Introduction

Why e-brochures are a bad idea

With the proliferation of website technologies, business who have traditionally focussed on printed brochure design are more frequently attempting to reinvent their medium to remain relevant to the modern online consumer. This blurb explains why the use of digital brochures needs careful thought before there are chosen as a new communications channel.

Why have an online brochure in the first place?

Let's start by having a look at the role of brochure materials on the web. I've had a go at rationalising these below:

So why would you need an interactive brochure?

A snazzy looking alternative to a pdf. Ability to create a more interactive brochure experience. Inset the brilliant and theatrical pitch from the agency here. At first glance, these are fairly impressive technologies.

But wait, you already have a website - can these things coexist?

The big question here is why. You already have a website, specifically designed and tested to work beautifully on screens and devices of all shapes and sizes. The website can hold beautiful interactive content, wonderful copy and and shiny images. It can also be formatted for printing, and can be easily personalised. So why would you need something else that is designed to look like a printed medium living alongside your website, saying more or less the same thing, doing the same job but not quite as well? It doesn't make much sense.

A printed medium on the web

One of the biggest issues with e-brochures is that they are pretending to be a printed publication. You start with a zoomed out view of the brochure and you have to fiddle around with scrolling and zoom to be able to read it. This mechanism is inherently inaccessible, especially if you are partially sighted or use a screen reader, but it's also a pain to use for everyone. Quickly you'll become bored of scrolling, zooming out, turning pages, endless animations and you'll switch it off and pretend it never happened.

Questions to ask when considering e-brochure technologies

Okay, hold your breath. Lots of things to think about if you're still planning to create a page turning interactive brochure...

Firstly , you'll need to consider everything you need to think about when designing a website, because in essence you will be building a website that just happens to look like a brochure.

Here are a few examples:

By the way, a pdf caters for all of these points well with no tricks needed.

Who's selling E-brochure technology?

Digital is a broad and sometimes specialised topic - often the agency who is pitching these technologies do not have the full spectrum of digital experience (although there are notable exceptions). The software will usually not have been developed in-house, and if it has you should be particularly careful as you'll be completely reliant on them for life, and you'll need to fund ongoing development. If they are acting as a reseller, they will be acting as an intermediary for most technical conversations. Might be tricky or expensive when you decide you need to integrate with another system, for example a localisation tool, or when a new popular device is launched by Apple or Samsung. Worth bearing this in mind if you're looking for a long term strategy.

Full comparison

Topic

Website

PDF

Interactive E-brochure

Accessibility standards Yes Yes No
Search engine optimisation Yes Yes Required HTML / pdf fallback
Offline reading No Yes Usually no
Printing With relevant style sheet Designed for accurate printing Usually dynamically generates a pdf
Interactive content Yes Video, audio and flash Yes, but may not be in a format which can be used elsewhere
Video Yes No Yes
Localisation Easy Easy Hard (probably)
Mobile compatibility Yes Yes Requires fallback technologies
Browser compatibility Tested for modern and older browsers Almost universally compatible If flash based, fallback required
Loading speed Optimised for speed on different devices Can be slow to download, but very rapid once on local device Usually slow due to dynamic loading of high resolution content
Integration with website Not required Simple Can be tricky
Measurement Can measure almost anything Can measure downloads Depends on software
Editing process Via content management tool Almost all design tools Depends on software
Cost Already exists - just need the content Cheap as chips, easy to localise Usually monthly software licence fees, plus professional services time, plus additional localisation fees

Maserati case study

One day I'm going to own a Maserati. However, take a look at some of this.

The page fold is back. Beautiful isn't it? But why the fold? Seriously - the fold is one of the worst things about a printed brochure, no excuse for this on the web and not at all necessary.

The page fold returns

Even in full screen mode, you can't read the text. Scrolling and zooming is tedious. This is a real crop, it hasn't been altered.

Unreadable text

And finally, loading screens whenever you try and view the content

Loading screen

Conclusion

Think carefully about the role of brochure materials on the web - why do you need them, and why do you need an interactive version when you have a lovely website? I'm not a fan of e-brochures, perhaps this comes across.

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