Twixl in the Classroom

Creating Native Content for Mobile Apps

Twixl Publisher is in the classroom this semester at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The content creation tool for mobile publishing is allowing students to design native content for mobile-apps.

Amara Aguilar is associate professor of professional practice in digital journalism at USC Annenberg. Her expertise includes: digital journalism, emerging media, mobile storytelling, information and communication technologies, news apps and the changing news industry. Having developed and teaching courses such as journalism for mobile and emerging platforms, and interactive media design for publishing, Amara is an expert on content creation and consumption trends.

Amara sat down to discuss how Twixl Publisher is helping the to the next generation of content creators think mobile-first, with a course focused on mobile app creation.

What are you teaching students in terms of content creation?

At USC Annenberg, our philosophy is human-centered storytelling, and presenting story-centered content based on a user-first approach. We are empowering content creators by providing the skills and tools necessary to successfully connect with audiences.

How did you select Twixl, and how are you using it in the classroom?

Twixl was selected because it is an amazing industry standard tool. It provides a mobile mindset for photographs, writing, designing and the user experience. What is nice about Twixl, is that you have the flexibility to create a mobile app with or without coding. Many of my students have coding knowledge. So it is appealing to them, to have the option to apply that knowledge to mobile app building. They really like working with Twixl and are enjoying seeing their work on a mobile platform.  It is a great tool for teams with diverse skillsets.  Everyone can contribute, and create a well-designed app, whether they can code or not.

The course is focused on designing for a native mobile app experience.  It’s a valuable skillset and so relevant today as more people access content through their phones. People know if they are viewing content on a non-native platform, and it often leads to a negative user experience, which can hurt your brand. Content creators need to design native user experiences across platforms.
This class is focused on mobile apps, but content creators need to be focused on the user experience of each platform. The right software is vital to empowering content creators, so they can build user centered experiences across channels. It is also important that software keeps evolving as content consumption changes. Twixl and Adobe are leading the way as industry standard technology.

What makes designing for mobile unique?

It’s a more personal experience, with a focus on visuals and engagement measured in tapping through the content.  Snapchat Discover is a great example of maximizing the use of visuals in a mobile space.

TMBI uses Twixl Publisher and MEI to deliver digital issues of Reader’s Digest and 11 other popular titles

A global media and direct marketing company known for brands like Reader’s Digest and Taste of Home, Trusted Media Brands, Inc. (TMBI) has 40 million readers and 60 million social media followers. In 2017, the company adopted Twixl Publisher to create and publish their digital magazine issues with a more efficient and cost-effective mobile app platform. MEI is the primary North American distributor of Twixl Publisher and for installation, training and entitlement services.

Challenge

When digital magazines first made a splash on the early versions of the iPad, TMBI immediately began working to deliver their titles in digital formats.

“We dove in and spent a lot of time producing digital editions of our magazines,” says Kerri Balliet, TMBI’s Vice President of Content Operations. “They were robust and interactive, however scaling that business was challenging and not cost efficient.”

TMBI needed to find a more cost-effective mobile app platform that would enable them to create high-quality digital experiences across tablets and smartphones.

Solution

Balliet and team began evaluating other tools in the marketplace and discovered Twixl Publisher. “In reviewing other digital publishing tools, we discovered that Twixl had very comparable functionality to the other digital publishing platforms on the market. It certainly had everything we needed to publish our titles at TMBI.”

The cost was a big draw. “Twixl was a fraction of the cost of our legacy digital publishing solution,” she says, “so not only could we create the right customer experience, but we could realize significant savings as well.”

TMBI implemented Twixl Publisher, which has allowed them to deliver a consistent, immersive reading experience that includes interactive versions of their popular Word Power and Around the World with One Question features in Reader’s Digest.

So far, TMBI’s development team has transitioned 9 of their 12 titles to Twixl. “By moving to Twixl, we could standardize our digital titles across the board,” says Kate Unger, Business Analyst for TMBI. “We believe this standardization will allow us to scale more easily in the future.”

TMBI has found MEI to be a valuable partner as well. “Our team was new to Twixl Publisher and MEI was instrumental in bringing us up to speed and helping us navigate some complicated waters,” says Kerri Balliet. “They’ve provided us with expert support throughout the process, so we’ve been able to resolve issues quickly and stay on track with development. We look forward to continuing to work closely with them as we bring more of our titles to Twixl, and we’ll count on them to help us expand the features of our digital magazines so we can keep engaging and inspiring our loyal readers.”

