Tactile does it

Clients are opting for smaller print runs these days, but they’re also more keen to pay attention to details and experiment with unusual techniques – made possible by digital methods. Bryan Edmondson has full faith in the industry’s future

If you believed every word you read in the papers, you could easily believe that the world was about to end. While nobody denies the severity of the economic squeeze, consultancy life will continue in 2009, albeit with some careful rethinking and a few changes to costs and client management. In the area of print and identity, there are still projects to be won, with a wide range of potential clients seeking to visually reposition themselves both in the downturn and in the hope of recovery.

Two of our clients have asked us to reassess how they should present themselves in tough economic times. They are thinking about how they will look when assessed side by side with their competitors. They are asking us questions like, ‘What do we look like next to others? What makes us stand out?’

This can be anything from something as basic as the style and format of a business card, to much bigger projects involving reports, posters and many other documents. We find that there is bountiful print-based identity work, with clients valuing the paper product even while they embrace the digital realm.

On this issue of the Internet and all things digital, some have for long bemoaned the negative effect it will have on print, but there are creative opportunities in both sectors. The thing to remember is that while print runs of certain types of documents have shrunk – people who used to print 15 000 copies of something now want 2000 – the short runs that are left have become more interesting.

Clients are focusing on fine details, such as the texture of a business card or the weight of an invitation. The tactile qualities of paper, and even the way it smells, has come into focus, as has the design treatment of any given job. At the same time, the printing technologies that are available now are making creativity much easier.

Digital print, for example, has been talked about for years, but it is getting better and better. It is almost the match for litho, and it allows very short runs. This means that something that would have been too costly for litho is now possible. There are also older print technologies returning for short runs. Screen printing produces wonderful effects of paint sitting on paper, quite unlike what can be achieved with litho. There are also older print techniques, such as thermography, that creates great effects, and dye-stamping that is more accurate and much more beautiful than a blind emboss.

We try to encourage our clients to use creative combinations of print and production techniques. You can, for example, combine a short run of screen print with elements of litho.

We recently created a limited-edition series of large-format, loose-bound photographic brochures. The cover was a screen print on cast-coated paper, which produced a high gloss effect, while the inside was litho on a smooth uncoated paper. Together, they formed a nice combination of textures that we thought would appeal to the designers and art directors who were sent the book. It was a smallish project, but the creative combination worked well for the client. Another area that will continue to be important in the future is the eco-credentials of paper and print. This battle has largely been won – everyone now expects FSE accreditations, and people now rarely choose plastic and other treatments that can’t be recycled. Clients are also keen to hear about carbon-neutral paper supplies, and there are mills that provide this option without compromising the quality of the product. If anything, the most eco-conscious provide some of the most interesting stock.

Cost-wise, we expect there to be a squeeze in 2009, but smaller consultancies have always lived within pretty tight constraints. Those who have set up their own design consultancies have always kept a close eye on costs, and they’ve always had to fight for business, so I don’t see it being so very different for them. If anything, they are far better placed than many others in these undoubtedly difficult times. The layers of management that come with bigger consultancies just don’t exist for them. Life will go on. There is still work out there. People still have to produce print.

I recently visited a French design school to see what they had to offer. The facilities were amazing, with screen print, litho, hot metal an even gold-leafing taught to print students. Those future designers will have many skills as their disposal – it’s a case of using them to create imaginative work that will appeal to clients.

Bryan Edmondson is director of Sea Design

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