway through or at the end.
“Avoid dark patterns that lure users into making choices they would not normally make. For example, do not make it more difficult for users to reject tracking cookies.”
And, adds Cesare Navarotto, chief product officer, Atex, “users should have the opportunity to provide feedback, report issues, or ask questions.”
Atex’s Cesare Navarotto says that a “website should be accessible and provide a seamless experience across various devices with different screen sizes and resolutions.”
Kevin Shelcott, senior operations leader and production director, EKCS, stresses that “mobile optimisation is essential as more and more people access news on their mobiles; it’s important for news websites to be optimised for smaller screens.”
Rich Edwards, UX/UI designer and Gemma Spence, head of product, Mark Allen Group, add: “It also needs to be responsive to the ways that users wish to perform a task, such as via a computer and a mouse, a mobile phone or simply a keyboard. Tasks need to be able to be accomplished in multiple ways to serve the needs of different people.”
It’s crucial says Benn Linfield, that users can “find what they want when they want it!”
Mark Allen Group’s Rich Edwards and Gemma Spence agree that “they should never have to work to find what they are looking for.”
“Giving users simple and intuitive journeys to your content removes a lot of friction and frustration involved in navigating your website,” says Adam Snook: “This is vitally important if you want users to return to your website instead of going to a competitor or possibly a pirate site.”
This means, says Cesare Navarotto, that “the menu structure, labels, and placement of navigation elements should be user-friendly and consistent across the website.”
Navarotto continues: “Well-designed and prominent call-to-actions guide users towards desired actions, such as signing up for a newsletter, or purchasing a subscription.”
The aim he says is to “reduce unnecessary steps, minimise friction and improve conversion rates.”
EKCS’s Kevin Shelcott says that “the text should be easy to read, with clear headings, subheadings, and paragraphs. The font size and style should also be chosen with readability in mind.”
“A visually appealing and consistent design creates a sense of coherence throughout the website,” adds Cesare Navarotto: “The consistent use of colours, typography, and visual elements maintains brand identity and helps users navigate the site more intuitively.”
“The visual design should be clean, organised, and visually appealing,” agrees Andy Brown: “It should guide users through the content and functionality of the site, using clear typography, appropriate colour schemes, and consistent branding.”
Andy Brown says that “users expect websites to load quickly. Optimising the performance of the site by minimising file sizes, leveraging caching techniques, and optimising server response times is essential for a good UX.”
“A fast loading website enhances user satisfaction, reduces bounce rates and boosts conversion rates,” adds Cesare Navarotto. A key part of this is, he says, “choosing a reliable hosting service.”
How website navigation can be improved
“A clear, consistent, intuitive and contextually relevant menu coupled with search and location clues like breadcrumbs greatly aids the user’s experience and interaction with the site,” says Mike Hoy.
1. Improve usability
“Hygiene elements of navigation patterns and search are expected and play a key role in allowing users to self-discover content. It is the responsibility of publishers to optimise navigation and search,” says Immediate Media’s Matt Poole.
Rich Edwards and Gemma Spence encourage publishers to, “keep it simple. Sometimes brand teams are tempted to throw everything at the nav bar, for example, but put yourself in the position of the user. Think about what it is that they are actually looking for when they come to your site rather than what you want to promote. If your nav uses drop-downs, does the name of the option in the primary nav make sense for the options it covers? If you’re unsure, ask someone who’s not familiar with the site or even your brand and see if it makes sense to them.”
Cesare Navarotto says it’s important not to “overwhelm users with too many menu options. Use clear and concise labels that accurately describe the content or sections they lead to. Maintain a consistent placement of the navigation menu across all pages of the website.”
Publishers should pay particular attention to “the navigation design on mobile devices, as the screen real estate is limited,” advises Andy Brown: “Implement responsive design techniques that adapt the navigation menu to smaller screens, such as collapsible menus or off-canvas menus.”
“Implementing breadcrumb navigation provides users with a clear path of their location within the website’s hierarchy. It helps users understand where they are and provides an easy way to navigate back to higher-level pages,” adds Cesare Navarotto.
Also, says Andy Brown, creating an “HTML sitemap will provide an overview of the website’s structure and all the available pages. This helps users quickly locate specific pages and also assists search engines in indexing the site.”
Search is a key aspect of content discovery. Cesare Navarotto says publishers should “incorporate a search bar prominently on the website to allow users to quickly find specific content. Ensure the search function provides relevant results and supports features like auto-suggestions, filters, and advanced search options.”
2. Add content recommendations
“Related content recommendations provide readers with suggestions based on similarities in topics and themes, to encourage further exploration,” says Cesare Navarotto.
Matt Poole says: “Carefully curated filters enable users to find the right content and format and discover other content relevant to them; eg. presenting related content based on the topic they are exploring or suggesting trending articles as the next best read.
“Going one better is the provision of personalised recommendations. As users provide us with more information based on their preferences and activity, we can improve the recommendations we make to them and introduce further layers of contextualisation to improve on the navigation and search experience.”
“Personalisation is an underutilised approach in publishing,” adds interconnect’s David Coveney: “By analysing visitor interaction trends and patterns, publishers can adapt site navigation to suit individual preferences, even without requiring users to log in. For example, if someone never visits the sports section, consider moving a higher priority section, like politics, up in the navigation.”