See TMBI titles and more in the Twixl App Gallery

 

A Thing or Two About Supporting a Content Project or Two

I’ve been working for MEI on the Customer Success team for approximately six years. My primary responsibility is to provide software training and support for our customers using TruEdit and the Twixl Publisher and Adobe Experience Manager Mobile app building platforms. The range and depth of knowledge that is required to stay on top of responsive content authoring and these mobile app platforms can be astounding. My challenge is to communicate detailed and complex software configurations, techniques and best practices in a clear and cogent format for experienced and new users. My typical day includes leading remote training sessions, calls with clients to work through issues ranging from problems with an image in an InDesign file to techniques for displaying fonts on an HTML page, to providing assistance with building and submitting applications to iTunes and Google Play.

My role here at MEI requires that a majority of my time is spent working and interacting with clients. This gives me a unique insight into their challenges when working on their publishing projects. I have built great working relationships during the many hours of training, troubleshooting and just shooting the breeze. I enjoy this part of my job and I think the clients do too. One of my clients once sent me a “Sweet and Salty” gift basket as a thank you, which I think was meant as a comment on my patient but thorough training style. Another client based in Utah was so gracious as to track down a local pizzeria and send me a surprise pizza lunch to the office. I like pepperoni pizza by the way – for future reference.

I’ve trained hundreds of people across dozens of companies. I’ve answered hundreds of support questions and I have reviewed even more. Through all of that, I’ve discovered that the biggest challenges I encounter with clients are not necessarily about technical skills or software – rather it is providing assistance on the transition from traditional publishing to digital publishing. Here are a few pointers that I always share:

Mobile must be part of the strategy

Mobile devices reach into every corner of home and business on the planet. We willingly bring them along with us on our daily routines and more often than not these devices consume a great deal of time in our daily routine. According to studies, the average U.S. consumers now spends up to 5 hours per day on their mobile devices — that’s 35 hours a week, which is just shy of a typical 40-hour workweek! It’s critical for a publisher to adapt a mobile and content strategy that enables them to create, update and deliver mobile-friendly content.

Don’t treat your mobile content initiatives as an afterthought

One of the first hurdles is the process for transitioning content intended for print production by massaging it into a format that is optimized for a tablet, phone, or a website. Treating your digital “mobile” friendly content as an afterthought in your print workflow doesn’t work. Stop thinking about how to make a double page spread look good on a phone and start thinking about how the elements can fit together on mobile screens to best convey the story. It does not mean that you stop designing pages, it just means you don’t need to rely on a print layout as your starting point.

Create your content in a malleable way from the very beginning

Create your content in an HTML format that is flexible and responsive so that it can be easily adapted for any and all devices as well as for print output. Eliminate the need to create multiple layouts to address various tablet sizes, phone sizes, print pages and web content. If you can produce content that is in a format that is responsive, the time saved by not having to re-create the same content can be applied in far more creative ways. You can create the content once and output to several channels without the need to redesign or layout the content in numerous ways. My value to the MEI clients is based on making them more efficient and focused on the creative and substantive aspects of content creation and design – not manually re-formatting the same content for different output channels.

Don’t abandon the most critical aspects of your traditional workflow process

A content creation process that allows people to work independently or together as a team in order to leverage the many skills and tasks needed to produce great content and be efficient are keys to success. Allowing teams to monitor and control different aspects of a project is critical in a multi-channel production process.

You don’t need give up those tried and true workflow steps that have worked well for your team in your current workflow. Bring those same controls to your digital workflow using a tool like TruEdit.

Every day, digital content creation is changing and I strive to stay on top of best practices.

TruEdit and Twixl Power New NEA Today Magazine App

National Education Association and Network Media Partners Launch New NEA Today Magazine Mobile App—with Workflow Powered by MEI’s TruEdit and Twixl Publisher

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. The Association has affiliates in every state and in more than 14,000 communities nationwide.

This spring, NEA debuted a new version of the NEA Today magazine app, which is now available to the organization’s 3 million members. This launch represents a major accomplishment, made possible by the Network Media Partners design team, and the TruEdit HTML content creation and Twixl Publisher mobile app platforms.

“NEA wanted to increase advocacy and engagement among our members, and we also wanted to reach new pro-public education audiences by expanding our digital footprint into the Apple and Android marketplaces,” says Earline Spence, who led the project from concept to delivery.

The original application was produced using Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite (DPS). That version lacked a number of components that NEA had envisioned, and with fewer than 1,000 downloads during the first 18 months of the apps existence, the project was minimally successful.

