The Dial is a creative writing magazine for students at Cambridge University. It initially ran from 1906-1953 and was reborn in 2008 when students at Queens' College gained funding to bring it back. It aims to "give space to the new, original and tough work which is the essence of student writing at Cambridge".
Back in early 2010 I contacted the editor Florence Privett with the promise of free technical labour (PHP, XHTML, the standard) and we had some great chats about design strategies. A poetry magazine has to be content-centric. The crux is providing enough highlight to individual poems, while retaining some form of navigation system. I contacted Robert Leadbetter, a contemporary of mine, to finish the concept. The final result can be seen at thedial.org.uk and the resource will improve over time as past issues are added.
My aim was to start with a typographic layout and then add flourishes of emphasis afterwards. This initial design was based on the styling provided in the Michaelmas 2008 edition of The Dial: Lizzie Robinson elegantly separates the different content types with unobtrusive line marks.
One criticism of my first approach was the amount of space given to navigation. With the poem Jessica, above, the navigation and poetry have the same total area. It is preferable that the text is the focal point. In addition, italics and size changes could be used to distinguish between body and header content, providing a subtle but clear separation.
This final design was cut up and placed online. Personally, I like the concise multiline navigation menu at the top.
Behind the scenes
Content is published by uploading text files using FTP and full metadata is provided with a fixed filename/directory format that contains IDs and indexes. A small page is then provided containing controls to regenerate the site with the latest content. The suffix "-draft" can be used to hide years, issues or individual articles from the navigation interface.
Many poems have precise formatting requirements, where the spacing between lines and characters is important. This issue is compounded as character widths vary between most fonts. The solution is to set the font for the body text in concrete (we went for Georgia) and transcribe poems from source PDFs into an text editor using that fixed font; the online content will then match the text editor of the less-technical transcriber.
And it would not be possible without…
The Student Run Computing Facility (SRCF) at Cambridge graciously provide hosting and administration for student societies. They also have the best customer service out of any organisation I have ever dealt with, providing incomprehensibly fast 2 minute email responses. A toast to them.
Thanks for reading, please add your comments.