Matt Poole adds: “All of these need a solid information architecture with clearly defined structured data around each piece of content with the relevant tags that drive the technology to ensure a suitable result is returned.”
3. Be user-centric
Adam Snook recommends “you take a user-centred approach to the organisation and structure of your website content. Using qualitative and quantitative methods such as usability testing and user behaviour analytics can help you better understand how users interact with your website and the pathways they take to your content.
“Take into account the ecosystem you operate in and users’ journey to and from your website. Help users’ onward journey by integrating with associated services such as library systems and virtual learning environments. Create the ability to seamlessly link to your content and authorise access, for example through WAYFless deep linking.”
Cesare Navarotto agrees that it’s “vital to conduct user testing and monitor user behaviour to identify pain points and areas of improvement in website navigation. Analyse user feedback, heatmaps, and user journey data to understand how users interact with the navigation and make necessary adjustments.”
Rich Edwards and Gemma Spence add: “If you're looking to upgrade an existing site, use product analytics and heatmap software to help you get a true idea of how people are using your site so you can capitalise on that data. There is also certain information that people now expect to find in the footer, such as contact details, advertiser information and media packs – keep it there and out of the way.”
Andy Brown advises using “website analytics tools to gain insights into user behaviour and navigation patterns. Analyse data such as click-through rates, bounce rates, and user flow to identify areas where users may be getting stuck or abandoning the site. This information can guide improvements in navigation and user experience.”
How website performance can be improved
“Site performance is multi-layered. Everything you see – plus everything you don’t – has an effect on how well a site performs. The fonts used, number (and size) of images, complexity of the layouts, structure of the code, server technology and third-party resources all have an impact. And managing all this is no easy task, since there’s often not one single person responsible for it all as everyone plays a part in maintaining it, from designers to coders and content managers,” say Rich Edwards and Gemma Spence.
For Mike Hoy, “improving site performance is a bit like the Avengers tackling Hydra – fix one bottle neck and two more rise-up! Regular stats and analysis will highlight the biggest offenders but doing that on a global scale can be challenging!”
Benn Linfield urges publishers to, “de-clutter and optimise what users really want.”
Rich Edwards and Gemma Spence agree: “The first steps would be to remove anything from the page that isn’t necessary, reduce the number of HTTP requests (separate elements that need to be loaded, such as images, plugins and scripts) and compress any images so that they download faster.
“You can go so much further though. Serving only code that is required by that particular page and compressing and minifying resources all count towards shaving milliseconds from load times to make a site feel snappier and more responsive as you interact with it.”
“From a technology perspective,” adds Matt Poole, “the architecture can make a significant impact. Separating the front-end logic from the CMS enables you to focus on performance for your customer.”
2. Monitor constantly
Matt Poole says: “Site performance is an ‘always on’ strategy shared between Technology and Editorial. The more we add to a page, the slower that page becomes.
“Ensure you have robust monitoring in place so you know how well everything is performing and you can see / react to the impacts of any changes you make.”
And this should all be budgeted for, says Adam Snook: “Ideally, publishers should set budgets for continuous and iterative UX improvements on their platforms. Set additional resources aside for troubleshooting any performance issues with your website.”
“In order to provide a unified method for “scientifically” evaluating the overall performance of a website,” explains Cesare Navarotto, “Google introduced Core Web Vitals in May 2020 as a guide to evaluating three core parameters, each measured by a dedicated metric:
- loading performance measured by LCP (Largest Contentful Paint)
- interactivity measured by FID (First Input Delay) (Due to be replaced soon by Interaction to Next Paint (INP))
- stability measured by CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift)
“Websites that excel in these areas rank higher on the SERPs. Publishers can find extensive documentation about the Core Web Vitals at web.dev/vitals, including links to various tools to measure and monitor them.
“Publishers should regularly monitor and optimise their website performance using tools like Google PageSpeed Insights, GTmetrix, or Pingdom. These tools provide insights and recommendations to identify performance bottlenecks and suggest technical optimisations for further improvement.
“Ideally, publishers should set a performance budget that defines acceptable limits for the main performance metrics. This budget should be constantly measured and automatically verified each time any update is deployed to production, ensuring ongoing performance optimisation.”
3. Other performance enhancing measures
Andy Brown suggests:
- Optimise image sizes: Compress and optimise images to reduce their file sizes without sacrificing quality. Use appropriate image formats and consider lazy loading techniques to load images only when they are visible to the user.
- Enable content delivery networks (CDNs): Utilise CDNs to distribute website content across multiple servers located in different geographic regions. CDNs store copies of your site’s static files, delivering them from the server closest to the user, reducing latency and improving load times.
- Evaluate and optimise third-party scripts: Review the third-party scripts and services used on the website, such as analytics tools, social media widgets, and advertising platforms.
- Monitor and optimise database queries: Optimise database queries by indexing database tables, avoiding unnecessary queries, and optimising complex queries. Database optimisation can significantly improve site performance, especially for dynamic websites.
- Upgrade hosting infrastructure: If the website consistently experiences slow performance, consider upgrading to a faster hosting plan or switching to a more powerful server.
