A few months ago, the editors of Computer Graphics World decided to get away from it all and spend some quality time together charting a new course for the magazine. At great personal sacrifice, we took off to a resort in the lakes region of New Hampshire and spent a couple of days developing a reader survey that we hoped would help us learn more about you, what you think of the magazine, and what you would like to see from us in the future. Well, we have just received feedback from a four-page questionnaire that we sent to about 1000 readers. And what the respondents told us confirmed our assumptions in some areas and surprised us in others. Here are the key questions and a summary of the results:
- What describes your involvement with computer graphics? We like to boast that our readers are experienced professional users and developers. Fortunately, the survey backs us on this claim: Some 85 percent of respondents use computer graphics in their work, and 25 percent develop graphics software. With respect to experience, a solid majority, 65 percent, have worked with computer graphics for more than six years, while 40 percent of the total have spent more than 10 years with the technology.
- What best describes the computer graphics applications with which you are involved? We were not surprised to find that readers are roughly divided into two main categories-engineering and entertainment. Also, as we suspected, readers are dispersed more or less evenly among about 20 different specialties under those main headings. For example, the engineering-related categories include design engineering, engineering analysis, industrial design, architectural design, plant design/factory simulation, and scientific visualization. And the entertainment-related applications include animation/effects for film, animation/effects for television, game development, Webcasting, location-based entertainment, fine art, and graphic design. What was unexpected was the number of specialties in which most individual readers worked. Indeed, on average, each respondent indicated working in at least three different application areas.
- If you use computer graphics primarily in engineering, science, or other technical applications, do you read about entertainment applications? And if so, why? Of all the questions, we felt that this was the most critical because our approach of serving a diverse audience is based on the value of technology transfer between disparate applications. Fortunately, readers seem to share our vision and value this kind of information. In fact, nearly 90 percent of respondents in engineering and related disciplines say they like to read about computer graphics in entertainment. And nearly 90 percent of this group, more than 75 percent of the total, do so because it helps them keep up with new technology or transfer the tools and techniques from these applications to their own work.
- If you use computer graphics primarily in entertainment applications, do you read about engineering, science, or other technical applications? And if so, why? We were also pleased to find that the technology transfers both ways. More than 80 percent of readers working in entertainment like to read about engineering and science applications, and 90 percent of them do so because it helps them keep up to date or apply the technology in their work.
- Which sections of the magazine do you like best? Without a doubt, the favorites were the technology and product stories (both features and departments), followed closely by news, engineering features, and application features. The sections that scored the lowest (but were still found by a vast majority to be moderately interesting, very interesting, or occasionally even a favorite) were the opinion-oriented columns.
- Why do you read Computer Graphics World? We were pleased with the feedback on this question: 75 percent say the magazine provides an overview of graphics technology that serves as valuable strategic background information, 65 percent say it helps them visualize creative new ways to put computer graphics technology to work, and 60 percent say it helps them decide which graphics products to buy. Less than 5 percent say the magazine is merely an interesting diversion.
- What would you like to see in Computer Graphics World? Reinforcing feedback about the importance of technology transfer, 75 percent say they want the magazine to cover a broad range of technologies and applications. And the next biggest group of respondents, 12 percent, say they want it to cover an even broader range. In contrast, less than 10 percent think that the magazine should focus more narrowly on computer graphics technology and applications in either engineering or entertainment.
- When do you want to read about a new technology? Readers clearly want to be at the leading edge. More than 50 percent want to hear about a new technology when it first appears in a working prototype, 35 percent want to know about it when it appears in a commercial product, and 12 percent want to know about it before it has emerged from research labs. Only 3 percent want information about a new technology after it becomes mainstream.
- How much of your computer graphics work is done in a collaborative, Web-based environment? Users have expressed grave doubts to us over the past year about the value of working collaboratively over the Internet. But given all the marketing hype about the advantages that this new work style has to offer, we were still taken aback by how little collaborative work is currently being done by our readers. Indeed, 85 percent do less than half of their work in a Web-based environment, and more than half of that group, 45 percent of all respondents, don't do any of their work this way.
- How timely are the articles? Our attempts to stay ahead of the curve seem to be satisfying most readers. Nearly 95 percent of survey respondents say the magazine covers technologies and products at just the right time, when they can apply them to gain a competitive advantage.
- Do our descriptions of new technologies provide an appropriate level of technical depth? It's not surprising that the technology articles were voted the most popular in the magazine, considering that respondents like the technical information we're providing, and want even more. In fact, 75 percent say the discussions of new technologies are readable and understandable. Some 15 percent even find them a little too simplistic. On the other hand, only 10 percent think the discussions are a little hard to follow. Moreover, while the majority, 55 percent, say the technology stories have just the right amount of technical detail, 35 percent wish they contained a little more detail, and 8 percent wish they contained a lot more detail.
- How would you describe the product-oriented articles? While these were the second most popular type of stories in the magazine, they also received the harshest criticism: While 45 percent say the write-ups are unbiased and objective, 50 percent think they could offer more balanced product critiques, and 5 percent say they are puff pieces that promote advertisers' products. Only 1 percent find them too negative or critical.
- How would you describe the opinion columns? This feedback helps explain why these sections were not among the favorites. Although 85 percent say the opinion pieces are relevant, only 65 percent find that they address important issues or argue effectively for change. Also, some 22 percent thought they should make stronger arguments for change, while 13 percent found them irrelevant and ineffective.
- Where do you obtain information about computer graphics? Obviously, the responses to this question are skewed, given that we surveyed a magazine-reading audience. But we'll score a point for print magazines, anyway. More than 80 percent of respondents obtain their information from magazines, while only 30 percent obtain it from the Web, and 10 percent get it from conferences and exhibitions.
- Do you find the Computer Graphics World Web site useful? If so, which sections are the most important to you? Although the above indicates the vast majority of readers prefer getting information from magazines, more than 85 percent of those who visit our Web site find it useful. And their favorite sections of the site include the News, Archives, Expert Q&A, Gallery, and Issue Highlights sections. As in the print magazine, the Opinion pieces brought up the rear.
So how will we use this information to improve the magazine and Web site? The new course we must chart seems clear. As we report on innovation and technology transfer for a broad and sophisticated audience, we must deepen our coverage of technology and be more objective in our coverage of products to enhance your understanding of emerging tools and give you a competitive advantage. At the same time, we will continue to offer opinions, but experiment with different sources and approaches. And finally, we won't jump on the Internet bandwagon until it arrives, but take a more critical look at the new tools and applications for graphics on the Web.
Thanks to all who responded to our survey. We welcome further input from all readers on the changes that we implement in the months ahead. Our success depends on how well we serve your needs.
Phil LoPiccolo: Editor-in-Chief