Beast Design Zine
January 28, 2002 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Beast (warning rough language and images) is a PDF-based design zine. According to Chris Casciano’s interesting call to arms/challenge to web designers, Your CSS Bores Me, this type of thing is on the rise. It’s slipped under my radar so far, but I’m sure there must be better examples. Does anybody have any pointers to really good design PDF magazines?
posted by willnot (25 comments total)
And, not to split the thread too much, but pointers to really interesting uses of CSS would always be welcome as well.
posted by willnot at 8:16 AM on January 28, 2002

Intresting area, but we shouldn't directly equate print design with web design. Anyone aiming for PDFs clearly is a print designer, and probably isn't a big fan of one of the main features of web design (interactivity). Still, its an interesting distribution model for print magazines, and I'm looking forward to seeing what people find.

I'm also a little confused by the call to action on CSS. It has a place, for sure, but the reason people mostly just do font stuff is that you can achieve most of the same layout effects with photoshop and old skool tables, and it will be compatible with a wider range of browser.

The only time all CSS layouts start making sense, is when you start manipulating them via the DOM and Javascript (aka DHTML) -- an exercise which can be rewarding, but can be maddening in terms of compatibility (trust me, I learned that the hard way yrs ago) -- and, often, nowadays is easier and better done in flash.
posted by malphigian at 8:36 AM on January 28, 2002

What percentage of browsers in use today don't do at least okay CSS?

I still use tables, but everything else I do in CSS and my code ends up far, far neater and much more maintainable.
posted by kerplunk at 8:47 AM on January 28, 2002

*blushes* I downloaded Adobe Acrobat and then Issue No.7, all interested, like, but when a little window, I believe it's called, popped up asking me what program I wanted to use my bold choices(Word, WordPad)led my browser to tell me to go fuck myself, not specifying where. Anybody know how a coming-from-a-print-background old fart like me can go about reading a PDF doc?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:51 AM on January 28, 2002

Download the file manually and open it directly in the Acrobat Reader, Miguel.
posted by darukaru at 8:53 AM on January 28, 2002

The article is right, as far as it goes - most websites don't use all the tricks that CSS makes possible. Unlike Chris Casciano, though, I don't agree that this is a bad thing, for several reasons:

1. Some "well-designed" pages (by the standards of sites pointed to in the article) are pretty, but not very easy to read. Most aren't even pretty; and are cited as "works of beauty", but to me they're just unreadable blobs - the source code of looks better than the page. Chris' own site is too tricky for its own good, in my opinion - having to scroll horizontally to find the content isn't natural browser behavior and I didn't like it.

2. Most websites don't benefit from such design trickery. If you're selling soap and don't have much to say about it aside from boring soap facts, then by all means, fluff it up; if you're presenting actual information, however, all that fluff gets in the way.

3. Advocates of good design are trying to translate concepts from the print world to the web browser, and that doesn't work very well. A well-designed and attractive print layout can look like total ass when you're using 72 or 96 dpi photographs and fonts.
posted by RylandDotNet at 8:54 AM on January 28, 2002

In my experience IE 5.X is still the only browser that correctly handles absolute CSS positioning. Netscape 6.X is damn close, but the text is not positioned correctly relative to the images. I don't know what Opera is doing, but it ain't the same as the others. I realise this could all be due to my poor markup, but I even bothered to validate all my code, so I remain unaware of what I was doing wrong.
posted by walrus at 9:14 AM on January 28, 2002

[ Thanks, darukaru!]

I only looked at No.6 but loved the way it relies on actual drawing and what looks like old-style scissors and paste techniques. Like a "maquette" in progress or a superior scrapbook. Consider me a fan.

The drawback is that scrolling down sort of ruins the immortal effect of turning the page onto a brand new double spread. When will designers go back to the old aesthetics of the illustrated scroll, instead of trying to work round it?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:36 AM on January 28, 2002

Blech. I just flipped through issue 1. I've never been a fan of this kind of uglier-than-thou school of cool.

But, I'm sure they have an audience and this is an interesting way to reach them.
posted by Tubes at 10:01 AM on January 28, 2002

Tubes - I dislike the design as well. However, I love the distribution model and have to think there are some really interesting things happening there - if it really is a movement that has slipped under my awareness.

As to the merits of the CSS Op/Ed piece, I'm a huge advocate for usability and browser compatible design in professional web sites. However, I think what the article is railing against is the fact that there doesn't seem to be much CSS experimentation on personal sites either. Without a vanguard out there pushing the limits and discovering what's possible then the trailing edge that makes up the majority of design won't expand either.

Take a look at the web before somebody hacked tables to make them a design tool or discovered single pixel spacers. Most of what's happened in web design came from that experimentation. Why is the innovation stopping now?

Now you could argue that CSS isn't where that is going to happen. Perhaps since Flash gives you more control that is where all the experimentation will take place - it's certainly where it's been up to this point. I think that would be a shame though. Certainly Flash doesn't facilitate the separation of design and content the way CSS does. That combined with XML is the future of the Web. Let's begin to experiment and see what's possible. Sure the leading edge stuff will break in most browsers, but that's only a problem if you're selling soap. Besides it shouldn't be too hard to ensure that the most out there stuff still degrades well for older browsers.
posted by willnot at 10:13 AM on January 28, 2002

Certainly Flash doesn't facilitate the separation of design and content the way CSS does. That combined with XML is the future of the Web

Funny you should mention that, most of my business right now involves building Flash sites which do indeed mostly separate content from display, using none other than XML to talk to a database driven backend.