What is the optimum deployment of advertising units?
“The balance between monetisation and user satisfaction coupled with the experience goals and website content all dictate what an optimal deployment of ad units might be,” says Mike Hoy: “Well placed, well targeted advertising can greatly enhance the user’s experience but the sweet spot can be elusive.”
Matt Poole adds: “There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question, as it depends on many factors, including content length, content format, and on what device the content is being consumed.”
The optimum deployment of ads depends “on a number of factors, including the purpose of the site and the number of editorial elements available to create a balance between editorial and display advertising,” say Rich Edwards and Gemma Spence: “Sales teams can be keen to push as many advertising units as possible as they have targets to meet but it can be damaging if done to excess.”
Matt Poole suggests publishers should ask themselves, “what is the objective of the page and its content, and what are the advertising units competing with for the user’s attention? For example, if the content is a product review with affiliate links provided to the user to enable them to buy the product, adding advertising units only distracts from both the user and publisher’s mission.”
Mike Hoy adds: “If the goal is monetisation, then ads rule and content is the carrot – knock yourself out and find the threshold visitors will tolerate without leaving!”
“It’s important to strike a balance between the amount of content and the number of ads on a webpage,” says Andy Brown: “Excessive or intrusive ads can negatively impact user experience and result in high bounce rates.”
“Always prioritise the user experience when deploying advertising units,” says Brown.
Adam Snook advises publishers to always “keep in mind the user experience. Adverts should not obscure or overly distract users from accessing your content.”
“No one wants to go to a site and feel bombarded with display ads,” says Rich Edwards and Gemma Spence: “It may even lead to visitors activating ad blockers, which defeats the purpose of what advertisers are trying to achieve. A healthy balance will ensure that the ads that are there have maximum impact and users aren’t turned off – your aim is to serve both your audience and your advertisers. If there is scope in your business to advise clients or to even help them create attractive, impactful artwork if they are struggling, do so. It not only helps them but it keeps your site looking good.”
David Coveney suggests publishers should “limit advertising units and consider utilising interstitial ads. Avoid using deceptive techniques, such as countdowns and tiny close buttons. Platforms like TikTok are a great example of how engaging content can keep users interested without resorting to tricks.”
Andy Brown says, “consider placing ads where they are visible but not overly disruptive.” Publishers should, he says, “test different placements and monitor user behaviour and engagement metrics to determine the most effective positions.”
How website misfunction can be avoided
“An extensive monitoring, maintenance, testing and reporting regime is essential just to ensure that what you’ve built can stand still. Alongside this, strict build, test and release cycles are needed to ensure that hosting, database, comms and security aspects are all covered as the site moves forward,” says Mike Hoy.
- Poor rollout of new releases: “The most common causes of website misfunction are due to a failure to conduct user acceptance testing (UAT) of new releases, changes to infrastructure or misconfiguration of your access control system. Rigorous testing will help you avoid these pitfalls.” (Adam Snook, technical consultant, OpenAthens)
- Poor code quality: “Inaccurate or poorly written code can lead to website malfunctions.” (Andy Brown, CEO, Canvasflow)
- Server issues: “Server-related problems, including downtime, slow response times, or misconfigurations, has always been a cause of disrupted website functionality.” (Cesare Navarotto, chief product officer, Atex)
- Browser incompatibility: “Browser compatibility has come on leaps and bounds but remains a thorny challenge often restricting sites from using newer html features or multiplexing the development streams into browser specific branches. Testing the possible combinations alone is challenging and keeping up to date with OS / browser releases makes this relentless.” (Mike Hoy, managing director, Papermule)
- Third-party service failures: “Websites often rely on third-party services for various functionalities such as payment gateways, APIs, or analytics tools. If any of these services experience downtime or issues, it can impact your website’s performance.” (Andy Brown, CEO, Canvasflow)
- Poor error handling: “Poor error handling can make it challenging to identify and fix issues.” (Andy Brown, CEO, Canvasflow)
- Security threats: “Insufficient security measures can lead to website vulnerabilities, hacking attempts, or data breaches.” (Cesare Navarotto, chief product officer, Atex)
- Better testing: “Test, test and test again,” advise Rich Edwards and Gemma Spence: “Common malfunctions are best avoided by a thorough testing strategy, and making sure you listen to the people using your site. Direct user feedback is hugely important when it comes to ensuring you are aiding your intended audience on their use goals. Analytics data can also be used to find out what devices your audience are using to help you with testing.”
- Better site architecture: “Nowadays, this kind of problem can be mitigated using leading cloud providers such as AWS, GCP or Azure, but the greatest improvement can be achieved using publishing platforms that adhere to the microservices architecture paradigm,” says Cesare Navarotto: “Microservices can be deployed in containers which are then automatically orchestrated in platforms such as Kubernetes: such platforms can automatically scale up / down each microservice according to the traffic load and restart them when needed, avoiding downtimes.”
