Design in Diskmags

Written by Adok

I have just read my article "Demodiskmagscene Today" in Armor of Gods #4. This article was originally published in Hugi #11. Because of our article-exchange project in The E-Mag Network, it also found its way in Armor of Gods.

Armor of Gods #4 features a mostly Imphobia-styled interface with some changes and restrictions here and there: screen divided in three parts, every text page split in two columns, a bar gets put under the headlines when an article is selected, you scroll either by pressing cursor left/right or moving the mouse cursor to the left/right screen edge. An additional feature is embedding pictures in text (only used in a few articles, not in Demodiskmagscene Today). Restrictions are: no status bar, only 80-char-scrolling, only one text color.

Armor features two background tunes. Both are good, but the real diskmag feeling came only up with the second tune, which was cool and relieving, therefore greatly fitting to the diskmag atmosphere. The articles are hardly edited and layouted. You can spot many mistakes in the text design. For example, a headline is on one page, and the underline on the other, and so on.

Still I loved the atmosphere. Reading my article in Armor was a completely new experience, totally different both from the text-editor where I write my articles and the Hugi interface.

All three times (text-editor, Hugi, Armor) it was the same article, but there were three different atmospheres.

After having finished reading my article in Armor, which I enjoyed, I started Hugi #11, my own diskmag, and began to read my article there for another time, to compare the two atmospheres in detail. The Hugi interface was much faster loaded than Armor. After the sound-setup, Antony's intro picture appeared. It featured bright colors and a happy atmosphere. So it was different from the rather dark Armor look. It faded in softly and faded out after a few seconds. In contrast to that, Armor pics don't fade at all, and they are displayed for a much longer time (which is disturbing, of course). The main picture of Hugi appeared, fading in softly again, with the tune in the background, starting slowly and almost silent, gradually becoming louder and faster.

All in all it looked good, though the links didn't give a visual feedback. The first shock came when I wanted to scroll down; I realized that it was neither possible to scroll by the cursor keys nor by moving the mouse. I had to use the buttons, which was awkward. Having selected the article, the text-window faded back to the background picture, to fade in the text immediately afterwards. The text design was, of course, more elaborate than in Armor; I had spent quite much time on formatting every article, inserting newlines, to prohibit the problem with the headlines I told you above, colorizing and trying to divide the article into several nice looking text-pages. For that purpose, I sometimes even had to re-write whole text passages. I looked at many group-, party- and other infofiles how they designed their text. Still, when I read my article now, the header of the text didn't comfort me because of the "click here for the german version" link, which disturbed the headlines. And the remaining article - well, this article didn't need a lot of text-design because it was straightforward, i.e without headlines in between and only a few but huge paragraphs. I had split the article into two articles because of RokDaZone's advice that articles shouldn't be longer than 9000 bytes, if you want a big audience to read them. The articles could both be selected in the main-menu, and they were linked together by a simple link at the end of the first article, saying "continue reading here".

But what actually disturbed me were two things: Firstly, the width of the text window. The article had 78 characters per line and 18 lines per page (the interface supports a maximum of 80 characters per line and 20 lines per page). In contrast to that, in Armor, the same article had 37 characters per line, because each text-page was split to two columns, and 15 lines per half a page.

Remember: From the content, it's the same article - word by word. Its length is 21 kbytes. But in Armor, it seemed to be much longer than in Hugi. Moreover, you could easily miss important sections in Hugi because of the tiring text width and the, compared to the width, small font.

As the article in Hugi had the "resolution" 78x18, up to 1404 chars could be printed per page, whereas Armor with the resolution 37x15x2 could print 1110 chars per page. That's a difference of 20%. In Hugi, the length of the article was approximately 16 pages, whereas in Armor it was 20 pages. These are not the exact values because you have to add the number of spaces that came to that because of the block format. Both Hugi and Armor use block format, but as a line in Armor has a much lower width than Hugi, long words get cut off and pasted to the next line, whereas in Hugi they would have fitted into the current line. Therefore you have to add some more pages to Armor. Still, in numbers, that isn't a great difference. But on the screen, it is.

