Information Design Post 1

When we think of information design in terms of public transportation, the first name that comes to mind is Massimo Vignelli, for his 1972 redesign of the New York City subway map that focused on clarity of information. Though not well received by New Yorkers because it sacrificed geographic accuracy for clarity in the subway routes, Vignelli’s intentionality behind the redesign is something to be commended and examined.

However, a route map isn’t the only component involved in successful information design as it relates to the entire process of riding the metro. When I spent time in Europe this summer, I found myself comparing the metro systems in each of the cities I visited and eventually analyzing the shortcomings and strengths in them – just because I have an incredibly analytical mind. Thinking back, these are some of the things I valued in the information systems I encountered.

1. The Map: I found myself wanting a balance between Vignelli’s simplified map and an accurate geographic map. In cities I was unfamiliar with, it was important to have some geographic reference, but I didn’t need all the details of each and every street above ground. I remember being particularly impressed with Barcelona’s map.

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2. The signage: Almost all cities handled signage in the stations the same: each line had its own bright color, and the direction of the line would be determined by the last stop on each end of the line. Then there would be secondary signs that listed each remaining stop in that direction, making it a pretty quick process to determine which direction you needed to ride. The most important thing for this information was the consistent use of color – it made it easier to quickly assess the information. The only city I encountered that handled this differently was Milan, because some metro stations had regional trains going through them as well. Their labeling wasn’t specific enough, and caused problems in my navigation.

800px-paris_metro_-_ligne_1_-_dilidam_02

3. The ride: The most important (and most varied) information design I encountered was how stops are announced to passengers. In some cities, stops were only announced verbally. In others, there were indicator lights above the doors that showed which stations had already been passed, and which were coming. Others had a screen that showed the name of the stop. And some had a combination of these features. The metros I felt most comfortable on used at least two of these designs, especially if I didn’t speak the language in that country. Paris and Madrid’s metros stand out to me for this reason.

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Expert Paths & Collaborations

This final chapter was an excellent culmination of all that had been discussed in the book by providing us explanations of what fields these skills can lead to. Rather than summarizing all of the careers discussed, I want to focus on the ones that interest me specifically.

Editorial design definitely interests me. An editorial designer will work with a variety of other content creators (writers, illustrators, photographers, etc.) to combine assets into a final publication, whether it’s intended for a print or digital medium. In many editorial design positions, there is flexibility in styling due to the varying types of content and audiences, while other contexts, like magazine design, may remain more consistient. However, in all types of publications, the work is almost exclusively driven by the content.

A successful editorial designer needs to have a strong understanding of hierarchy, grid systems and typography, as much of the work is layout driven. They also need to have an “accurate eye for content correction, whether it’s grammar, color or mood.” Some of the trickier aspects of the job include the amount of coordination for deadlines with others, since content comes from a variety of places, as well as the amount of corrections and proofing and editorial piece will go through (happily enough, those are two things that actually really excite me, not just because of the challenge, but because I think they play to my strengths).

Another field discussed in this chapter was information design, which isn’t something I’ve ever really considered as an option for myself before, but only because I haven’t been exposed to it as much as editorial design. However, I was especially interested in this field because it relies heavily on combining a creative and analytical mindset by merging design and data. An information designer takes complicated data and visualizes it in a clear, concise and easy to understand way. Therefore, to be successful, an information designer needs to be incredibly cognizant of how information is perceived and processed, which requires a precise attention to detail. Like editorial design, information design is entirely content driven; however, it is less subjective than many other design fields, simply because it is dealing with such concrete data.

To understand anything, it’s important to take a look at its history, so I wanted to research how information design has evolved into what it is today. I found an excellent post on a Huffington Post blog that delved into the more recent history of the infographic and a look at where it might be heading next.

It’s no secret that information design is nothing new. Charts, maps, tables, graphs, etc. have been around for a pretty long time. However, the digital world has ushered in a new era in which more data is being passed through the hands of designers before it reaches the public. That’s not to say there aren’t beautifully designed information graphics from the past – this article included several notable examples from various times in the 20th century. More simply, it just means that the frequency in which data is presented in an intentionally designed way has increased, and that these pieces can be standalone pieces, rather than support pieces to editorial or educational writing.

