Zero print: The making of an app

Websites continue to be a major source for information online. But, with the increasing popularity of smarter mobile devices, creating exclusive content for small screens has become a necessity. Companies are beginning to develop more digital content to help drive customer loyalty and sales. The name of the game is to ‘engage’ the end-user, and the ‘content app’ steps up to the challenge admirably.

Rules of engagement

Initially, the content app is introduced to the end-user by way of marketing. Email and other modes of communication direct the mobile user to the appropriate app store. Once the app is downloaded, it serves as an information gateway through which content is ‘pushed’ on to mobile devices. When content is published or updated, the user is alerted to new information.

Unlike usual content, information on the content app is designed in an interactive format to engage the end-user in an immersive experience. Till recently, creating an app was an intensive process involving resources from IT and a long development time. Now there are solutions that give the designer absolute control over the end-to-end digital publishing process.

Two of those solutions leverage existing software and design skills to create and publish content on multiple mobile devices and platforms. Publishing a digital publication can be achieved at a fraction of the time and cost as compared to existing methods while still maintaining the integrity of a secure process and workflow.

Zero print

In 2016, the company where I worked launched an initiative to reduce its carbon footprint and go purely digital. The company had hundreds of marketing materials that it printed, when required; since the print run was limited and at random throughout the year, this drove up the cost per publication. Besides, content became outdated as soon it was printed.

This blog was started to record the thoughts and processes in finding an ideal solution to the problem. Based on requirements and where you are on the shifting digital landscape there will be many more solutions and approaches.

At the concept level, some of the ideal requirements for the digital initiative were:

  • have a relatively low learning curve,
  • be cost effective,
  • easy to implement and maintain,
  • quick turnaround in content updates and that too to be done by marketing,
  • leverage existing design skills and software,
  • a high level of reader engagement, and
  • be available on mobile devices [tablets and smart phones] as a native app.

Tall order

A tall order, this would have drawn resources from various departments in IT and marketing! Digital has both bridged and divided marketing and IT departments. Traditionally the fountainhead of anything connected to technology, IT is slowly loosening its digital grip to marketing, or at least partly. On the flip side, marketing can also be said to be encroaching into IT territory such as measuring (analytics) and digital publishing.

I have been researching digital publishing trends and took on this initiative as a challenge. The first phase was to find out everything about the current design software, content sourcing and approval workflows, and the publishing and ordering process. The second phase was to identify possible solutions to address at least some of the requirements. The third phase was to demo the final solution, rigorously test it, launch it internally, work on the feedback, and launch externally.

Most corporate [financial] environments have a rigid structure of process and protocols for reasons of compliance and security among others. Getting a conversation started to digitize print materials would have taken weeks. Add to the mix, creating a digital strategy, deciding a name and registering the app on the popular platforms, getting a development team together, etc., we are talking months and tens of thousands of dollars just to get started.

Solution

The final solution took about six months from concept to launch on both the iOS and Android platforms! This timeframe includes approvals from IT departments such as security, software, and network, and from product and marketing.

Phase one: Thinking about digital formats from a predominantly print background requires a different mindset. Someone who has transitioned from traditional print to digital formats will understand. Once content reaches the art department, it begins to take shape on Adobe’s InDesign; from there to print and alternatively on the website in PDF formats.

From a digital perspective conventional workflows slow the process of content updates. When a marketing manager initiates a work request it follows a predictable path shuttling between marketing, product, and art departments, then the sign-offs, and on to the printers. To upload PDFs and link it to content on the website is usually another work request as websites are under the purview of IT. Depending on the size of the IT department and workload this could take months, unless the update is critical. Reducing this timeframe is another project and is not addressed, at this time, through this blog.

There are two thought streams here: a) find a solution revolving around the design software, or b) rethink the whole process from a digital perspective.Thinking a: InDesign, the design software used to create marketing materials, lends itself to at least two solutions – Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite [DPS], and MagPlus’ Designd. What better stream of thought than to go with Adobe as it was a natural fit for InDesign. After much research and testing Adobe DPS emerged as the ideal solution. But then Adobe changed its price points and this solution became prohibitively expensive.

Back to the drawing board with the second solution. Mag+ is a plugin for InDesign and proved to be the ideal choice.

Thinking b: Adobe was already dabbling in a product called Adobe DPS [Digital Publishing Suite] and this has now become part of a larger platform called the Adobe Marketing Cloud. This could be a long term solution provided the price justified the requirements.

Phase two: My research at the time was in everything digital. This required more focus on converting print to digital. Digital landscape at the time was quite fragmented and there were a lot of players in the market. The ideal solution would initiate the process from pre-publication stages [with familiar print design software such as InDesign or QuarkXPress] to pushing content in digital formats on to a mobile device and, if possible, to the website.

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