The second thing that distinguished the atmosphere of reading the article in Hugi and in Armor was the sound. As I said, Armor has two good tunes, the second of which fits into the diskmag better. The tune of Hugi #11 (it is also a great tune, and some people even say it's the best tune they've ever heard in a diskmag!) is also level, like a diskmag tune should be, but a bit quicker. It encouraged what I told you above, namely to read a bit faster and so maybe miss some details.

On the other hand, the advantage of the Hugi atmosphere is that you get a better overview about the length of the article (status bar!) and that you don't have to switch pages so often.

However, don't forget that this is a subjective point of view. Hugi is my own diskmag. Therefore I'm accustomed to its interface, whereas reading Armor was a new experience. I'm also the author of the article which I used for comparing the atmosphere of the two mags. So I know its whole content by heart. Moreover, I've just read my article in Armor, then, without a break, in Hugi. The consequence is that I remembered the content in even greater detail. Therefore it was no need reading the article carefully a second time. On top of that, I'm someone with an extreme tendence to self-critizism. I'm never pleased with my work, no matter how good it is, and I glorify the others, no matter how good they are.

From this standpoint my impression is probably very contorted. But, nevertheless this experience had a positive effect on me. It reminded me how important design is for diskmags, too.

Main Editors often make the mistake to write and read articles only in the text-editor which they use for making the mag. They don't take the time to really read the finished articles in their mag interface, like the readers will do, and therefore don't notice a possible lack of atmosphere in their mag.

There are several components that make up a mag's design or atmosphere. They are:

                             `' Interface layout `'
                             `' Control          `'
                             `' 'Look and Feel'  `'
                             `' Graphics         `'
                             `' Music            `'
                             `' Text design      `'

All of them are strongly connected. I want to explain now what they mean and how important they are. For all people working on a diskmag themselves, I give my comments how I think these points should be done.

, Interface layout '

This is the general outer appearance of the interface. Firstly, it defines whether the interface is split into a menu and a text viewer part or the two form one unit. Secondly, it defines what components are used (such as buttons, statusbar), and where they, the text-window, the logo etc. are located on the screen. It is a matter of both the coder and the graphician, because the graphician has to follow what the coder says or vice versa - if the graphician defines the interface layout, the coder has to adjust his code so that it works. Or, a third person (the designer) defines the interface layout and both the coder and the graphician have to follow the instructions.

The text window is most important: layout of the text window (columns, width, height), font, special features like embedding pictures in the text or links form the outer appearance of a mag.

In the demo diskmag scene Imphobia has established a standard interface layout. I think there is no need to describe it again here. Many diskmags try to imitate this layout. But that makes all mags look like the same. That is boring. An exception is Autark by N-Factor, coming up with its own interesting layout. Basically, only the text-window is displayed, together with an Autark logo at the bottom of the screen. If you move the mouse to the Autark logo, the logo gets replaced with a menu where you can choose the background tune and exit the mag. If you press the right mouse button, another menu scrolls upwards from the bottom of the screen, like one knows it from split screen effects. Here, you can select the articles. It's a nice idea and one of the reasons for Autark's good atmosphere.

, Control '

Of course the control of a mag depends on its interface layout. After stability, it's the second most important job of a diskmag's coder. It should be self-explanatory and practicable. And yes, it has influence of the atmosphere of a mag, namely combined with the Look and Feel, the actual 'design':

, Look and Feel '

The most important thing about the code of a diskmag is certainly that it is stable and easy to control, but that's not all. The code is responsible for the 'look and feel' of a diskmag. For example: how the pictures appear on the screen (fading, slowly zooming in,...), how you scroll through the text (smooth scrolling, fading,...), and how the buttons and links react to your inputs. If you move the mouse cursor to the right edge of the screen and this causes the text to scroll to the next column, this feels just great. Even greater would it feel if the text moved exactly with your mouse movement. Just let your creativity come out! If you click on a button and a little animation is displayed, like in Bad News or the Russian mag Hacker, this feels cool, too.