Display and Content do NOT need to be separate on the client side, send the client (the browser) the display, period. Besides, CSS does a pretty poor job of living up to its dreams on the separation of display/content... the spec that achieves it "better" is XML and XSL -- but XSL is probably the most hellish scripting language (even tho it pretends it isnt one) that I have ever seen.

Don't get me wrong, I get plenty of milage out of CSS in my DHTML work, but its hard to compete with Flash, with the wide install base, fewer platforum concerns, full ECMAScript support, and much better animation.
posted by malphigian at 10:36 AM on January 28, 2002

having to scroll horizontally to find the content

That was intentional?

Eric Meyer is doing some intersting stuff (css edge) but I don't know of anyone else making any breakthroughs.
posted by sudama at 10:38 AM on January 28, 2002

That was intentional?

I can't decide which is worse, if he did it intentionally (bad design choice, IMHO) or by accident (test before deployment? Nah...)
posted by RylandDotNet at 11:40 AM on January 28, 2002

I've been grabbing the Beast issues since the first, though I wonder more and more why I keep doing it. Maybe I'd thought they would present some different styles or something over time, but instead, it seems like it's closed off to people doing the same things as each other. It's gotten boring. I know I've seen at least one other PDF zine, but can't remember what it is at the moment. For consideration, though slightly different, there's the Flash-bazed zine, Dodge, that was somehow connected to k10k. We'll see what happens when they come back.

Also, minor MetaTalk.
posted by Su at 1:32 PM on January 28, 2002

malphigian: ActionScript doesn't quite do all the things ECMAScript can do. Not yet anyway. No switch/case for a start which can get really annoying and no tertiary operator. But I do agree about some of your other points.
posted by jackiemcghee at 2:12 PM on January 28, 2002

I don't know if it qualifies as "really good", but is another PDF-based webzine thingy. FYI.
posted by Hackworth at 3:09 PM on January 28, 2002

I really like InCA, put out by the San Francisco chapter of the Industrial Designers Society of America (sorry it's flash, so I can't link directly to it).
posted by bradlauster at 4:40 PM on January 28, 2002

Using Mozilla that "Your CSS Bores Me" page renders about 1800 pixels wide -- I have to scroll sideways to find the text, then down to read it. The first line is acutally wider than the window width.

People who advocate advanced web-page design elements have no understanding of the technical limitations of a colaberative, client-rendered enviroment. Sure, it looks cool on YOUR browser, and maybe your friend's browser, but quite quickly it will look shit on everyone else's browser.

Just stick to the basics. Some simple text, a couple of clean images, maybe a frame or two and you can put together something quite nice.
posted by krisjohn at 5:57 PM on January 28, 2002

Oh, and regarding Titler and Jodi - Titler won't let me in without NS or IE, and Jodi appears to just be random noise.

BTW: When I complain about these top-heavy multimedia-fests, I do it from the point of view of someone who's qualifications are in Instructional Multimedia -- two years being taught hypertext, Photoshop, Director/Authorware, etc. Most of the stuff being pumped out by so-called-designers is either hideous, takes forever to download or crashes your browser (or some combination of the 3).
posted by krisjohn at 6:20 PM on January 28, 2002

Taschen's Magazine

Is really worth the download.
posted by ig at 6:29 PM on January 28, 2002

My favorite PDF magazine ever is open letters, which is, alas, no longer published. But you can still read all the old issues. It's more interesting for content than for design, but the last issue's design is really elegant.
posted by grumblebee at 7:52 PM on January 28, 2002

Well, I guess I should stop lurking and chime in since it is the first time I've been mentioned directly on mefi...

While I am not partularly fond of a move to PDF zines (I hate using the acrobat reader and the few that I've thought about printing were like 40 pages and would have sucked all the ink outta my epson) I mentioned them becuase its an area (like Flash) where I see individual designers feeling free to experiment. Besides Beast I also know of Naughty Bits and funkworks. I'm sure I've run into a few others.

And just a few small comments on my own article (I'll keep it brief if only to keep this on the topic of PDF zines). On the topic of width of the article - yes it was intentional. Some seemed to like it, others have thought it was a mistake. And while I agree with some here that many web sites would not benefit from such trickery I wrote the piece after being surprised at how few people I could find on the web testing CSS's potential. willnot has sumed up my feelings pretty well. While most of the experimentation will never be applicable for most sites, I think the techniques learned from going there are very valuable in the long run. How many dhtml attrocities did we have to go through before something like IHT came along?
posted by 10sball at 8:52 PM on January 28, 2002

In case anyone is interested I have been playing around with CSS on my site. Not as cutting edge as Eric's stuff, but fun. Check profile for url.
posted by bjgeiger at 10:33 PM on January 28, 2002

Reminds me of old issues of Raygun magazine.
posted by dopamine at 10:55 PM on January 28, 2002

I'm still in the process of debugging it and getting it to the stage where it validates, but the new is pure CSS with no table tags (except where they already exist within the posts themselves)
posted by barbelith at 1:50 AM on January 29, 2002

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