In 2019, people read the news on mobile devices. Daily news websites, opinions websites, magazines websites, social media websites – reading on digital devices has become such a standard we almost take it for granted. But the truth is, that shifting the focus from reading news on paper to reading it digitally is one of the publishing world’s most significant transformations.

In this article, we will follow the four pillars of our research to review the change of content, the implications on the design, technological challenges and the generation of a new market in the newspapers world. For each point, we will try to understand the similarities and differences between the published contents to see what we can take further to our next phase of research.

Enriched Content.

“The scientific revolution that began 300 years ago in Europe has accelerated exponentially, spreading knowledge at a speed that will, I believe, change our way of life. … A new generation of media consumers has risen demanding content delivered when they want it, how they want it, and very much as they want it. … The challenge for us in traditional media is how to engage with this new audience.

There is only one way. That is by using our skills to create and distribute dynamic, exciting content. … But – and this is a very big BUT – newspapers will have to adapt as their readers demand news on a variety of platforms: websites, iPods, mobile phones or laptops.

I believe traditional newspapers have many years of life left but, equally, I think in the future that newsprint and ink will be just one of many channels to our readers. … Content is being repurposed to suit the needs of a contemporary audience.

Rupert Murdoch, The Dawn of A New Age of Discovery: Media 2006 speech, 2006

In the very early days of newspapers, the content was simply text. The use of images in newspapers has become standard only during the ’80s of the last century. Since then, images have become a standard mean for accompanying textual stories. The transition to the digital platforms has allowed newspapers to present reacher content in more extensive varieties. The digital daily uses a mixture of text, images, videos and audio files.

When it comes to non-fiction books, images, illustrations and information graphics take a significant part in their content. When moving to a digital platform, there are even more content forms that can become part of the story-telling such as video, audio and motion graphics.

Interactive animated data on ‘The Big Business of Japan’s Cherry Blossom’ by Bloomberg.
Winner of the Data Journalism Awards for Data Visualisation of the Year 2019

Interactivity is an additional option that newspapers have made trivial with the move to the digital platforms – sliding galleries, clickable links, zooming and searching are just a few of the possibilities the digital newspapers added to what was before a static layout.

In our next phase of the research, we would create enriched content for the new digital reading experiences.


“A format change alone is not enough. Those who accompanied the change in size with an overhaul of graphic content to adapt it to the new needs of the public had the greatest success, while those who had tried to reproduce the old newspaper at a smaller size had not found the change very beneficial.”

Francesco Franchi, Designing News, 2013

The first digital podium for the daily news was the World Wide Web. Websites forced newspapers to design a visual identity to match both print and digital. The leaders of this move were two British newspapers – the Guardian and the Times. For more than a year, teams of dozens of designers worked on setting up various layouts for different categories, creating more informational-design and designing new, designated fonts.

The design transformation included both print and digital-oriented designers. Each had to learn from each other. We are very curious to see what a juxtaposing between book designers and digital designers can bring. In the next phase, we would create workshops for designers to experiment in the options for designing in-depth digital reading.

“Every newspaper is on a journey into some kind of digital future. That doesn’t mean getting out of print, but it does require a greater focus of attention, imagination and resource on the various forms that the digital future is likely to take.”

Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian editor, Quoted in the Guardian, 2011.

The launch of the iPad in 2010 was received in great enthusiasm by publishers. Their initial idea was to transform the existing content and graphics onto the new digital accessory, by rescaling them. Most of them chose to hold on to the familiar print files, using the convenient, low-cost PDF. But while the PDF enabled practical distribution on the digital devices, it took no advantage of the new device’s abilities. The result was a “complicated, unattractive and, in many cases, extremely tiresome” reading experience (F. Franchi).

The pioneers in developing design targeted for tablets were the magazines. Their content was longer, more complex and reacher in graphics. Magazines such as Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek and the Guardian has launched tablet-designated applications with re-branded mobile design. Their designs featured a mobile-targeted layout, interactive content and a designated navigation system.

The Mountain Bike magazine Enduro is a fully-digital tablet app.
The magazine uses digital features combined with a layered design and playful typography

Daily news requires systematic, repeating design due to their fast content changes, while magazines can allow a more experimental design. Both templated and unique design derive from their content and their time-to-market. We will discuss those differences and their meaning further in article 2.3.

The implementer of the printed newspaper is the print machine, using ink. The implementer of websites is the server, using code language. In the practical sense of technology and workforce, moving to the digital platform required teaching the content makers – the writers (journalists), editors and designers – to learn how to work with new tools.

While newspapers were aiming for multiple channels – desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones – the magazines were aiming mainly for tablets format. Being equivalent to a book-size, and a device separate from daily telecom use gives tablets significant reading advantages. On the other hand, they are less popular and accessible than smartphones. Nowadays, especially since the smartphones’ screen-size growth, there are many web-magazines designed for all mobile devices. We will discuss the devices further on article 3.3.

In the next phase, we would examine whether to restrict the large-scale content to tablets only, enable it to all devices or decide per content.

The Changing Market.

“The path to the rebirth of the newspapers today is to create a niche audience, focus on distinguishing features, stand out from the competition, and focus on quality. More added value, less news containers.”

Christian Rocca, Quoted in ‘Designing News’, Gestalten, 2013.

As we are writing these lines, Apple had launched her annual new features for 2019. Among their several innovations, Tim Cook announced the planned launch of Apple News Plus – a subscription to a library of about 300 magazines, among them some of the world’s leading ones such as The New Yorker, Rolling Stone and Wired. Not only have they created a shared platform for different publishers, that so far were looking for their own solutions, but they put a strong emphasis on the design of the magazines themselves – no more adapted print versions, but a profound digital-first design. The new designs, as presented in the launch, include live streaming video cover for National Geographic and adaptive designs to all devices.

images released by the Apple News + launch – new magazines design

Joining forces and investing in the re-designing of the new issues’ content had a huge incentive for the publishers appearing in this app: over 1 billion active Apple devices in the USA alone. The exposer and opportunity to reach so many new readers made publishers believe in the potential of a market. In 2 hours, the new platform had over 200,000 new subscribers.

For the new reading platform to succeed, we see creating a new market as a top priority. Creating a market is also a repeating feedback coming in our interviews with publishers, as with technology companies who’ve been working closely to publishing houses in the past decade.

Apple most certainly has a vast market, but it is based on its operating system and limited to other devices. We believe the new digital reading experience should be a part of the reader’s life, and therefore should not be limited to a particular device. The collaboration of publishers, on the other hand, is an example we think will be beneficial for the new platform. In the following phase, we would examine in depth the best ways to do that.

We will discuss more on how to create a market in article 4.3.

Learning From Experience.
The transformation of the news content has many inspirational similarities to the idea of the new digital reading experience. From them, we choose to test the following further:
1. Enriched content – which content is suitable to be enriched, and what could the enrichment be?
2. Templated and unique design – testing both with the relevant content, in collaborative teams.
3. Implementing content with code language to distribute on multiple sizes.
4. Devices need to be practically examined and defined in the guide for the new digital reading experience.
5. A shared platform can contribute to the new digital reading experience.

next article: Reading Through Glass