, Graphics '

Graphics are very important, of course. If you start the mag and it welcomes you with a nice title picture, you will look forward to the actual mag with a first positive impression in your mind. The most important thing about the background graphics as regards the atmosphere are the colours. Bright colours create a happy atmosphere, dark ones a sad OR a mystical one. Diskmag makers have to decide for themselves what colours to choose. Dark (mystical) colours can encourage to read. But it also depends on the picture motive and the content of the mag. If most articles have a sad, depressing content, dark colours and motive will underline that. If you don't want the reader to quit the mag with a sad impression, use slightly more neutral colours and motive. Using jovial colours and motive, however, would be an irony and destroy the atmosphere. Simply, have the graphician made gfx that fits to the atmosphere of your mag or adjust the articles to the gfx.

, Music '

In general diskmag background music should be level, relieving and soft. Music makes up a great part of a mag's atmosphere. But in contrast to graphics you can disable music. Many mags feature more than one background tune, whereas Luna is the only mag that features two background graphics you can select while reading. Reading an article a second time with a different background tune (like I did in Armor then, playing the first tune) changes the feeling. So it's no fault if the tunes of your diskmag sound similar, at least produce the same atmosphere.

, Text design '

Text design is important, but if the previous components aren't good, good text design won't make your mag any better nevertheless. There is a simple rule regarding text design: The article must be easy and smooth to read. If you display a headline at the bottom of the first page/column and the underline on the next, this looks bad. If the text ends at a certain page/column but the author's signature (and nothing else!) is displayed on the first line of the next page, this looks bad too. If your text is displayed column-wise or page-wise and you have a table that fits into one column (or page respectively) but you split this table to two text columns/pages, this looks even worse. If you split an ascii graphic to two columns/pages just because it's two lines larger than the height of your text-window, this looks worst of all. Of course text design depends on the interface layout. If you have an interface that allows line-wise scrolling, all the mentioned things aren't of importance of you; on the contrary, it would look bad for those people who scroll line by line if you inserted empty lines into the text to make it look good when scorlling page by page.

But there are some things you can do in any case. For example, block format so that every text line (except the last line of a paragraph) has the same width. If you use a non-proportional font, you can create block format by inserting spaces. The shareware text-editor Aurora can do that for you automatically. Another possibility to tune up text design: make small ascii graphics, e.g. for headline. However, it depends on your interface if they'll be suitable. Ascii graphics are of no use in mags with proportional fonts or a font that strongly differs from the bios font.

, Text style '

When you write or edit an article, you always have to keep in your mind what the atmosphere will be like when the reader will read it. Try to adjust the style of your article to the mag's atmosphere. I know that's hard. But you must not forget that mags are not simply collections of articles. The articles have to form the mag. At least the articles by the magazine's editors should not be loose texts. Keep in your mind that when someone reads a diskmag, he probably won't read just one article, but most of the articles after another. So if you are an editor and not just a freelance writer, don't regard single articles as pieces of art, but as a part of a big piece of art, a diskmag. Don't use a different style in every article. Develop a style of your own, a style for your mag, and write all articles in this style.

When you write or edit an article, you should come as close to the reader as possible. The best thing would be if you could write your article directly in the mag interface. But then you (or your coder) would first have to code an own text-editor, and implementing all functions you need for text formatting, clipboard, etc. is a lot of work and a waste of time. Better solution: Stick to the text-editor you are accustomed to, but after finishing an article, read through it in the interface.

As most people read diskmags with enabled music, it might also be good if you listen to your mag's tune while writing articles (unless you get distracted by the music). Use an external module player. If your diskmag features more than one tune, choose the one you think most people will listen to, i.e the default tune or the tune that fits the desired atmosphere of the mag best.

Conclusion: Atmosphere is important for the way how your readers accept the information in the articles. Perfect diskmags (if that is possible at all) do not only have to feature brilliant articles but also good design.

Diskmags can be a piece of art, like demos! Diskmag makers and all who want to become that, when you work on your mag, always keep in your mind how it is presented to the reader. And don't simply create text collections, think of the mag as a whole!

- adok^hugi