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By Thomas Baekdal - June 2011

How to Fix the Format

Yesterday, I posted a short reminder how brands and publishers no longer own the format. Pictures you upload are often cropped by 3rd party services, either when an image are being converted into a thumbnail next to the article, or when apps like Flipboard can be used in both horizontal and vertical modes.

I posted this page from Flipboard. Not only are the images cropped in the vertical format, but there is also a problem with asking "left or right". You do not control how something is shared.

So... How do you fix it?

For starters, instead using "left or right" use descriptive text related to each image. They should have asked, "Which dress could you rock - plain or pattern?" But fixing the text is easy.

The real problem are the images. What you need to do is to design images to be cropped dynamically. As an example, let's take a picture like this one.

Note: Image credit - Clu from the movie Tron

What people (especially in print) will do is to find out what kind of frame this picture should be presented in, and crop it so that it is just right. Like this:

It looks stunning!

The problem is that you don't control the format, so when 3rd party apps, readers, and sites use it, the picture might end up in a horizontal box. And that just ruins everything.

The way to solve this is to always think of your images as a square, of which something will almost always be cropped. So create a square and overlay two boxes - one horizontal and one ertical. Like this one.

The inner square is your safe zone, the part of the picture that you are sure people can always see. The outer areas are the ones you should always assume will be cropped. The corner are dead-zones - areas of your picture that will almost never show up (coincidentally, the corners are usually where brands put their logo...)

Then you make sure the source picture include a lot of background. Like the one below. You need image space to work with.

And finally you place your picture into the square, making sure that all the important areas are inside the inner square.


This is then the picture you upload and share online.

And, this is what it looks like horizontally and vertically.

Wait a minute!!

I know what you are thinking. Yes, it doesn't look as good as the first one. But that is also really the point. You do not control the format, and there is no way you can force 3rd party services (like newsreaders, Flipboard etc) to only crop the images in a certain way.

By doing the above, you can make it as good as possible - making sure that everyone see the part of the image you want them to see.

Also, if you want to do this right, you have to take the right pictures. Your photographer must make sure you always got enough picture to work with. If he takes a picture with the focus on the very edge of the frame, your graphic team have nothing to work with. This process of creating flexible formats begins with your photographer.

It is not perfect. It is dynamic!


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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