Designing the Editorial Experience

“Editorial Experience Design” by Apfelbaum and Cezzar

Sue Apfelbaum and Juliette Cezzar’s new book “Designing the Editorial Experience: A Primer for Print, Web and Mobile” is an ambitious survey of the converging disciplines of publication design and digital product design. It interviews many of the designers, technologists, writers and editors crafting new, leading edge reading experiences that will set the pace for the next decade of written text—both at long-standing institutions and new startups and publications.

Apfelbaum and Cezzar are both friends of mine (in fact, Sue and I are working on a different book together at the moment), so I asked them to talk to me a bit about their motivations and thinking.

What was the inspiration for this book?

Sue: I’ve been thinking a long time about how when the content and the voice and the visual elements of a publication seem to fit together seamlessly, it feels magical to me. Of course behind the scenes it’s quite the opposite. Creating great content and reading experiences over time is very hard to do well. Especially at a time when publishing models change so often—the hunger for breaking news and rich human-interest stories has always existed, but feeding it at the frequency that readers want and in all the ways they want it requires more and more work, with fewer and fewer available resources.

So for me, writing this book comes from both professional interest and journalistic curiosity. I’ve worked in print and online and been an avid reader of periodicals in all their shapes and media, and I’ve had so many questions I wanted to ask of the people who make this work that I finally got to ask.

Juliette: When Sue contacted me and asked if I’d like to work with her on a book on this subject, I was ecstatic about the idea. Good editorial design, like any other kind of good design, is situated in both form and content, and when we talk about publications that evolve over time, the relationship between designer and editor is everything. So it just made so much sense for a book like this to be co-written by an editor and a designer.

“Editorial Experience Design” by Apfelbaum and Cezzar

You two had experienced some of that working together previously, right?

Sue: Yes, we had worked together on a print magazine called RES, in 2005-2006, which was such a great experience. Some editors and designers have antagonistic relationships and assume that they’re working on opposite sides of the fence. It’s a big misconception to assume that “designers don’t read” or care about quality content. For us it was a true collaboration. She more than respected the content—she helped to make it better.

Juliette: Also, we worked together at a time when the conversation of the day was all about print being dead, about magazines and newspapers being done, over – killed by the internet. But in the interim we spoke often of the flourishing of all these new things cropping up around us, and about how our own reading habits had changed. We were reading more than ever, and we knew all these smart people who cared a lot more about the reader’s experience than about any kind of artificial “war” between print and digital.

That “war” narrative has been predominant for some time. Was it something that you were specifically looking to debunk?

Juliette: Yes, for sure. As a teacher especially, I’ve long felt that students need to see more examples of people who are genuinely trying to work out how to serve the content and the reader in the landscape we’re in right now. Often students feel like they need to make a false choice between digital and print media, or even worse, between “graphic design” and “interaction design.” They’re also subjected to a lot of nostalgia about the glory days of print. Meanwhile, more than half of what they see comes in through a smartphone, and the world they’re entering asks that they be able to think on their feet whether they’re talking about paper or screens or both.

What’s unique about writing this book today, in 2014, given that the changes in publishing have been ongoing for so long now?

Sue: It’s such an interesting time to reflect on where we’re at. It’s been several years since the iPad debuted, so we’re past the initial experimentation phase, yet still figuring out how users want to interact with it. Who knows what will change things next: net neutrality rules, multitasking on the iPad, something else we haven’t dreamed up. We’re not reinventing the wheel from scratch every time, so what are those principles that hold true, and where is reinvention necessary? That’s what we wanted to explore.

“Editorial Experience Design” by Apfelbaum and Cezzar

What makes this work different from publication design in print, if it’s different at all?

Juliette: Publication design has been user experience design all along. A well-designed newspaper or magazine considers the reader at every turn, and gives form to either the voice of the publication or its components or its authors in a way that you always know what you’re looking at in relationship to everything else.

What’s changed is that newer forms of media, such as the smartphone, limit some of those differences due to their scale; some forms of distribution, such as Twitter or RSS readers, also limit visual expression. You have to have a really strong identity and content strategy to have a publication degrade gracefully as it moves across all these different media.

So how is it different from what we’ve been calling “interaction” or “user experience” design?

Sue: The way we look at it, editorial experience design means considering how readers are engaging with your content, wherever, whenever, and however they’re reading it.

Juliette: Right. Some of the publications we feature in the book, such as Gather and Apartamento, don’t have a digital expression at all, but would never have existed in a pre-digital era. New ways to gather and distribute content affects print as well. It’s not just a matter of “oh crap, now we have to cram this thing onto an iPad.”

“Editorial Experience Design” by Apfelbaum and Cezzar

And not all of the people we interviewed are creating publications—David Jacobs is busy creating platforms, Mandy Brown has been working on creating both platforms and tools, and Paul Ford has been crafting the language that we need to talk about these things. What they all have in common, however, is that they care about content, and they care about readers. The work they’re doing is in part what will make the next ten years the most exciting and rewarding time for all of us.

“Designing the Editorial Experience” is available from Amazon now. You can also learn more about it at


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