“Our annual survey readership results found that very few NEA members realized that an app version of the flagship magazine existed,” Spence says. “The need for a new approach was clear, so we launched an extensive RFP process, during which we selected Network Media Partners for development of the new application, and Weber Shandwick to build a cohesive marketing strategy.”

To boost results, Network created a new content strategy with NEA, and started work on a redesign of the NEA Today app using Twixl Publisher. Network also partnered with Managing Editor Inc. (MEI), provider of TruEdit and North American reseller and support partner for Twixl Publisher. MEI worked with Network to integrate TruEdit and Twixl Publisher to enable Network to develop and implement the new NEA Today app. The results have been exceptional, and more than 1,800 downloads occurred during the first 3 months alone.

“The new app is more intuitive, and we’ve been able to integrate content from many NEA Today vehicles—not just the print magazines. The redesigned app also includes a carousel on the home screen which allows us to continuously publish fresh content on a weekly schedule,” says Spence.

There have been additional benefits to working with Network and for using Twixl Publisher, Spence continues. “Network has been an incredible partner throughout the development process. They came to the table with fresh ideas and provided excellent support and expertise in a way that made things very easy on the client side,” she says.

“Plus, our costs are down 80 percent. The transition from Adobe DPS to Twixl Publisher with Network as partner has been a seamless, win-win situation.”

Jen Smith, vice president of creative strategy for Network Media Partners, cites her team’s intentional design process as key to the project’s success. “The technology allows us to publish continuously and integrate three NEA Today titles and audiences,” she says. “Also, we’ve built content that is specific to each device, so it’s pixel-perfect for iPads and responsive for smartphones.”

With the new digital app up and running, NEA has begun to use it for events, like the organization’s annual conference. Plans for an NEA podcast are underway, and the association will publish digital magazines more frequently, offering custom versions for various NEA audiences, including students studying to become educators, new K-12 teachers, and higher education professionals.

To ensure digital reader adoption rates continue to grow, NEA will continue to enhance the magazine app.

“Network’s creative design and app-building expertise, coupled with the power of the TruEdit and Twixl Publisher platforms, has drastically enhanced NEA members’ digital experience,” says Spence. “We are confident that Network will continue to help us deliver quality digital products to educators in the months and years ahead.”

From Letterpress To CSS in Only 22 Years

Kicking and Screaming

I was dragged from the print world into the digital world kicking and screaming. Phones? I’d still have a rotary if I could. Books? I like the paper kind. Video games? I’ve not touched one since our Intellivision died back in the mid 80’s. Nostalgic? Maybe just a little bit.

I was a proud print designer and I had a nice little niche in my professional career. I was the template master. I loved it. I was good at it. I was considered a goddess in certain circles. But in digital publishing, where everything seemed more fluid, more transitory and temporary, was there really a need for exacting consistency? Would InDesign still be relevant in a few years? How would evolving content and design, created for a society on the move, ever be templatized? It kept me up at night.

Baby Steps

I made the jump from print design to digital/mobile design in 2011. I knew that if I wanted to grow my career, I’d have to let go—­or at least loosen my grip—of my singular love of print design. I wasn’t excited about it.

I started with baby steps. I would make prototype comps in InDesign and then hand them over to a web designer to recreate in Dreamweaver/HTML. From this I learned two very important things. 1) pixel perfect design was not possible and 2) our web designer could be bought off with Mountain Dew. At some point I got a hold of some HTML articles for an iPad publication that we were working on and I started pulling them apart to see how it all worked.

Be Still My Heart

At first, I couldn’t really figure out the logic. Why does this code mean that? How can I design with only a few H tags? Then I found out about cascading style sheets. Low and behold, I found something in that CSS file that made my heart skip a beat—patterns and rules.

Patterns of indents, brackets, and codes controlled by rules that were documented and not up for interpretation. Everything that I had done since my 10th grade journalism class had prepared me for this.

Paragraph styles, nested styles, based on styles, object styles etc. It was all basically there in this lovely little CSS file that was magically controlling everything else. I could plan ahead for variations. I could combine style instructions into groups to practically automate the design process. I could make global changes without picking through dozens of files. I found order, consistency, and efficiencies that ultimately gave me more time to get creative.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Over the last year, I’ve spent more time working in HTML than I have in InDesign and I’m actually happy about it. I’m still a beginner and I’m constantly breaking things but that’s how I learn. I never would have believed that I, the letterpress girl from 90s would find a comfortable spot in this digital world. But here I am, doing what I do best, just in another language—HTML—and it only took me about 22 years.