- Better coding: “Follow coding best practices, use standardised coding conventions, and conduct regular code reviews.” (Andy Brown, CEO, Canvasflow)
- Better site security: “Publishers need to implement robust security practices, including using secure coding techniques, applying regular security patches and updates, employing strong authentication mechanisms (including multi-factor authentication), and using web application firewall solutions to protect against common web exploits and bots that can affect availability, compromise security, or consume excessive resources.” (Cesare Navarotto, chief product officer, Atex)
- Better site maintenance: “Neglecting regular updates and maintenance can leave websites vulnerable to security breaches, performance issues, and compatibility problems. Regularly check for security patches. Implement a scheduled maintenance plan to ensure ongoing optimisation and security.” (Andy Brown, CEO, Canvasflow)
David Coveney adds: “Publishers must remember that not all users have high-quality devices or connectivity. Cater to a range of users, including those with older devices, screen readers, or adjusted font sizes. Allocating budget for thorough testing can ensure a more inclusive and functional website.”
As Cesare Navarotto reminds us, “developing software is never bug free, therefore it’s vital to implement a robust CI/CD (Continuous Integration / Continuous Deployment) pipeline which would run a full suite of tests at different levels (from unit testing all the way to end-user testing) and allow a deployment to production only if all the tests are successful.”
What constitutes good UX?
“Overall,” says Blake Pollard, co-founder and CRO, eMagazines, “a good user experience for the digital version of a magazine should prioritise ease of use and high-quality content, while also ensuring fast loading times, intuitive navigation, and helpful features like audio and article sharing.”
Andy Brown advises publishers to, “encourage user feedback and actively incorporate it into the development process. Regularly gather user insights, conduct usability testing, and iterate on the app or digital edition based on user feedback to continuously improve the user experience.”
“Device and platform users have learned the interaction patterns native to those devices and platforms,” says Matt Poole: “They can intuitively navigate these and their features. This learned behaviour sets an expectation in how it works and feels.
“Good app UX means being sympathetic to the OS your app is running on. Android users may not appreciate an interface that leans very heavily on iOS design patterns, and an interface that is user-friendly to an iOS user may feel alien and be confusing to someone on an Android.
“While respecting the native patterns of operating systems creates an element of restriction in designing experiences, it also opens an entire universe of leveraging the device’s functionality including geolocation, camera, calendar etc enabling the interaction with the content to become much more rewarding than merely one of consumption.”
Intuitive design and navigation
“Users should be able to easily navigate through the digital magazine and find the content they are looking for,” says eMagazines’ Blake Pollard: “The interface should be intuitive and easy to use, with clear labelling and navigation that allows users to quickly find what they are looking for. Users should not have to read instructions.”
“The app or digital edition should be responsive and adaptable to different screen sizes and orientations,” says Andy Brown: “It should adjust and optimise the layout and content presentation to provide a consistent and optimal experience across various devices.”
Blake Pollard agrees: “The digital magazine should be designed with responsive layouts that adapt to different screen sizes and devices. Articles should be designed for specific screen sizes – phones, tablet and desktop.”
“Flipbooks and PDF replicas on mobile devices need to be banned,” he adds.
Quick to load
“For apps and digital editions,” says David Coveney, “good UX revolves around speed and ease of use, similar to websites.”
Blake Pollard agrees: “The magazine should load quickly and without any delays, ensuring that users can quickly access the content they are interested in.”
Andy Brown adds that publishers should look to “minimise loading screens, reduce latency, and ensure responsiveness to user interactions because users expect quick and fluid responses to their actions.”
“Rule number one,” says Dani Leyhue, product manager, WoodWing, “when a user is navigating through a digital app, you have two or three seconds to grab their attention on a page. If the user cannot read the headline, they will be more likely to swipe past the page or close out of the app. This is incredibly true of PDF replicas. Users have a harder time navigating the replica, and if the app does not offer pinch & zoom, they cannot read the body text. Legibility is vital for digital editions.”
How app / digital edition navigation can be improved
“Respect and play to the best practice patterns and interactions offered in the OS, but the same rules apply to apps as to any digital experience – simple, usable, logical and intuitive,” says Matt Poole.
1. Tailor the experience
“Deliver the basic functions of menu navigation, search, and related content recommendations brilliantly,” says Matt Poole, “and enhance through personalised experiences.”
“Along with capturing data in content consumed by providing tools to save and share content, creating implicit preferences, also collect explicit preferences from users. This generates further data points with which to recommend content that will be of interest, with the more that the user engages with the app, the relevancy of the recommendations will improve.”
Users should be, says David Coveney, “occasionally prompted to update their preferences to ensure a tailored experience.”
2. Provide simple & intuitive navigation
“Simplifying the navigation structure of the digital magazine can make it easier for users to find the content they’re looking for. Publishers should organise content into logical categories and sections,” says Blake Pollard: “Publishers can use visual cues like icons and images to help users quickly identify different sections, content types and features. This can also make the digital magazine more visually appealing and engaging.”
Andy Brown advises publishers to, “ensure that navigation controls are prominently displayed and easily accessible. Use standard navigation patterns, such as tab bars, hamburger menus, or bottom navigation bars and place navigation controls within reach of the user’s thumb for mobile devices.”
3. Incorporate search functionality
“Search functionality can help users quickly find specific articles or topics. Searching in each issue and across issues is the best practice,” says Blake Pollard.
