Smashing Magazine is known for their innovative information relating to Web designers and developers. They aim to inform their readers about new trends and techniques in Web development. Heavy Chef chatted to Vitaly Friedman, founder and editor in chief, about designers, the Smashing Magazine responsive website, upcoming trends and his opinion on pay-walls for online publications.
Having diverse contributors each with their own opinions, how do you manage to resolve dispute and keep a uniformed front for Smashing Mag?
Well, it’s an interesting question. We don’t try to ‘flatten out’ articles from our authors so that they express one, unified opinion. Instead we’ve chosen to embrace the richness of diversity of our authors and their views on Smashing Magazine. We encourage writers to present their own opinions and actually create discussions and heated debates in our articles. However, what is important to us is that an article always passes our high quality requirements. It shouldn’t spread bad practices nor should it express biased, respectless views.
So, for example, we have an Experts Panel in place. Essentially a large peer review group of invited experts in the various fields of the industry who review articles before they get published on Smashing Magazine. If the feedback from our experts isn’t good enough, the article doesn’t get published.
The responsive design on the Smashing Mag website is very impressive. Can you talk us through the design and build of that, and the choice of this option over a separate mobi-site?
Smashing Magazine’s recent redesign was much more than just a switch to a responsive layout. It was a general, large-scale rebranding and refinement of our strategy. Over the years, Smashing Magazine has changed a lot, both in terms of our internal structure, but also editorial work and content strategy. Our design didn’t reflect these changes. Essentially, we’ve changed everything. Business cards, email signatures, our social media branding and the design as well.
In terms of the responsive layout, the overall process was quite simple. All along the way we asked ourselves one fundamental question, ‘How can we make our ad-supported content more attractive than its ad-free counterparts?’ How can we bring people who are using Instapaper and Readability back to our site? And the answer to this question was in making sure that our articles, the core of our website, looked perfect on all devices on all screen resolutions.
We started with a careful examination of typography, built a ’sample article design’ and then built other components around it. The key attribute for our design decisions was the line length for the article. We tried to make it optimal across the plethora of screen resolutions, so we just started with the article text on mobile and then as the line length was becoming wider, we tried to figure out how we should adjust the layout to make sure that the line length always remained optimal. So essentially, columns were added accordingly.
We never actually considered building a separate mobile website and from the very beginning we actually wanted to have a unified, holistic user-experience.
What new technologies or trends do you see on the horizon?
I strongly believe that Responsive Web design is more than just a mere technique; it is a new mindset, with new challenges and new opportunities. It might actually prompt one of the biggest revolutions in Web design process in general. Eventually, we will figure out a way for efficient server-side optimization for responsive websites and will be, and are already in the process of, developing new responsive design patterns for navigation, advertising, branding and everything.
Another thing that I feel very excited about is the concept of using sophisticated storytelling techniques as we know it from cinematography or literature in Web design. Very often we underestimate the power of story that could be embedded in our websites to amplify its impact on and communication with our users. By creating holistic, cross-channel experiences with a brand we can establish a different kind of communication, and it would transcend beyond plattforms.
What are some pointers you would give to companies trying to hire capable designers?
That’s a very interesting question. I would strongly advise companies to ask the designers and developers about their workflow, and provide a detailed case-study on how they were designing or building their latest project and how exactly they were involved. I would look at their tools, their workflow, their design processes and their working environment. Also, I would advise against hiring designers who are not following recent developments in Web design or development. There is so much going on at the moment so that it’s necessary to keep learning and teaching every single day. A designer would get bonus points if he or she writes articles online, shares his or her thoughts in comments or in social streams and has contributed to open source projects in the past. Having a good GitHub-page is definitely a good sign.
Being an online publication, what are you thoughts on free information versus pay-walls, in order to keep print versions alive?
We are advocates of freely available, accessible quality content. I can understand the rationale behind pay walls but it’s not something that we’d be comfortable with on Smashing Magazine. I think it’s much better to create original, valuable printed products and sell them to your audience for a reasonable price rather than hiding content behind pay-walls.