Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More online journal design: Kill Author, Abjective, Necessary Fiction

There was some interest in yesterday's post on this subject, including a laudatory note from > kill author. It may be that they liked my notes on design because theirs is, by my definition, damn near perfect.

Take a look at their new issue. One of the finer points I didn't get to yesterday is the extent to which I think it's important for online magazines to have textually-oriented design. > kill author doesn't have a graphical logo, which tend to look neat the first time and asinine on the tenth. It has text. The only graphic in the entire issue, in fact, is a picture of Kurt Vonnegut, whose grays have been adjusted to blend comfortably with the blueish gray (is it blueish? am I being color-blind again?) of their background. The background color has a nice level of contrast with both black and white text. In fact, generally speaking, the colors on their pages are just plain nice. It feels glossy and low-key at the same time. > kill author may just be the kindest, gentlest reading experience your eyes can have with a monitor.

Of course the contents are organized alphabetically by the author's first name. I continue to think this is a poor choice, and it continues to be the primary means of organization in most online magazines. The arrangement of names and titles into a chunky block of text feels good.

Head to a content page and you'll see why I'm really so into them, though. If we're going to get REALLY nitpicky, I find the horizontal balance between contents and title a little weird -- the contents feel, you know, a little pushed off to the left. But guys, look at the navigation links at the bottom! There's a link back to the issue index, and there's a "next" button. A next button. At first I was disappointed by the absence of a "previous" button but now I kind of like it -- how often do you go backwards in a magazine without just heading back to the index? This makes a lot of sense. Note also that when a writer has multiple pieces in a magazine, each piece gets its own page, which is linked at the right beneath the title and author's name. The next button will navigate first through the pages and then to the next author. This is really nice. It's readable, the navigation is sweet, I like going to this website.

Abjective is an example of another one that has it right. Of course, because Abjective only has to deal with one piece at a time, it has a simpler job: the contents page has to be readable, I have to be able to find the archives. The site's minimalist design is extremely attractive, and the info page takes care of everything else. This is a good model for an online journal, one that I honestly think more should probably follow (why are we all publishing fifteen million things on a monthly basis?).

Necessary Fiction works in a similar way and it's similarly attractive, but the stuff on the right is a little bit distracting. I understand why it's there! But I think that ideally it would be integrated into the navigation at the top.

So, I guess: high fives to everybody, keep it up.

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