4. Use responsive design
“Publishers should use responsive design to ensure that the digital magazine is optimised for different devices, including phones, tablets, and computers. This can make it easier for users to navigate and read the magazine on their preferred device,” says Blake Pollard.
“Above all,” says David Coveney, “research and observe your users to better understand their needs, as what they say and do might differ.”
Andy Brown says: “Conduct usability testing and gather feedback from users to identify navigation pain points and areas for improvement.”
Also, Brown continues: “Utilise app analytics tools to gain insights into user behaviour and navigation patterns. Analyse data such as screen flows, user engagement, and drop-off points to identify areas where users may be struggling or disengaging.”
How app / digital edition performance can be improved
“Regularly test and monitor the app or digital edition’s performance,” advises Andy Brown: “Conduct tests for load times, responsiveness, and resource utilisation.”
1. Regular monitoring
“Users have high expectations of apps and expect them to be fast and feel snappy,” says Matt Poole: “Part of this is to ensure that the services they talk to are both performant and reliable. Ensuring you have good monitoring in place and are regularly reviewing service performance is just as important for apps as it is for the web.”
“Gather user feedback on performance-related issues and address them promptly,” adds Andy Brown: “Encourage users to report any performance-related problems they encounter.”
2. Efficient loading
“Lazy loading content and ‘smart’ handling (quick to download, so they are not stealing heaps of memory) will make an impact,” says Matt Poole: “Caching plays an important role in optimisation. Make decisions around what to cache and where to cache – test and iterate; eg. do you want to use in-memory caching, or should you cache to the device where it can live longer? Agreeing on what your offline experience needs to be will also affect the approach you may take.”
David Coveney advises publishers to “minimise reliance on high-speed connectivity. Load content in the background or offer downloadable issues (daily, weekly, hourly) that can be pre-loaded.”
3. Image & code optimisation
Blake Pollard advises: “Large image files can slow down the loading time of a digital magazine. Publishers should optimise images by compressing them to reduce their file size without sacrificing quality. This can improve the overall performance and loading time of the magazine.”
The code too needs to be optimised Pollard continues: “The code used to create a digital magazine can impact its performance. Publishers should optimise code by minimising the use of unnecessary code and ensuring that code is well-organised and efficient.”
Andy Brown adds: “Keep the app or digital edition size as small as possible by only including necessary features, libraries, and dependencies.”
4. Simplified UI
“The UI is important – over-complex interfaces requiring lots of logic and many views can slow your app down,” says Matt Poole: “Balance creating custom components that help your brand stand out from the crowd by using built-in OS features, that users are familiar with and that often come with memory and performance enhancements built in.”
5. Run regular updates and maintenance
Andy Brown advises: “Continuously update the app or digital edition to leverage performance improvements introduced by new technologies, libraries, or frameworks.”
6. Fast web host
“The speed of the web host can affect the performance of a digital magazine. Publishers should use a fast web host with high uptime and low response times to ensure that the magazine loads quickly and reliably,” says Blake Pollard.
What is the optimum deployment of advertising units?
The deployment of ads within apps depends on the purpose of the app. Many apps eschew ads altogether.
“Our apps are a subscription offering and as such are ad free,” says Immediate Media’s Matt Poole.
Mark Allen Group’s Richard Hamshere says: “Our digital editions are page turners by and large. Therefore, we just replicate the printed issue with advertising.”
In these cases, there are often audit bureau rules to consider.
“If you are trying to reach ABC compliance for circulation metrics, you need to include the same advertisements if they were larger than 1/3 of the page,” says WoodWing’s Dani Leyhue.
“Overall,” says Blake Pollard, “the optimum deployment of advertising units in a digital magazine edition involves finding the right balance between revenue generation and providing a positive user experience. Publishers should prioritise the needs and preferences of their readers while also meeting the needs of their advertisers. Publishers should limit the number of advertising units to avoid overwhelming the user with too many ads. Typically, we do not include ad units within the article and instead includes full page display ads that users swipe through as they navigate between articles. If ads are deployed within an article, 1-3 ads per page is considered a good rule of thumb.”
Pollard continues: “Publishers should offer a mix of ad types, including display ads, native ads, and sponsored content. Display ads can be placed in traditional ad spaces on the page, while native ads and sponsored content can be integrated more seamlessly into the magazine’s content.”
David Coveney adds: “Interstitial ads can provide a good balance between being effective for advertisers, easily bypassed by uninterested users, and offering measurable data.”
How app / digital edition misfunction can be avoided
According to David Coveney, app misfunction “tends to centre around poor resource use and poor architecting of the whole system, its UX and its actual purpose. Some of the earlier cross platform development environments purported to reduce the cost of supporting multiple devices yet often introduced such strong limitations that they were only ever suited to the most simple of apps. Let’s face it, your typical consumer is impatient and has lots and lots of options. This has to be remembered every time.”
“Slow loading times can be caused by large image files, poor server performance, or other technical issues. To avoid this, publishers can optimise images, use a content delivery network, and implement caching,” says Blake Pollard.
“Broken links can occur when links are mistyped, the linked content is removed or moved, or there are technical issues with the website,” says Blake Pollard: “Publishers can avoid this by regularly checking and updating links and implementing proper link management strategies.”
