Delivery modes for digital content

Delivery modes for digital content are many and varied. Material can be viewed on desktop, laptop, tablet and phone screens, in a variety of formats, sites and apps, as well as on hard copies printed from these devices.

Think about the delivery modes your audience may use, and what that means for content development. Consider the following:

  • Reading environment and context. Is your user likely to be on the move or sitting still while reading your content? Does the material require concentration and focus, or can it be read with distractions in a busy environment? Does it require a large screen or would a mobile device suffice?

  • Device type and screen size. Devices vary widely in size and portability, ranging from multiscreen desktops to laptops, tablets, mini-tablets and phones. Around half of global web traffic is from mobile devices, and this proportion is increasing, so it is critical to think about how users will experience your content if they are using a mobile device. Some content is unsuitable for mobile reading and use. This includes reference materials, long forms, detailed graphics and illustrations, and other scenarios where a large screen and full keyboard would facilitate interaction with the content.

  • Screen orientation. Desktop and laptop screens usually have a landscape orientation. In theory, tablets and phones can be used in both portrait and landscape orientation, but research shows that phones are overwhelmingly used in portrait orientation, unless there is a compelling reason for the user to switch to landscape (such as TV or gaming). Tablets fall in between, with larger devices more likely to be used in landscape and smaller ones more commonly used in portrait. Think about how your content – especially any visual content or diagrams – should appear to make the most of the likely screen orientation.

This section covers:

Flexible presentation

To adapt to the different screen sizes and orientations that users may have, content creators can develop a responsive design format, an adaptive design format or dedicated mobile content:

  • With responsive design sites, only 1 source of content is maintained, and the website code adjusts the positions, sizes and order of elements to suit the user’s device, screen size and orientation. For example, 2 columns may become 1, or sidebars may be moved into expandable menus (see Menus for more information). The underlying content is unchanged. However, the responsive design influences layout and design, and may affect whether some content is displayed.
    Because the arrangement of elements is not fixed, but is determined by rules, a responsive website must be tested on different devices and configurations to ensure that the content reconfigures correctly and makes sense on different platforms.

  • With adaptive design, the server for the content assesses the device being used and then provides only the elements of the site that can be viewed properly, based on a number of preset layouts. Rather than trying to have the entire website reconfigure for a phone, for example, the server would send the predetermined mobile version of the site to the user’s device. If the user moved to a tablet, they would then see the predetermined tablet version, and so on.

  • With dedicated mobile sites, content is housed in a separate site for small-screen viewing. The 2 sources of content serve audiences in different ways: the desktop version delivers the full experience and suite of content, and the mobile version offers a cut-down version with mobile-specific features.
    If you have a dedicated mobile site, you will need to identify priority content and exclude other information. You may also need to reconfigure information to suit a smaller screen. For example, a train timetable, in its typical large, detailed, landscape-oriented format, would not be easy to view on a mobile screen. In this case, repurposing the content into a mobile-friendly format would be important.
    You will need to ensure that the 2 sites are updated at the same time so that content stays the same across the sites.

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Mobile considerations

The limited width and smaller overall size of a mobile screen significantly affect navigation and structure. Items to consider include:

  • layout of main content – because a mobile phone screen is not very wide, all content needs to go into 1 column

  • page length – when a screen can fit only a few words per line, keep the total number of words relatively low

  • layout of navigational aids – the narrower width of the screen means that navigation bars are often relocated or changed to expandable menus

  • different reading patterns – desktop screens are typically read in an ‘F’ shape, where users scan along the top of the content and then down the left-hand side. In contrast, users on mobile devices are drawn to the centre and will scroll to put content at the centre of the screen to facilitate easier reading or interaction.

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Screen-friendly and printer-friendly content

For online information, the focus is naturally on readability on a screen. However, some material may be delivered online but consumed in hard copy, including:

  • tickets, timetables and schedules

  • forms (both forms that are filled out by hand and fillable onscreen forms that are printed out for hard-copy submission)

  • step-by-step instructions (eg recipes)

  • material intended for handwritten additions, such as notes for a course, which the user will add their own comments to.

In such cases, you should ensure that content works both on screen and in print:

  • Screen-friendly means that all useful elements such as navigation aids are accessible, and the text is clear, flows well, and is properly sized without requiring any left-to-right scrolling.

  • Printer-friendly means that a printed version contains only the essential elements (text, tables, graphics if they are important) and none of the elements that reduce the readability of the printed document (ads, navigation elements, pop-ups). The printer-friendly version is formatted to fit on standard office paper (A4 in most countries).

Content can be formatted to be printer-friendly from the start. Alternatively, you can provide a ‘printer-friendly version’ button that translates the content into a printable format, or offer a PDF version.

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