This article mentioned several purveyors of information design in the publication world. Fortune was prominent from the 1930s-50s, when their detailed illustrations embodied the style of the time while still remaining incredibly informative in their details. In the 1980s, Time became notable for their information design when Nigel Holmes created a house style for information design, which allowed information to not just be functional, but also beautiful. Around the same time, USA Today launched, and their bright and bold information design began to set the stage for the role of the modern infographic. In these publications, the creative team saw the need for data to be beautiful to engage readers more successfully.

Now, infographics are everywhere, and so many of them have a designer’s touch on them. While information design isn’t particularly new, that doesn’t mean that it’s not fresh and exciting. In such a digital world, so much information available at our fingertips. That can be overwhelming, so information design is increasingly important to help learn even more.

Article source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paula-scher/fauxinfo-its-all-around-y_b_812397.html

Web & Interactivity

This chapter contained so much good information that it would be impossible to summarize it all without writing an entire’s chapter worth of information, so I am choosing to focus my summary on UX, because it’s not something I’ve explored very much, but it is incredibly fascinating to me.

Some of the thinking behind UX is very similar to print design, while many components are much more exclusive to experiential thinking. Like in many print projects, the role of a UX designer is to intentionally guide the viewer through the information – whatever it may be. One of the most substantial ways to do this (in print and interactive media) is by establishing hierarchy – especially through grouping similar content, scaling content based on importance, and avoiding too much unnecessary information. In web design especially, maintaining a large amount of white space can be an incredibly effective way of reinforcing the strength of the visual hierarchy.

Because the purpose of UX design is to guide the viewer through content, it’s important to clearly define goals and these pathways in the early stages of a project. Several ways to create these pathways include developing a call to action and finding ways to minimize the clicks necessary to get information. In this stage, the UX designer will also make sure to maintain a “polite” interface – one that reacts the way that the user expects it to. This means that things like underlined text will indeed be a hyperlink, instead of just being used as a design element. Should something react in a way that the user isn’t naturally expecting, it’s considered polite to warn them (pop-up windows, opening a PDF, etc.). Furthermore, design shouldn’t be intrusive. Users need to have the control for audio and visual components of a project, instead of having them autoplay. Mindfulness to things like this will ultimately lead to a more seamless and pleasant user experience.

Though the visual design of an interactive experience is important, even the most beautiful website will be problematic if the user experience isn’t carefully thought out. Websites are primarily information-driven, so it may feel like there’s less freedom on the design side of things to allow for a successful UX design. However, a skilled designer should be able to marry the experience and the visual content in a beautiful and functional way.

 

Wireframing is an important part in the planning process to create a streamlined user experience, as it is one of the beginning stages in establishing hierarchy in content organization. Source: http://zurb.com/word/wireframing

Wireframing is an important part in the planning process to create a streamlined user experience, as it is one of the beginning stages in establishing hierarchy in content organization.
Source: http://zurb.com/word/wireframing

 

UX isn't just about web design. It's about how the user experiences anything. This chart shows the overlap between different disciplines and UX. Source: http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/ba/b7/a6/bab7a69fa7d1833298f595d97a0a6ac4.jpg

UX isn’t just about web design. It’s about how the user experiences anything. This chart shows the overlap between different disciplines and UX.
Source: http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/ba/b7/a6/bab7a69fa7d1833298f595d97a0a6ac4.jpg

 

This chart, mirroring Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, demonstrates the stages a project needs to go through to meet the needs of the user, and then go beyond their needs.  Source: http://sarasoueidan.com/blog/lessons-from-seductive-interaction-design-book/

This chart, mirroring Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, demonstrates the stages a project needs to go through to meet the needs of the user, and then go beyond their needs.
Source: http://sarasoueidan.com/blog/lessons-from-seductive-interaction-design-book/

Print Production and Presentation

This was an incredibly applicable and informative chapter, since we as students don’t have too much experience with large-run print jobs.

The chapter opened with important reminders about exporting files as PDFs, and included a handy list of all the things that should be included when packaging a file to be sent off to the printer, which include:

  • Final InDesign file
  • All linked images in a folder, including native .psd and .ai files
  • A folder with all fonts used
  • Any printer instructions or special notes
  • A comp dummy to demonstrate die lines, spot treatments and folds
  • All special ink swatches.