Poor device compatibility
“The biggest misfunction is not understanding the capabilities of each platform,” says Dani Leyhue: “For example, let’s say that I build a video in Flash for my mobile app. Flash is not supported on Apple devices. You created something that could not be viewed on many devices. Understanding the technical capabilities of each distributor, app, and device is helpful. It’s always good to work with experts in the business as you start to dip your feet into digital distribution.”
The answer, says Andy Brown, is to “ensure thorough compatibility testing on multiple platforms and devices to identify and address any compatibility issues early in the development process.”
“Bugs and software errors can lead to crashes, freezes, or other malfunctions in the app or digital edition. To avoid these issues, rigorous testing is crucial. Perform thorough quality assurance testing, including functional testing, compatibility testing, and usability testing, to identify and fix bugs before the release,” advises Andy Brown.
What constitutes good UX?
For Colin Miller, videographer / photographer and Matt Bradford, digital creative, Mark Allen Group, delivering good video UX is based on creating an “easy to navigate and clear and concise” video that puts the user first. “Typography and iconography” have to be consistent for the brand and “colour theory, in terms of web accessibility” needs to be taken into consideration.
David Coveney adds: “Good UX in video includes engaging content, clear visuals, high-quality audio, concise messaging, and easy-to-use playback controls. Cater to the specific platform and audience to ensure the most enjoyable and seamless viewing experience.”
Paul Doyle, head of editorial video, Immediate Media agrees: “Creating an amazing video viewing experience is essentially about ensuring a seamless and enjoyable experience right from the moment they hit play! That includes ensuring you are delivering relevant and compelling content behind that click or tap.
“It is also about the navigation so viewers can easily find what they’re looking for and limiting, if not totally removing, any confusion.
“Videos should adapt smoothly to various devices and screen sizes, enabling viewers to enjoy them wherever they may be.
“Fast loading times and high-quality playback are essential to keep viewers engaged, satisfied and not waiting! Incorporating closed captioning and subtitles not only improves accessibility but also enhances comprehension of the content.
“I also see a benefit in striking the right balance between advertisements and the viewing experience to minimise distraction but also provide emphasis to both adequately.
“Lastly, feedback, (commenting, sharing, liking) and progress indicators play a vital role in keeping users informed and preventing any frustrations.”
How the production process can be improved
The pre-production stage requires, says David Coveney, “careful planning, scripting, and storyboarding” to “help create focused, engaging content”. It’s important to “understand your target audience and platform requirements”.
To avoid time wastage, it’s important to “have the script signed off before working on the storyboard” says Mark Allen Group’s Colin Miller and Matt Bradford.
“For video, to me,” says Immediate Media’s Paul Doyle, “it comes down to the storytelling so the pre-production stage is really important. The rest of the chain is really valuable but if the core idea is not right or well executed, even the most well produced and distributed piece of video will fall down.
“So, ensuring you have a clear narrative arc, know who you are speaking to and being clear with that you want the user to know / feel / see / realise after watching.
“That involves researching the topic and the audience to know what the best ‘way’ into it is, in the knowledge that video duration and user attention span means you can never truly cover all areas adequately. So, be a firm self-editor to ensure the point being made is clear and the purpose of the video content is not lost.”
“High-quality equipment should be used to capture the visuals and corresponding audio,” says Paul Doyle: “Also, being mindful of the lighting, framing and perspectives of the subject or object to enhance the viewing experience, visual interest and engagement.”
It’s important, adds David Coveney, to “efficiently manage resources and time during filming”.
This involves, adds Colin Miller and Matt Bradford, “ensuring all people being interviewed / filmed are well coordinated pre-setup”.
This stage can be a “1-2 week process” involving “editing, animation, audio, mastering / rendering time, music sourcing”, explains Colin Miller and Matt Bradford.
“Edit your video thoughtfully,” advises David Coveney: “adding graphics, music, and transitions where necessary. Optimise your video for different platforms, and ensure it meets each platform’s specific requirements.”
Paul Doyle says publishers should be “judicious in the trims and edits of video to maintain viewer engagement and eliminate unnecessary content for them – from jarring shot selections, to poor colour balancing.
“While user consumption varies, particularly where the video is consumed, audio still largely is 50% of the viewing experience. So poor quality audio and / or a disconnection in the choice of soundtrack or voiceover immediately excludes the user.
“After that, it is about the distribution channel so encoding and compressing the content to be as efficient for streaming and data consumption while maintaining quality is key. Then, finally, it comes down to the playback experience – from navigational design to minimising load times and buffering. Ensuring captions and subtitles are present; clickable timestamps, interaction tools and, in the background, metadata and tagging to help discoverability.”
How advertising opportunities can best be exploited
“All of the current opportunities prevalent for advertising on other mediums, like advancements in targeting, personalisation and measurement can all be applied to video,” says Paul Doyle.
“For measurement of programmatic advertising around video, attention metrics like engagement, completion rates etc. all provide ways of demonstrating a highly active user more than the usual vanity metrics.
“Dynamic advertising relative to the time of day, user, topic etc, increased degrees of interactivity such as shop-ability and touch responses that gamify the ad unit offer great ways to captivate and connect with the user as well as offering them an opportunity to ‘step in’ to the advert.
