Comment on on algorithmic layout

Steve Yelvington’s blog and twitter stream @yelvington are a must read in my daily inbox.  His latest post called: Algorithmic layout: Another thing the visual journalists are going to hate is a must read. Here’S (a little bit more than) the gist of it:

Print designers want total control over arbitrary layout. The makers of tools for print designers — especially Adobe — will be trying to cram their toolkit into digital bottles. Adobe’s plan for the iPad was to use InDesign for page layout, generating Flash components that would be compiled into a downloadable app. Now that Apple has killed Flash on the iPad, magazine designers are making iPad “applications” that are really collections of giant JPG files generated by print tools.

Image files! No wonder the apps are so huge. It’s like a flashback to the mid-1990s, when the New York Times homepage on the Web was one big GIF file.

Here’s my prediction: Algorithmic layout is going to win. The economics are brutal and they will decide.

We already have Gannett moving its newspaper layout work to central “Production Centers” — hospices for print. My friends in the visual journalism community hate hate hate this. I understand why. I laid out newspaper pages for years. Decoupling product construction from reporting and editing the news is not something to celebrate. But I also understand the economic drivers behind it.

The entities formerly known as newsrooms — Gannett calls them “Information Centers” — will oddly enough be more closely coupled to their websites than their print products. Their world will be inverted. They will be paying more attention to metadata — classification, tagging, geocoding, the elements of the semantic Web.

When you do this right, you create the conditions necessary for efficient algorithmic construction of a broad set of products tailored for specific situations. Web pages. Apps for the iPad. Mobile services. Microzoned products, defined by geography or interest or the user’s current status, delivered via electronic or even print processes, but “finished” with fairly little human involvement in the “pages” that are consumed

I very much agree with Steve, that at least for non-print products and escpecially tablets,  algorithmic layout will win. Here is (a slightly edited version) the comment i posted on his blog:

IMHO algorithmic “layout” already has won in web and mobile. It’s the only way to produce that content in an economically feasible fashion for a multitude of devices and screen sizes. Ok, it’s discussable if the placement of boxes in a mostly linear fashion deserves to be called layout

More advanced algorihmic layout using constraint-based layout techniques to place content on a 2d grid  is  used in  directories, most yellow pages and catalogues.

The publishers desire to have a newspaper like rendition of the content on  tablets like the ipad (not sure if this also the readers desire)  can IMHO only be solved with algorithmic layout.   National/global monthly, and may be weekly magazines can be manually relayoutet twice for a horizontal and a vertical layout  for a single device like the iPad. But even Adobe admits that their approach is not suited (maybe yet) for daily newspapers,

And even these magazines often have a placed layout only for one of the orientations and use very simple algorithmic layout for the other.

Manual layout will not be able to scale with the upcoming plethora of tablet devices. It is also impossible to have a manual layout that works well with user scalable font sizes (IMHO one of the big advantages of  tablets in an aging society).

Alltogehter manual layout is simply undoable on a daily, or subdaily basis for a multitude of screen sizes and devices.

Hence we are working towards story(tyoe) templates, , priorities, placement rules and layouthinting in our approaches towards newspaper-like renditions of newspaper content on tablets and  e-readers.

But i don’t think, that algorithmic layout will be used near term in german newspapers.  May be in a support role for small ads and for initial placement on some pages, but not for the newspaper as a whole.