BBC Maestro

In 2022, we were approached by the online learning course BBC Maestro to help create epub versions of their courses. BBC Maestro is a subscription-based, streaming platform in which people can watch learning videos from some of the best professionals in their business, with detailed course notes that can be viewed upon any digital platform. It was these course notes that we were asked to work on.

Usually, for this type of epub, I would recommend a fixed layout to mirror the PDFs of the course as closely as possible, especially if the course was image or table heavy. The drawback for this is that FXL has only pinch and zoom on reading devices instead of the font sizing that Reflowable brings. PDFs can have the same problem, in that a reader can only increase (or decrease) the page size instead of the font. The feedback Maestro had received for the courses, indicated that people preferred being able to increase the font size for their own ease of readability. The BBC is also (quite rightly) very hot on accessibility, so best practise and Reflowable was the way to go for the epubs.

A number of earlier courses had already been completed for epub, so we were able to use some of that markup, but our brief was to make the course clearer and more streamlined, so a lot of the older markup had to go out the window; though what was already in place for the Julia Donaldson course (one of the image-heavy courses mentioned), worked so beautifully that we only had to make stylistic changes.

Doreen Lawrence Cover
Jed Mercurio 3
Alan Moore Cover

The books to work on from supplied files were:-

and the books to be restyled were:-

Adobe Indesign was the design tool used to create PDFs, but whilst Indesign is fantastic for the creation of print documents, it still is (even after all this time) crap at creating epubs. The HTML it generates is too messy and tag heavy to be of any real use and the CSS it generates – ugh. So, a basic doc with minimum CSS (Headers, p tags etc.), metadata, content opf and toc is better; then we can start to build from the ground up.

Whilst epub is much better than PDF at media interactivity, none of the filmed sections of the courses were to be included; just links to the relevant sections.

The colour scheme for the Courses had already been set in stone, but we were able to have leeway on what some things could be. Such as; what colour the hyperlinks could be instead of the usual blue or more epub-friendly tables. ACE Daisy was a great help here in matching colours with the Maestro colour scheme that would work with EPUB3 accessibility and standards.

One thing we quickly realised whilst working on the books was that the images needed a bit of extra tinkering around with. The images supplied were fine for a PDF, but in epub (especially if the books were being viewed upon a mobile phone), they were the wrong size.

Alan Moore 1

An aspect of the Course Notes that was carried over into the ePub was to have pull quotes overlaying full page images. This presented a challenge for a fully responsive ePub using the image as a background with inline text over it as the thinner the device gets, the more of the image disappears off the sides. The approach we took was to ‘burn’ the quote in as part of the image and then have that image re-size with the device width. To ensure accessibility was not impacted, we used the alt text to convey the pull quote.

Other full page images from the course notes were also a little unsuited to anything other than the standard 4:3 ratio in portrait. To make sure they worked on different devices we used CSS media queries to control positioning and background colour. Whilst it may seem unlikely that people would read such text, image or table heavy courses on a phone, they do (another bugbear of mine). So it’s always best practice to make an ePub responsive.

Alan Moore 4
Jed Mercurio 1
Lee Child 4

The Course Notes for Lee Child for instance, had a variety of layouts; pull quotes over background images and images of book covers which didn’t match the dimensions of the page. There were also inline spot illustrations. Ultimately the illustrations were removed in both PDF and ePub and the book covers were handled in a similar way to the pull quotes, using background colours that complemented the book. The background colours were part of the image to avoid any problems with the ability to change the background colour of the epub by the reader.

So, as I said other times in my blogs on epub; think about what images you have ready. What works for print may not always do so for epub.

Carol Ann Duffy 1
Lee Child 2

The epub side of the courses is now in limbo, which is a shame, as we are proud of the work done and are especially pleased with the Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Carol Ann Duffy ones (poetry can always be tough going. See our blog on the yearly Forward Book of Poetry). They may appear one day, but that’s up to BBC Maestro, we’ll see.

Richard Bertinet 3

BBC Maestro is an online, subscription-based learning platform, featuring some of the top professionals in their field. Full details on all the courses and pricing can be found on their website BBC Maestro.

All images © BBC Maestro

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