What Print Design Gave Us.

In recent years I have experienced a general snubbing, of sorts toward print design and it’s deliverables. As digital media continues to grow there is doubt and fear for some about the relevancy and impact of print.

Don’t be so quick to damn print or it’s processes.

Being a part of multiple projects and having worked with teams who are focused on digital work, I have heard people mention print as if it were some bastard child and is completely obsolete more times than I care to recall. To this I say, learn from your elders friends. The beauty of print is multifaceted and there are plenty of articles, seminars and white papers that talk about the ROI and validity as it relates to the printed pieces that designing for print yields.

I would like to talk about the PROCESS of designing for print and how it is still vital.


As anyone who has ever done a press check with festering anxiety in their stomach because they’ve been through 20 revisions and tweaks with a committee of 10 or more people will tell you, you only get one shot. It can be insanely stressful and is one of many reasons to work with the right vendors for support and attention to detail. The level of inhuman, perfection that is demanded since the birth of PCs is insurmountable at times. If you make a mistake, typo or have file issues you can eat thousands of dollars and God forbid those mistakes make it to the recipients before they’re caught. Then you may lose your job!

Designers for web don’t have this fear because they can simply “correct” it and it’s instantly updated for all to see. To make matters worse, technology on the web doesn’t currently support the kind of pin-point precision and flexibility in design that print designers have come to expect, so that elephant is always in the room.

So, what’s my problem? Sounds like this is only making a case for how amazing digital communication truly is right? Well, yes an no. Sure, you can update, test, and track communications over the web but what is lost is attention to detail and a strong organization and research process. Due to the time and money it takes to design for print from concept to delivery, there is rigorous planning, strategy and fine-tooth combing in the pursuit of excellence in design and communication. This planning can be extremely encompassing if you are building a brand around a barrage of printed communications over a time period.

Designers in the web environment will often focus too much on speed and sacrifice true creative thought time or planning ahead. There is this chaos around that process of constant shuffling and piece mealing of the parts for projects in the digital realm due to the flexibility of the medium and as any designer knows, the devil is in the details so you can’t simply “Frankenstein” things together like a puzzle.

Understanding the problem at hand and solving for the long-term is the key to great design. If this is not tended to and respected you will spend countless hours and money revising and shuffling and STILL come away with a subpar product in the end.

There is a happy medium of course. One can’t possibly plan for ALL roadblocks and issues no matter how great they are, but it is just as dangerous to sprint to deadlines one by one under bad Modus Operandi.


– “No one will notice anyway”
(Don’t fool yourself. People are more in tune to design details than one might be aware. They may not have the skillset or presence of mind to tell you WHAT is not right, but I assure you even the lay can sense the difference between professional, well thought-out design and the non.)

– Follow the process
Hold yourself to a process (there are many documented online). The print process is still relevant and extremely transitional to the web.

Try this:

1. Scope and Research * Learn what your client’s needs are and study competitors as well as demographic trends and interests

2. Sitemap * Begin with a text-only sitemap to identify where content will live and how it will relate to one another for strong IA

3. Wireframing *Tight wireframes for content placement and UI flows is key at this point, but beware of using graphics!

4. Site Comping *Comp up some creative interfaces to skin your wireframes and begin the process of building a “look” for the site

5. Style Guide *Build a style guide and stick with it. If you’ve done your homework and followed the process you will thank yourself here. Otherwise you will be updating comps and pushing these updates into the development cycle for eternity if you haven’t resolved a solid overall design

– Don’t lean on technology’s short-comings
Smart Designers find a way to make the best of barriers. There is limited ability to do a lot of things on the web that print designers enjoy, but if you spend time thinking through the problems with the audience in mind at all times you will find success.

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