Packaging a file through InDesign’s dialogue creates a folder with all of these components automatically.

This chapter also explored color and finishing options that are widely available in commercial printing. Different coatings can be added to jobs to create a variety of effects. UV coating can create a highly glossy or a matte finish, laminates can be applied to protect a printed surface, and other spot options like embossing, laser/die cuts and metallic foils can add interest (and extra cost) to a project. Printers also offer various color options. A traditional, full color job typically uses 4 colors of ink (CMYK). However, it’s also possible to print a job using either 1, 2 or 3 inks based on the colors used in a design, which makes the job more economical. For limited ink jobs, many designers will use Pantone Color Matching systems to guarantee exact color matching.

Finally, this chapter explained the difference between offset and digital printing, which are the two options for commercial printing. Offset printing involves separating out each ink color into an individual plate, and then printing in colors. Because of the initial effort involved in this process, offset printing becomes a more economical option for large runs. Two main benefits of offset printing include the ability to print on a variety of mediums with various ink types, and that it is able to produce very high quality prints. Digital printing, on the other hand, is faster because it requires no plates to set up, and is therefore cheaper for small jobs. One of the largest benefit to digital printing is the ability to have customization from piece to piece (for addresses or mailers, for example).

 

Offset printing prints each color in a separate layer, which allows for high quality images and graphics. Source: http://www.creativeedgechicago.com/images/fullscreen/print2.jpg

Offset printing prints each color in a separate layer, which allows for high quality images and graphics.
Source: http://www.creativeedgechicago.com/images/fullscreen/print2.jpg

The Pantone Matching System allows designers to pick exact inks to be used in a design, based on swatch booklets. PMS inks are expensive to use, but help guarantee a result. Source: http://www.aoeartworld.com/productimages/clearance/triacolorchart.jpg

The Pantone Matching System allows designers to pick exact inks to be used in a design, based on swatch booklets. PMS inks are expensive to use, but help guarantee a result.
Source: http://www.aoeartworld.com/productimages/clearance/triacolorchart.jpg

This business card only uses one PMS ink, which helps keep costs lower than using full color. It also uses embossing. Source: http://www.rockdesign.com/prod_images/facefab1_1721.jpg

This business card only uses one PMS ink, which helps keep costs lower than using full color. It also uses embossing.
Source: http://www.rockdesign.com/prod_images/facefab1_1721.jpg

This business card demonstrates the use of spot UV coating, which adds elegance and sleekness to the design. Source: http://carddsgn.com/business-card-gallery/designfirst?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+CardDsgn+(Business+Card+Gallery+-+CardDsgn.com)

This business card demonstrates the use of spot UV coating, which adds elegance and sleekness to the design.
Source: http://carddsgn.com/business-card-gallery/designfirst?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+CardDsgn+(Business+Card+Gallery+-+CardDsgn.com)

 

Tools and Technologies

This chapter in Graphic Design School wasn’t particularly revolutionary, but provided a great reminder of how cool the tools we as graphic designers have at our fingertips, and how much we can actually do with them.

The chapter opened with a conversation about photography, and when taking your own images might be preferable, versus sourcing your images versus hiring a photographer specific to a project. The largest influence in this decision is the purpose of the piece – for a very specialized shoot or one with a very tight deadline, it may be necessary to hire the job out, while an image that goes through lots of post-processing to distort the photographic quality might be able to be done in-house. Regardless of where the image comes from, it’s still incredibly important to consider the formal compositional principles (many of which are very similar to those in design), so that the image is suitable for the purpose and is visually interesting.

Next, the chapter briefly explored software available to us, and their distinct purposes. Though I’ve been using the Creative Suite for years, it was nice to get a succinct reminder of when each program should be used over another. InDesign is preferred for page and publication layout, and can be used to compile both vector-based and pixel-based assets, while also maintaining strict control over typography to create a cohesive layout. Illustrator, on the other hand, can also be used for page layout because it has some of the same typographic settings as InDesign, though for large publications it isn’t as well suited as InDesign. Illustrator, then, is best used for creating vector-based graphics and any instances of customized typography, like in a logo. Conversely, Photoshop is pixel based, so it’s really only suited for photo manipulation, not graphic creation.

