Alive and printing

Is print still turning heads the way it used to? Design Week asked a handful of leading designers working with print about its vitality, the digression to on-line and the growing question of sustainability. Here’s what they said

Ben Stott, NB Studio

Although we have talked about the move to digital every year for the past five years, print is still as inventive and vibrant as ever. It may even be flourishing under the threat of digital redundancy, as designers strive to add extra detail and rediscover traditional methods to make their print stand out for clients whose audiences still want something tangible.

We recently had some feedback from our client Insead, an international business school. A new student told the college that the quality of the course material, even the feel of the brochure, had been the deciding factor for him to choose it over the competition.

One issue that looms on the horizon is accessibility. The use of only a few legible typefaces at large point sizes in strong contrasting colours may prove more of a problem than the digital threat. This has already been the case with highly creative and interactive flash websites being reined in, in favour of W3C compliance.

There is a huge trend for innovative dust jackets, which has almost become an arms race. People are trying to outdo each other, with eight-page wraparound covers that are not full height, or folded back jackets that just reveal a name or title. This continues inside, with short page inserts and tip-ins. There is also a more interesting, but quieter, trend of subverting traditional processes, such as reversing traditional book-binding materials and switching print techniques.

Michael C Place, Build

There has been a real resurgence in people designing interesting print, with many smaller studios (and the larger ones) producing beautiful examples.

As a studio known for its print, we have always operated in this world and haven’t really noticed any real shift towards the digital realm. The one sector on which it has had an adverse effect is design for music – people are less willing to spend money on sleeve design, which is a real shame. People will always love a beautiful piece of print.

The print aspect of branding has always been there. What happens now is that we are asked to supply work in a digital format as well, expanding the kit of parts from just print. ‘Will it translate to a digital format? Will it work as a thumbnail?’ are the questions we have to ask. Sustainability is getting to be an issue, which is great. It’s another layer of thought that print designers need to be aware of, just like learning new software for digital-based work. It’s a constant learning curve, and we need to embrace it.

It seems at the moment that the mantra is, ‘If it moves, foil-block it’. We’ve really been enjoying having work screen-printed – it’s a brilliant finish/craft. I’ve also seen some great examples of letterpress of late. It’s nice to see that craft element coming back into print.

David Ellis, Why Not Associates

These days, print is being used when it is really needed, and when having something high quality in your greasy palm leaves a stronger message.

For many of our clients the website has taken over from printed brochures and information as the most important means of spreading the word, but this does not necessarily mean that these people are no longer using print. When a project needs to have some longevity and exist on your customer’s bookshelves for periods of time, there is no real replacement. How often do you see someone on the Tube reading a book on a PDA? Equally, mail order catalogues suddenly seem like a terrible waste of paper compared with shopping on-line. As ever, it’s a matter of horses for courses; it’s just that there are more horses to choose from now.

Finding ways to stand out from the rest has always been highly valuable, but trends can be misleading. Sometimes a new print technique or material comes along and immediately becomes ubiquitous, and it is therefore best avoided. It is noticeable when we occasionally judge design awards and see that half of our contemporaries have suddenly become fixated with a particular paper stock. Some of the most notable pieces often use an age-old technique in a new way – or simply rely on creativity rather than techniques to get noticed.

Vince Frost, Frost Design

For us, the print sector is as vibrant as ever (unfortunately), with clients asking for annual reports, books, magazines, stationery and press ads. At the same time we are doing a huge amount of on-line work, and I feel that the on-line world will go boom in the next year. Speed and expertise in this area is gaining momentum and I encourage it full-heartedly.

Printing is an archaic process that will soon be eclipsed by the migration to digital, through the advancement of technology and the desire to talk to a global audience, as well as the seriousness of global warming and the need to conserve the world’s resources.

Of course, sustainability is an issue. We shouldn’t be printing at all. Stop printing Design Week! Frost Design has a policy that all our print work must be produced on 100 per cent recycled stocks and printed using vegetable inks. We have recently completed three books and six annual reports in this way.

It’s time people stopped thinking about environmental issues as a trend, or something that’s going to go out of fashion, or someone else’s problem. It’s a serious matter that must be dealt with now. Designers are at the forefront of this industry and must change their habits now. Not tomorrow. Stop excessive packaging. Stop waste. Start thinking that every piece of paper counts, and that every drop of water is life. The day of the end of print is sooner than you think.

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