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I am working with a client that has been producing a print magazine and is interested in transitioning it online. One feature they were interested in was a homepage with multiple templates. So the homepage would feature layout A in September, layout B in October, layout C in November, etc. Obviously, we would want to keep navigation consistent, but the layout of the body copy may change on the homepage.

Is this a good approach to take? Or should the content be always forced into the same template for the sake of consistency?

What are some examples of alternating templates done well on a site?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 7 down vote accepted

one thing:

When you see a print magazine on the shelf, obviously the cover page varies from month to month, however, enough stays constant that you can recognize the same magazine from one month to the next and that's how it should be - enough difference to show flair and variation, and avoid stagnation, but similar enough to provide consistency and recognition of brand.

It's no different online. It's still a balance. Vary the content and tweak the layout a little to make it different from one month to the next, but also to keep enough consistency to identify the brand. If the templates from one month to the next do not provide that base level branding and identity, then you'll likely lose readers.

So really in answer to your question, it depends just how different the templates are? I'd suggest mocking something up that has the following (and get reader opinions):

a) the same content in two or three different templates and comparing the difference. If they look very different, chances are pretty high that the templates your considered are too different to take varying content from month to month and yet retain identity.

b) different content using the same template and comparing the similarity. If they look way too similar, the templates probably do need to be changed on an alternating basis (goto step c). If they really don't look very similar at all, you'll probably not want to make the situation worse by introducing varying templates.

c) different content in several different templates and comparing the difference. If they still seem to retain an identity between templates, chances are you'll be ok. If they look like completely different magazines, the templates are too different - reconsider.

another thing:

And here's another consideration that makes the online experience a bit different:

Presumably, for many reasons, you are not going to remove the previous month's content as soon as the next month's content comes online. So you need to consider about how users arrive at a page (especially from google), and how they move from one month's cover page to another.

For example, can they link from Septembers issue to October's? Can they change the url from mymag.com/sep2011 to mymag.com/oct2011. You'll be wanting to make it very easy for someone coming in from google on an old issue to get at the current issue.

So, having viewed and digested the format of one month's cover, then the greater ease, (and the fewer in-between pages) with which the user can move from one month's cover page to the next, the less resistance you want to put in the readers way of being able to scan and decode the format of another month's page for the same magazine.

For the user's sake: make it all about the content, not about the packaging.

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I have never experimented with this personally, however, I did have a contact owner of a decent sized site (10,000 daily uniques) who would change his color scheme from time to time. He mentioned that each time he did this he would see a spike in traffic for a period.

Maybe take the Google route and just change up the logo? This seems to be a big draw in the viral sense.

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Check out conversionvoodoo.com's homepage. It rotates based on the time of the day and it has increased their conversion rate.

Navigation is consistent.

Measure, change, repeat.

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If we are speaking about a monthly released magazine:

Imagine some physical magazine. Most of them have different cover every time, but same identity (logo, heading, place of price, month etc.).

The best solution in my opinion: make every month different, but keep the branding consistent (give a feeling like: "yeah, a ton of content again!")

Art magazines are different: some of them changes the logo every time, with a decent artwork on every cover. Check out some real covers (eg. on flickr or google) to see what people are used to (especially your target audience).

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My view is that consistency of layout and design is better for both usability and branding. Subtle changes, for instance, theming during a particular period is fine depending on the magazine content and readership.

Of course, you can always experiment for a while, A/B testing layouts to figure out which is best. Analytics should help you there.

But I would stick to a brand, i.e. layout and visual design, once you determine which is giving the best results.

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I imagine that content of the magazine is much more substantial than a blog post, but you may find some inspiration from top notch designer Jason Santa Maria's blog for examples of alternating templates. You have to page through probably 10 different posts to get an idea of how much he's changing the scene for each article.

He also offers some explanation here. http://jasonsantamaria.com/articles/a-new-day/

On A List Apart (another one of Jason's designs), the "layout" doesn't change for each publication, but the hyperlinks color scheme changes.

So one of the factors to weigh when making the decision is branding/identity. For the audience of A List Apart, conveying an amount of consistency in the design appears to be important; the ALA brand doesn't go through constant iterations. But for Jason's personal site, that is not a factor.

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