Finally, this chapter explored two time-based programs: Flash and After Effects. Flash is used for animation of vector graphics, and its small file size makes it especially useful to create web animations and other interactive material. After Effects, on the other hand, is more of a post-processing program for raster graphics (film and photos), as it used more to compose and add effects to pre-existing media.


Because I am so familiar with the Creative Suite, I wanted to look more into time-based media development, and discovered an article* outlining alternative to using Flash for web-based animation: HTML5. In 2010, Steve Jobs wrote a letter in which he bashed Flash, and declared that HTML5 (an extension of the HTML language, which allows animations and videos to be coded directly into a website, instead of relying on outside plugins, like Flash.) would take over. Four years later, Steve Jobs might just be right. Even Adobe, the creator of Flash, is adding more HTML5 support into the Creative Cloud, and leaning away from Flash support.

HTML5’s growing success is largely due to the overwhelming prevalence of mobile devices – “according to IAB.net, nearly half of the U.S. population has a mobile phone with Internet access, and one in five page views on the Web happen on a mobile device.” Flash has very limited support on mobile devices; Apple has never implemented Flash support on iOS, and many Android devices lack support as well. HTML5 fills that gap, and allows much more content to be viewed on mobile because it’s simply a part of the coded language of a website. Though content can be easier to create in Flash, many companies are making the switch to HTML5 to meet the demand of the mobile market, which means that it’s important for us students to be keeping up with the up and coming industry standard as well.

 

Here are some examples of how HTML5 is currently being used. For best results, actually visit the websites, as screenshots don’t do the technology justice.

 

The Arcade Fire's video experience for "We Used to Wait" was created entirely in HTML5, which allows viewers to interact with the content in new ways, and involves incorporating data from Google Maps to customize the video to each viewer. Though not a conventional video experience, this is an excellent example of how complex HTML5 interactivity can be – without relying on any external plugins.  View the entire video at thewildernessdowntown.com.

The Arcade Fire’s video experience for “We Used to Wait” was created entirely in HTML5, which allows viewers to interact with the content in new ways, and involves incorporating data from Google Maps to customize the video to each viewer. Though not a conventional video experience, this is an excellent example of how complex HTML5 interactivity can be – without relying on any external plugins.
View the entire video at thewildernessdowntown.com.

Vlog.it is another example of the versatility of HTML5. Though not pictured in this screenshot, every time an image is clicked, a full-screen animated transition occurs. Had this been a Flash website, the entire page would have been a Flash player, rendering the site useless on mobile devices. Source: vlog.it

Vlog.it is another example of the versatility of HTML5. Each layer of this circle is animated separately to spin, and though not pictured in this screenshot, every time an image is clicked, a new full-screen animated transition occurs. Had this been a Flash website, the entire page would have been a Flash player, rendering the site useless on mobile devices, and making it significantly more difficult to update content quickly.
Source: vlog.it

This screenshot, from the interactive music video for "Preflight Nerves" by Brightly, incorporates full-screen video footage, based in HTML5, not Flash, and a live Twitter feed of tweets containing lyrics to the song, meaning that the content is constantly changing for each viewer – something that would have been impossible in Flash. View the video here: tweetflight.wearebrightly.com

This screenshot, from the interactive music video for “Preflight Nerves” by Brightly, incorporates full-screen video footage, based in HTML5, not Flash, and a live Twitter feed of tweets containing lyrics to the song, meaning that the content is constantly changing for each viewer – something that would have been impossible in Flash.
View the video here: tweetflight.wearebrightly.com

In a slightly more novel use of HTML5, this site allows users to drag mustaches on top of HTML5 embedded video, because they are simply treated as separate layers, rather than separate frames of content, like they would be in Flash. Check it out here: http://www.themustachegame.tv/

In a slightly more novel use of HTML5, this site allows users to drag mustaches on top of HTML5 embedded video, because they are simply treated as separate layers, rather than separate frames of content, like they would be in Flash.
Check it out here: http://www.themustachegame.tv/

*Source: http://www.adotas.com/2014/05/r-i-p-flash-why-html5-will-take-over-video-and-the-web-in-2014/