“Also, the integration of emerging technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will likely find their place in programmatic video advertising as avenues for creativity and engagement, enabling advertisers to craft interactive and immersive ad experiences.”
Platform specific requirements that publishers need to consider
“How a video is put together is influenced by the platform it will play on,” points out David Coveney.
Paul Doyle adds: “Beyond the technical specifications of file size, codecs and aspect ratio (vertical or horizontal video) etc, considerations for different platforms generally revolve around duration, story treatment, mode of address and use of the features that are specific to that platform. What is true for them all is making sure the first 5-10 seconds are strong will be rewarded with completion rates and engagement.”
Recommended aspect ratio: landscape (16:9).
“No time limits are enforced by the platform,” says Paul Doyle, “but attention spans of the user are short so being concise makes for a more engaging video. A picture paints a thousand words, so the thumbnail – the front door to your content – needs to convey the video’s content effectively but also be enticing enough to want to be clicked. Unlike social media platforms, discoverability on YouTube is largely similar to that of a website so using relevant keywords, titles, descriptions, and tags will optimise video surfacing. Finally, encouraging audience interaction through comments, likes, and subscriptions all help engagement and video performance.”
David Coveney recommends focusing on “informative, how-to, and tutorial content. Take advantage of its SEO benefits and use it for hosting instructional videos about your apps and services.”
Recommended aspect ratio: portrait (9:16).
Paul Doyle advises: “Be short (15 to 60 seconds) and sweet (trending topics, themes, and challenges). Be mindful of what works for vertical video and adjust your shots and edits accordingly. TikToks are a type of video in themselves that leans strongly on the community, the creative editing features, effects, filters and music options to make sure your content sits in harmony as part of the ecosystem.
David Coveney adds: “Create short, authentic, and entertaining content. Educational content can perform well, but keep it short and maintain a fun feel.”
Recommended aspect ratio: portrait (9:16).
“Time limit is variable according to the post type,” says Colin Miller and Matt Bradford:
- Instagram Feed: 3 seconds – 1 hour
- Instagram Story: Up to 60 seconds
- Instagram Live: Up to 4 hours
- Instagram Reel: 15 – 90 seconds
Paul Doyle adds: “While brevity is also important on Instagram, users are still a little more forgiving and open to being shown slightly longer (around 60 seconds) if it is of merit. Content can conform a little more to traditional production styles of classic lighting and grading – less ‘raw and real’ than TikTok. Making use of Stories as well as Reels can benefit reach and offer different ways of hooking the user.”
David Coveney recommends engaging “users with attention-grabbing reels. Focus on entertainment, as users cannot scrub through videos and may quickly move on.”
Recommended aspect ratio: flexible; equally portrait or landscape.
As Colin Miller and Matt Bradford point out, it “depends on post type, but all layouts are supported. They don't like video captions in main feed (which is pretty daft in our opinion).”
Paul Doyle adds: “Similar to YouTube, there are no time limits enforced, but don’t let that freedom prevent you from being judicious with duration as shorter content still works best. Geolocation tagging and targeting is an option on Facebook that might prove useful.”
David Coveney says: “Similar to Instagram, provide entertaining content. Facebook users tend to seek amusement rather than education, so cater to this preference.”
Recommended aspect ratio: flexible.
Colin Miller and Matt Bradford point out that “there is a time limit of 2.20 minutes, although Elon Musk has stated this will be increased for those who wish to subscribe to Blue Tick.”
Paul Doyle adds: “Twitter has moved largely to vertical video, but still supports both landscape (16:9) and square (1:1) aspect ratios. The hashtag owes its commonality to Twitter and incorporating relevant tags and tapping into trending topics still increases discoverability and engagement, albeit altered in the current landscape of changes to the algorithm based on weightings being given to ‘blue’, ‘gold’ and other tiers of profiles. Engagement on Twitter depends on retweets and comment interactions so having replies to videos amplifies reach and fosters conversations.”
David Coveney recommends emphasising “breaking news and current events in your videos. Keep content concise and relevant to attract and retain user interest.”
“As a B2B publisher, LinkedIn is something we shouldn’t neglect. Layout is variable, but 16:9 is recommended, and the time limit is 10 minutes,” says Colin Miller and Matt Bradford.
“If we need a video to appear on a webpage, but nowhere else, then Vimeo is ideal for this,” says Colin Miller and Matt Bradford.
David Coveney adds: “Use platforms like Vimeo to host high-quality videos and minimise the distractions of algorithmic suggestions found on other platforms.”
What constitutes good UX?
For David Coveney, “good UX for podcasts includes clear and balanced audio levels, engaging content, and easily navigable playback controls.”
“Podcasts are a medium built around intimacy and trust,” says Ben Youatt, head of podcasts, Immediate Media: “Being able to create content that allows users to feel as if they are listening into a conversation where they belong. A good podcast doesn’t just rely on asking well researched questions, it’s also a question of tone, cadence and delivery and making sure that the way in which you host the conversation relates to your audience in the most meaningful way possible.
