A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an app magazine called "Sister Mag". Besides the app for iOS, Google Play and Amazon, there is a large blog as well as download and multimedia topics on the website, plus an ISSUU-PDF on the website. I feel that sisterMAG is a very beautifully made women’s magazine with a lot of love for detail about lifestyle, fashion and many other things that make life more fun.
Normally, I don’t get lost in women’s magazines as I often lack the time and passion for them – or they are simply all the same. However, sisterMAG really felt different and I put my nose into it for quite a while. "What a great magazine", I thought by myself, "and they even have an app!". The ladies behind sisterMAG really fully understood sustainable publishing that is fit for the future – and executed it well.
As an app magazine designer myself, my heart was smiling. And this is why I wrote this blog article about sisterMAG. I took a closer look at issues number 34 (February 2018) and number 12 (April 2014).
Considering the editorial design, you can without a doubt tell the editor in chief’s design expertise. Technically, the app was implemented by PressMatrix GmbH in Berlin.
The starting screen of the app shows the cover pages of all magazine issues (German and English language). Having several languages within the same app can make things complicated and unfortunately do so in this app, it’s a bit hard to find the issue you want to read. Readers might want to read either the English or the German issue. Two separate apps (one for English and one for German) would have been better here and in the readers’ interest.
What attracted my attention was the fact that sisterMAG doesn’t offer animations, photo slide shows or other "special effect" interactions in the app. The app predominantly works with links to the website. This can make sense here since the website offers a lot of continuative content that links to the relevant topics (an example is dress patterns as PDF downloads on the website as a link from the photos showing the perfectly sewed dresses in the app magazine). Hence: perfect cross-marketing across several channels!
In issue number 12 from April 2014, published quite a while ago, I discovered embedded video and audio content. But that was it in terms of multimedia content within the app. Video and audio files seem to be hardly ever used. For sisterMAG, links to the website seem sufficient and financially easily doable. The more complex animations, special effects and other interactions you offer in an app, the more its production costs of course.
What I like: All links are visually emphasised so that you instantly see where more content is offered. Very nice! Moreover, the links open in an In-App-Browser. This means that the reader cannot get lost in the world wide web as the browser address line is not displayed. When you want to exit the website, you simply tap on "done" and the In-App-Browser closes, leaving you at the same position in the app where you left it in order to go into the internet.
The magazine can be read in both formats on the tablet (portrait and landscape). However, there is a similar problem like shifting print PDFs into a app: It only makes real sense to read the magazine in landscape format, especially when you think of stories that are designed across double pages.
The font size is perfect for a digital reading flow on tablets. When you look at other magazines that shift their print PDF files into the app, you’ll find out that you will be forced to manually zoom in and out on every (!) text column in order to be able to read the app magazine, which is extremely frustrating, as you can imagine. SisterMAG does it well, very good!
A source of irritation however are very narrow text columns which can hurt your eye when looking at the text for a little while. Three to five words per line are definitely too little, it should be at least seven to eight words per line for a digital medium, in my opinion. Ordinary book typography demands for an ideal line width of eight to twelve words per line to make it a pleasure for the human eye (see typography expert Wolfgang Beinert).
A one column text layout would have been better than a two column text layout here, as a lot of negative space or white space is used anyway.
The app seems to have limitations in terms of file downloads like PDFs in the In-App-Browser. There was a lovely photo gallery with self-sewed dresses of which patterns were offered as a PDF download. The PDF downloads were linked in the app. The link opened the website in the In-App-Browser and led to the PDF download. However, the PDF was stuck on the first page. It was impossible to scroll further down to see the patterns – this problem occured with all four dress patterns. However, opening the links in the Safari browser on my iPad, there were no problems with PDF downloads, I could scroll down to the end of each PDF file. Also when opening the PDFs on the desktop computer, everything was fine. The app’s In-App-Browser caused the problem. Opening the PDF download outside the app in the Safari browser would have been a good workaround – even though that means readers leave the app.
You can consume the sisterMAG app also on your smartphone – technically and in theory. However, the readability is not good on the phone. The text size is so small that reading becomes an annoying challenge. The layout of the tablet version is the same as in the smartphone version which of course makes the magazine production easier but the reader has to pay the price for that. A new, smartphone-friendly, layout with bigger font size for smartphones and a one-column layout for the text would have been the better solution.
You can find out more information about this specific topic in this video:
SisterMAG a very beautiful magazine and fun to read – even though not on your smartphone. But I think, many other special interest magazines can really take a leaf out of sisterMAG’s book.