Fundamentals of Typography

This chapter was of particular interest to me, as I’ve always loved the nuances of typography, though I haven’t always understood what they were. I found that this chapter provided a very nice overview of some of the practical characteristics of type to consider when dealing with a composition or assignment as a whole. It opened with a brief explanation of the classification of type, and stressed the importance of understanding the history and context of a typeface while deciding if it is appropriate to use it in a given case. Serif typefaces can be broken up into three categories: old style (classical typefaces that tend to have humanist characteristics, and were the first typefaces developed), transitional Roman typefaces, which begin to develop a more geometric feeling and have more contrast between thick and thin strokes, and modern serif typefaces, which have even more contrast between thick and thin and tend to have very thin serifs. After the industrial revolution, there became a greater need for bolder and more varied typefaces because there were more messages being displayed to a wider audience, so typography needed to stand out more. This led to the development of many display-style typefaces, and eventually to the commonplace usage of sans-serif typefaces, perpetuated further by the cleanliness of Bauhaus design.

Understanding the larger picture of typographic history is definitely important when using type effectively, but the small details, like letterspacing, wordspacing and leading are just as important. This chapter emphasized that a critical eye is the best tool for achieving smooth and consistent results, and that automated spacing isn’t enough for successful typography. Establishing consistent kerning is important so that people read entire words, instead of individual letters, while adjusting leading is important to establish a proper density of text (so that the block of text doesn’t seem too weighty or too light). Other components that contribute to text readablity include:

  • Limiting the use of all caps or all bold for body text
  • Using a sans-serif typefaces if the type will be reversed out (light text on a dark background)
  • Using ragged-left type to ensure even spacing between words, or if using justified type, making sure there’s not an excessive use of hyphenation and that there aren’t rivers of spacing between words that break up the body of type (this is difficult to do, which is why ragged-left is typically preferred)
  • Making sure lines of type are between 60-72 characters.

Another component this chapter emphasized was how to establish hierarchy through contrast in typographic elements. Suggestions included:

  • Adding white space to separate textual elements
  • Paying attention to the density of black ink, and understanding that, in many cases, a smaller bold font will still have more visual weight than a larger sized but lighter weight font
  • Using italics to create contrast without being annoyingly different
  • Have a mixture of all caps and lowercase, or extended and condensed versions of a typeface

The chapter was clear to mention that too much contrast creates a muddled and difficult to follow composition, so these elements should be employed carefully.

 

 

 

This example shows the difference between justified type and ragged-left type. The justified type contains awkward "rivers" of spacing that make it much more difficult to read. Source: http://www.fonts.com/content/learning/fontology/level-2/making-type-choices/justified-vs-rag-right

This example shows the difference between justified type and ragged-left type. The justified type contains awkward “rivers” of spacing that make it much more difficult to read.
Source: http://www.fonts.com/content/learning/fontology/level-2/making-type-choices/justified-vs-rag-right

 

This collection of typefaces, all set at 10 pt demonstrates the wide difference of perceived size based on each typeface's x-height. A larger x-height takes up more space and may require additional leading to avoid feeling squished.  Source: http://www.melbpc.org.au/pcupdate/2311/2311article11.htm

This collection of typefaces, all set at 10 pt demonstrates the wide difference of perceived size based on each typeface’s x-height. A larger x-height takes up more space and may require additional leading to avoid feeling squished.
Source: http://www.melbpc.org.au/pcupdate/2311/2311article11.htm

This image demonstrates type that has no intentional hierarchy. Everything is set at the same size, which gives no contrast. Source: http://blog.typekit.com/2011/03/17/type-study-typographic-hierarchy/

This image demonstrates type that has no intentional hierarchy. Everything is set at the same size, which gives no contrast.
Source: http://blog.typekit.com/2011/03/17/type-study-typographic-hierarchy/

This example, on the other hand, establishes hierarchy through varying type size, weight, upper/lowercase usage, and alignment. It presents the information in a much more accessible way. Source: http://blog.typekit.com/2011/03/17/type-study-typographic-hierarchy/

This example, on the other hand, establishes hierarchy through varying type size, weight, upper/lowercase usage, and alignment. It presents the information in a much more accessible way.
Source: http://blog.typekit.com/2011/03/17/type-study-typographic-hierarchy/

Fundamentals of Composition

While this chapter of Graphic Design School opened with several concepts that were explored earlier in this blog, like positive and negative space, dots and lines, figure/ground relationships, rule of thirds, closure and symmetry, the later part of the chapter contained quite a lot I found to be helpful specifically relating to publication design.