“For example, on a history podcast, you might want to consider maintaining a more formal, academic tone, and stick to a 1 on 1 format to really focus in on the facts of the topic. For a comedy podcast, you might want to have a round table with multiple voices and a more playful format at its centre. These are basic examples, but it’s key to delivering the topics in a way that the targeted audience appreciates and, ultimately, this is how you serve their needs.”
Other factors contributing to good UX are, says India Dunkley, content editor, Mark Allen Group, “minimal editing as episodes should sound fluid; consistency running through all elements of the episodes including; ease of access and clear calls to action: what you want back from listeners.”
How the podcast UX can be enhanced
“There are certain aspect publishers can focus in on in order to improve their podcast UX,” says Immediate Media’s Ben Youatt: “For example, publishers might want to look at production quality, release frequency, social media promotion, tone and quality of voice in hosts and guests, artwork, written copy, and SEO.
“All of these are key in building a successful show, so I would encourage publishers to do an audit of each of these and assess how effective each aspect of their podcast is, not just by their standards, but by how audiences perceive these aspects.”
Some specific areas to look at:
- Sound: “It’s surprising how impactful a sound proofed room and a professional microphone set up can be versus the amateur sound we often here when people are working on cheaper, substandard equipment.” (Ben Youatt, head of podcasts, Immediate Media)
- Dialoguing: “Usually in podcasting, we emphasise the power of “dialoguing” with your audience. This may sound a bit obvious as a podcast is a conversation where audiences listen in, but the process of dialoguing as a tool is very different. This is where podcasters use the medium to effectively break the fourth wall and speak directly to the user. Creating the feeling as if they have been included in the conversation. A good podcast host will know when to stop speaking to their guest and briefly address the audience and signpost ways they can interact with the podcast in a more active and less passive fashion. It might be as simple as directing them to an upcoming live event, or asking them to leave a comment on social, but if it’s done correctly, it creates a sense of community where users feel part of the club, and that is one of the toughest things to do well, but certainly lends the most value and makes users feel the worth of following your podcast.” (Ben Youatt, head of podcasts, Immediate Media)
- Planning & feedback: “Record in batches with breaks between so that feedback from the first batch of episodes can be considered and actioned. If the podcast is interview-based, having a call with the guest beforehand to loosely plan the episode increases quality and will require less editing later.” (India Dunkley, content editor, Mark Allen Group)
- Streaming considerations: “If you’re looking to embed podcasts on your site, consider what streaming service you’re going to use. Make sure the player is simple to use, remembers where a user is up to if they come back part way through, and that it fits nicely and works on large screens as well as mobile.” (David Coveney, director, interconnect)
How the production process can be improved
- Planning: Mark Allen Group’s India Dunkley recommends taking the following steps:
- Identify audience and purpose of podcast: what will it provide?
- Identify key areas of interest for audience
- Identify what is already available to this audience across all areas of content production (print, news, audio, broadcast etc)
- Build audio product around filling a gap which suits the needs of audience (considering things like length, frequency of release, supported content etc)
- Pre-production: “Plan your podcast episodes, create detailed outlines or scripts, and identify any additional resources needed (eg. music, sound effects, interviewees).” (David Coveney, director, interconnect)
- Production: “Record with high-quality equipment, maintain consistent audio levels, and create a comfortable environment for all participants. Manage resources and time efficiently during recording.” (David Coveney, director, interconnect)
- Post-production: “Edit the podcast thoughtfully, ensuring clear transitions, removing extraneous content, and adjusting audio levels as necessary. Add any additional music, sound effects, or advertisements.” (David Coveney, director, interconnect)
How advertising opportunities can best be exploited
David Coveney suggests integrating “ads that feel native to the podcast’s content and tone. A good example is the Smith and Sniff podcast sponsored by Car & Classic, where the hosts discuss relevant listings and showcase their passion for the topic and how the advertiser links in with that. Aim for advertisements that don’t feel repetitive or disruptive and blend seamlessly with the podcast content.”
“Ad placement is more effective where the host can talk from experience about the product (as opposed to an obvious plug), or, at least, where the product has some context / relationship with the show,” says Andy Brown: “Technology allows for advertising to be tailored to the user and to ensure adverts remain up to date and relevant – even for older podcasts.”
Ben Youatt says: “Podcasts can really lean into the ad experience for users in a way that a lot of other mediums can’t in such a seamless manner.
“For example, YouTube, social media and podcasts can all create ads that feel a part of the regular show. By being able to voice an ad in the same tone and in a similar format to the main episode, advertisers get the benefit of better listen through and added trust for their message.
“Not only that, it allows publishers the opportunity to create ads that are fun and engaging in their own right. This is often something that users genuinely enjoy about the show. For example, some comedy podcasts use the ad section to playfully make fun of their sponsors, creating a more memorable and more engaging segment of the show. This may seem counter intuitive for sponsors who you would think don’t want to be made fun of, but it actually works the opposite way, and shows their humility and candidness which only gains them more respect by the user.
“And, of course, you can adopt that format and voicing approach to suit all other types of podcast ads as well; eg. for a mindfulness podcast, you would read the ad in a relaxing tone, for an outdoor podcast, you would feature nature sounds behind the ad and so on…”
This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.