Twixl Publisher 5.2 Enhances Article Based Publishing

The Twixl Publisher mobile application platform never disappoints in their releases and the 5.2 version is no exception! To get the new release, select “Check for updates…” in the macOS app, download the new release here, or get started with a free Twixl trial!

Twixl Publisher 5.2 Features At-a-Glance

  • Paywall improvements include a new look and feel and Paywall now displays the single in-app purchase separately from the subscriptions options (if any).

  • New “Embedded Web Viewer” content item lets you upload a zipped HTML article or .oam file as the source for the web viewer.
  • Custom templates for content sources option for integrating an RSS feed into your app enables you to create your own custom template that determines how that RSS content is displayed. Just select the ‘Content Templates’ item from the app menu, then duplicate an existing template and start editing.
  • Content Item Alias is the renamed “Content Item Link” and it allows you to re-use the same content item in different locations in your app.
  • Export Twixl publication as separate .article files instead of exporting an InDesign book as one Twixl .publication package file. You can now export the complete book as separate .article files as well. Just select the new “Separate articles” under the Export options.

  • 1Password Integration (our favorite password app) enables you to access your 1Password Logins to automatically fill in your Twixl App Reviewer account information on iOS.
  • Panorama VR implementation has changed for your InDesign articles/publications. You will now use an HTML5-export from Pano2VR and include it in your InDesign document as a web viewer.

Get inspired and see how content publishers across industries are using Twixl to create content once and simply publish directly to their apps in our Twixl Gallery!

Typography for Multichannel Content

When establishing font sizes, keep in mind that often the content will be presented on many channels including phones, tablets and print pieces. For the print piece, we know exactly how large the medium is so we can set our paragraph styles and character styles in InDesign, most body copy will read well at 10-12 points. Of course, this all depends on the type of font you’re using and your audience. But, a good ground rule for body copy is 11 points.

On digital devices, it gets a little more tricky. We want the design to be responsive so that it looks good and is legible on different screen size. Phones are usually held closer to your eyes than a tablet but the higher resolution means more pixels in less space.

 As a rule of thumb, if you add 5 to your print point size (11), you end up with 16—this is a good size to establish as your base (16px) for digital. Then you define the size of the H1’s, H2’s etc. as related to the base font using either % or em units of measure. For example, the headline might be 2.5em which is about 2.5 times larger than your base.

 By defining your font sizes in em or %, you can more quickly adjust to other screen sizes with your media queries. Adjust only the base size in your body or html tag and all other sizes will be relative to that.

Why Every College Needs a Mobile Strategy in 2017

Every year since 2010, college enrollment numbers have been dropping, and schools are struggling to attract incoming students from an ever dwindling pool of prospective applicants.

Studies have found that tech and social savvy universities see higher student engagement. By grabbing students’ attention in high school with personalized communications and then augmenting college classroom learning with mobile apps and social media, schools see much higher student interaction and enrollment. In fact, 93% of prospective applicants said they want to receive customized admissions information from colleges and the majority of students prefer classes that use digital technology.

Download the infographic to learn why every college should have a mobile applications strategy in 2017 and the 3 keys to success!

Folio:Show NYC 2016 Recap

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Linda Bruce greets Folio Show attendees at the MEI booth

 

Last week, MEI attended the annual Folio Show in New York City and our booth was buzzing! The show marked the celebration of the top 100 most forward-thinking and innovate leaders in Magazine Media for 2016 across categories of C-Level visionaries, Director-Level doers, Corporate Catalysts, Industry Influencers, and Up-And-Coming Trail blazers. Congratulations to all with a special shout-out to our clients Athlon Media, Conde Nast, Northstar Travel Media Group, National Geographic, AARP, Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, Texas Monthly, and ESPN The Magazine!

The keynote breakfast was about succeeding in the year ahead with esteemed panelists from Wasserstein & Co., Good Housekeeping, and IDG Communications and had three key take-aways:
1. In the last 10 years business has shifted and become more complex while at the core, publishers are still creating content that is engaging across all platforms.
2. The question has become how quality content is reaching the individual in today’s media and how a focus solely on print will not sustain the shifting market.
3. What’s up and coming — video, social and ad display

Pro tip: Successful technology vendors focus on an intuitive user experience and client service. But the product chosen by the client is only as good as the people who are implementing the solution. 