The first of these concepts was symmetry and asymmetry, but in the context of layouts in publications. The book explained the historical context of both kinds of layouts, and in what form one or the other may be more successful. Symmetrical layouts were commonly found in old manuscripts and early typeset pages, in which centered type (especially on title pages), justified block type and decorative borders were used to create balanced layouts. As simple as symmetrical layouts appear to the eye, careful consideration must be taken with how type is set, so that there is appropriate and balanced spacing between elements to create a harmonious composition. Asymmetrical layouts, on the other hand, gained momentum during the Bauhaus movement, and resulted in dynamic layouts that pushed visual tension. Now, both symmetrical and asymmetrical layouts have their own appropriate uses – but it’s up to the designer to determine which kind of layout would be most appropriate for specific content.

Another concept discussed was pace and contrast in publication design. For a publication to be successful it its entity, designers must plan layouts as they relate to the publication as a whole, not just to a specific story, chapter or department. Pacing a publication effectively means finding a balance between too much and too little visual complexity so as a whole, it draws the reader in but doesn’t overwhelm them. This pacing can be achieved in different ways, and varies if the publication is printed or digital. For a print publication, it’s necessary to view pacing from multiple angles because not every reader will necessarily start reading from the same place, and will be reading it in a variety of contexts. In digital publications, the added ability for interactivity and movement means the reader will be interacting with it differently than a print version, so new things must be taken into consideration. However, regardless of context, it’s critical to remember that the designer’s job is to navigate the reader through the piece in an intentional way, so that needs to always be in the front of the mind.
I was especially interested in the exploration of what in the design process needs to change for a digital version of a publication, so I ended up finding an article from Adobe Press* by Sandee Cohen that outlined 10 guidelines for digital design – several of which I found incredibly useful.

First, it’s important to give navigation clues to guide the reader through interacting with the digital version. This could be included in a special help section, or with helpful symbols interspersed on pages for special interactions. It’s important that these guides are clear and easy to understand, or else their whole purpose would be defeated.

Second, laziness is not acceptable. Spreads should be designed in both horizontal and vertical layouts to make it more comfortable for viewers. This means that the print version will likely need to be altered, and while that means extra work, it means the overall experience of the publication will be better. However, Cohen also acknowledges that there are some elements, features or packages in a print publication that may not be able to be altered to a horizontal layout based on its content. In this case, it’s necessary to communicate to the readers that it needs to be viewed in a particular way.

Finally, it’s important to use the freedom of digital design to have fun and add new content. A digital publication shouldn’t necessarily just involve scrolling through pages – there should be videos or use tapping or swiping to navigate content. The rise of digital publications is exciting because it opens up the door for new possibilities for content and interactivity, so neglecting to take advantage of this freedom would be a shame.

 

This excerpt from Adagia Erasmus, printed by Aldus Manutius in the 15th century demonstrates the symmetrical page layout that was commonplace up through the 20th century. Source: http://www.humanistischecanon.nl/boekdrukkunst/aldus_manutius__1449___1515_

This excerpt from Adagia Erasmus, printed by Aldus Manutius in the 15th century demonstrates the symmetrical page layout that was commonplace up through the 20th century.
Source: http://www.humanistischecanon.nl/boekdrukkunst/aldus_manutius__1449___1515_

 

Jan Tschichold, pioneer of the New Typography movement, is considered one of the leading forces in the shift towards asymmetrical layouts that became popular during the Bauhaus. Source: http://typographyhistory.tumblr.com/page/3

Jan Tschichold, pioneer of the New Typography movement, is considered one of the leading forces in the shift towards asymmetrical layouts that became popular during the Bauhaus.
Source: http://typographyhistory.tumblr.com/page/3

 

This story, from Vanity Fair, shows the necessity and success of altering a page's layout for both a horizontal and vertical orientation of a digital publication.

This story, from Vanity Fair, shows the necessity and success of altering a page’s layout for both a horizontal and vertical orientation of a digital publication.

 

 

*Source: http://www.adobepress.com/articles/article.asp?p=1987679