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Publishers Experimenting with Designing Longform Web Features

With the state of magazine publishing on tablets under much debate (see pro vs con), several publishers have been upping their game online when it comes to feature-style content outside the boundaries of replicating print editions. This type of design work is very complex – often hand-coded, since a desktop publishing-style WYSIWYG toolset is not quite there. In the meantime, this type of storytelling is filling a void where tablet based magazines are having a tough time competing – they are searchable, shareable, more social and accessible on many more platforms.

Sports Illustrated jumped into the game recently, along with their cheeky tagline: longform since 1954.

With the lack of a great WYSIWYG design tool, it’s crucial to have a close working relationship between design and development. I asked SI Creative Director Chris Hercik about their process and goals: “This shows the power of having a developer (Louis Gubitosi) sitting right next to the art director (Alicia Hallett). The goal is to have an immersive lean back experience while maintaining a print design sensibility…. All on your desktop. Actually on any platform since it’s responsive.”

We at The Huffington Post jumped into the game this week with a two-part feature about juvenile abuse at private prisons. For us, this was an experiment that was more bespoke than our regular website, but more formatted and responsive than our weekly magazine for iPad. It was a great collaboration among many HuffPost teams including  editorial, infographics, design and tech where we we’re able to experiment with the medium to see what’s right for our readers. I’m looking forward to – over time – continuing to experiment with the user-facing side as well as the WYSIWYG tools that we can use to build these features.

These are not publishers creating micro-sites, but exploring an immersive feature-length story that is the essence of traditional magazine-style storytelling. Strong art direction, photography, illustration, and infographics are at the core of these stories.While many of these are designed to be responsive to desktop, tablet, and phone screens, some are quite slow on anything smaller than desktop. It’s still early, and the rules are not yet set, which makes it an exciting time to be exploring this new format. Here are some links worth checking out:

I’m hopeful that all of these experiments will push the industry and create an engaging lean-back environment for a well designed, great long read.

(H/T to Joe Zeff for a few of these links!)

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