Attendees came looking for resolution to challenges ranging from systems integration, print vs. digital, brand management across product lines, and content velocity to juggling priorities and how to fit it all in working 9-5. Hearing discussions about current collaboration trends, email hacking, machine learning, personalization and artificial intelligence, to name a few, and the impact they may have to the future in the media industry makes me wonder if email may disappear and no longer be a central part of our business communications?Technological innovations in digital experience management, workflow collaboration and mobile application development are rapidly changing the face of the media landscape. Farewell to Folio Show until next year!

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How MEI Took the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Magazine Mobile

We sat down with Will Steuber, Creative Marketing Director at MEI, to hear about how he and the Nervous Pixel team helped Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Equality Magazine go mobile with Twixl Publisher and TruEdit.

Will Steuber
Will Steuber, Creative Marketing Director, MEI

How did Human Rights Campaign (HRC) first start working with MEI? Three years ago, the HRC was looking to get a digital version and app for their Equality Magazine which is published quarterly for their members. They reached out to MEI because they were referred to us by the Humane Society and they knew our reputation for innovative publishing technology. We had just done some Adobe DPS training and template creation for the Humane Society creative team. HRC print production for the Equality Magazine was well established using an InDesign PDF workflow, but they needed a digital version. When the HRC first started using Nervous Pixel, the MEI in-house agency, to create the digital Equality Magazine, we used the InDesign print files as the basis for content and output for a tablet. The first digital issue went out for Winter 2013. With this latest Fall 2016 issue available on iOS, Nervous Pixel and the HRC have done 14 Equality Magazines for devices to date.

Do many of Equality Magazine’s subscribers access the website from a mobile device? It turns out the majority of their website visits are from mobile devices and especially phones, so we built phone-ready HTML templates and published their first version for the phone. Meanwhile, we were still producing the tablet version with InDesign, so, all together there were three different versions – print from InDesign, tablet from InDesign and phone from HTML.

How did you simplify the process? In the most recent issue of Equality Magazine, we just went for purely responsive design so we could have one version that would look great on any device.

Why did the HRC decide to go with Twixl and TruEdit? By switching to Twixl Publisher for their mobile application platform and using TruEdit with TruAuthor for content creation and management, the HRC was able to save a substantial amount of money on their digital publishing cost and add HTML content authoring for a fully integrated mobile content platform. I have used both on many projects for our clients and Twixl and TruEdit are so easy-to-use, we can turn around apps sooner, for less.

What’s it like working with the HRC Equality Magazine team? They are very professional and detail oriented. At first they were very hands-on, wanting to be sure every headline, image, pixel, gets the right positioning and style treatment. We were able to get everything looking very consistent quite quickly once we put everything into the same creation process using TruAuthor. In the past, the print, tablet, phone and web versions were all edited and updated separately. With responsive design, all the creative is in a single file, so we can literally just review the lay-out once and see how it adjusts for different sizes of devices. Since the copy is the same everywhere, any correction we make works for all output types. Quality is way higher, making updates and edits much faster and more efficient, and we are able to turn everything around very quickly. For their members and readers, the digital experience is much more robust across print, web, and mobile.

How did you educate the HRC team on how to use TruEdit and Twixl? Our usual model at MEI is that we train up the client’s team and get them ready to go, passing on our best practices. Other times, our in-house agency, Nervous Pixel, are hired as their interactive creative team and they use us to get their digital apps published. For the HRC, we explained that by adopting Twixl and TruEdit and moving to responsive design with a single file for all creative, we won’t have the control over pixel-by-pixel minutiae and lay-outs as we did in the past on the tablet version, but now the benefit is one review and approval cycle that is light years faster. They were really open to that and wanted to move forward. Now, we send them the first draft and are usually done after one revision.

Do you plan any updates for the Equality Magazine app? There are two settings the publisher can select when they publish a collection or issue: readers can download the whole issue upfront or can do it per article. The HRC wanted to make sure that no matter how old the phone, that people could download article by article and not get hung waiting for the full magazine to download. Once the article or issue is in your cache, it is there forever and doesn’t need to be downloaded again. In the future, we may decide to have the reader download the entire issue at once but, for now, the quick gratification of downloading only the article you want to read seems to be working.

What’s the next step for Equality Magazine now that they have a phone app? Their content is very current affairs based. Equality Magazine now has the TruEdit and Twixl platform that enables them to evolve the frequency, timing, and number of output channels into weekly, daily, hourly, anywhere they want it. They can easily keep up with a static quarterly magazine, and have the option of evolving their process into writing, editing, producing and pushing out one article at a time, as quickly as they like.

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