Allen Tan has a great piece over at Contents Magazine on the struggles between full art direction on the web and the restraints of CMS templates. Using the metaphor of a tailor, Tan proposes templates that adjust to content:
If we compare digital editorial design to the craft of men’s shirt-making, art-directed pages would be bespoke shirts—luxury items uniquely made for an individual. On the opposite end of the spectrum are off-the-rack shirts, idealized designs manufactured en masse. Like article templates, these are ill-fitting, because standard-sized shirts can not fit every wearer’s body. But there’s also a middle path, which is to buy a good off-the-rack shirt and entrust it to a specialist, who takes the wearer’s measurements and then shortens and sculpts the shirt to fit. The shirt is, in other words, tailored.
We’ve learned that art directing articles online is a laborious and expensive endeavor but templated design separates content from form making for ill-fitted online publications. This concept fits into a lot of things that interest me: art direction on the web, frameworks, online content, and improvisation.
The idea of tailoring the form can act as the glue pulling design and content together:
Technologically, a tailoring approach isn’t very different from the design work we already do, but it opens new possibilities. By combining flexible templates with talented tailors, newspapers can begin to introduce strong design on a scale unseen so far: not the plain, minimalist layouts we see in read-later tools or Flipboard, but truly platform- and content-aware work. Magazines can benefit just as much, if not more, since tailored design can reflect pacing and rhythm across an entire issue as well as within individual articles. And, just as web type services allows rich typography to flourish online, tailoring permits designers to draw on more of print design’s history without ignoring the benefits of the web. By pushing hard on understanding what specific content wants, we will get to confront more interesting problems.