PRINT AND TRUST
SEVERAL OVERARCHING THEMES JOSTLED FOR THE LEAD HEADLINE IN OUR ANNUAL PRINT DESIGN AND PRODUCTION SURVEY. AMONG THEM:
The continued predominance of print and collateral as the way designers earn a living. The growing interest in recycled papers and environmentally-friendly practices writ large.
The continued rise of digital printing and digital workflow. And the demand for greater education about efficient and effective print, prepress and paper options.
But in the end, we could not ignore the interwoven concepts of credibility and trust, which seem to light the path toward print’s role and future in graphic communications.
THIS LINKAGE OF PRINT WITH CREDIBILITY AND TRUST ARISES FROM A COUPLE OF POINTS EXPRESSED BY RESPONDENTS
POINT ONE. Print continues to display the classic strengths that have made it a powerful communicator over the ages: permanence, tangibility, sensuality, physicality, convenience, portability. These qualities and characteristics are more important than ever in the ephemeral world of digital communications, say many readers, because they offer an impact, a physical experience and a human connection that is disappearing from our daily lives.
POINT TWO. Taking this a step beyond where it has gone before, a quality printed piece provides credibility to the message and trust by, for and about the messenger. Credibility? Why should that be, since the content of message is the same whether it is printed, posted, broadcast, streamed, podcast or whatever? Trust? Aren’t computers and digital transmissions and email as trustworthy as print in the execution of communications? As it turns out, GDUSA readers say, not exactly. Rather, it seems that, once again, the medium is the message.
Here is the essence of an argument that keeps bubbling to the surface. The very tangibility, physicality and sensuality of print suffuses the content with a sense of authenticity. The message feels real, it looks real, it springs from an identifiable source, a real person, a real location, an act of craftsmanship, an intelligence to which one can relate, a human connectedness. And the result is something visible, permanent, touchable, an archive, a reference, a resource that does not arrive via thin air and will not disappear into thin air. Taken together, this gives the printed message and the printed piece a simple but ultimately profound weight. Does this hold up to logic? Not in the strictest sense. But it
holds up to designers’ real life professional and personal experience. Print and paper give content — and the content creator — a certain extra degree of credibility and accountability that an electronic transmission often does not.
This positive or aspirational view of print is buttressed, as well, by lingering doubts about online communications. One such concern is knowing how to evaluate whether information — from news to history to marketing and sales messages on the web — is legitimate or not. A second deals with the fear that digital technology is not quite safe or secure, apt to lose data and documents or to compromise privacy. And a third doubt has to do with the promise of measurability, that is, whether the vaunted ROI and metrics meaningful or jumbled, valid or manipulated. This may all be as simple as saying that digital transmissions are too easy and, at the same time, too fragile to convey certain messages, and too diffuse to be the repository of a business and personal past. Time and technology will presumably alleviate many of these problems, but right now they are casting a shadow.
Is the celebration of print a “generation gap” matter or the rant of print professionals who simply long for the old days? Partly yes, but largely no. The digital revolution is here, and most everyone surveyed for this reports embraces it for its speed, ease of use, breadth of access, its stunning growth and power. Indeed, much of the future success of GDUSA readers and, frankly, of GDUSA itself — depends on being able to deliver an effective multichannel message However, the 43rd annual paper survey may be seen a clarion call for everyone to relax, take a deep breath and step away from the keyboard. Step. Away. From. The. Keyboard. Print and paper have classic strengths — permanence, tangibility, sensuality, portability, convenience — that project legitimacy in an increasingly remote, disconnected, impersonal communications world. This is a fact, say our readers, ignored by creatives and marketers at their peril.
91% Work In Print
Let’s turn now to the numbers. The 2006 survey shows how vital print work is to graphic designers. The benchmark question each year is how many readers — art and design professionals at graphic design studios, advertising agencies, corporations, publishers, media companies and other institutions — design for print as part of their jobs. This year, 91% of respondents say they design for print, a huge number that is more or less consistent with every survey in memory.
This year we also asked what percentage of projects involve printdesign either completely or in part. Here, too, the dominant role of print stands out. GDUSA readers report that 76% of their projects are standalone print or have a substantial print component to them. Similarly, when asked what percentage of time is spent designing for print, the average is 71%. If more than nine in ten respondents design for print, for whatother media are they designing, and how does this compare? The survey finds that 70% of readers are say they have been working on point-of-purchase and sign design projects, 62% in packaging, 62% in web design, 31% in environmental graphics. Last but not least, TV, film video and motion graphics logs in at 28%. A few thoughts to take away.
First, these figures demonstrate that creative firms and departments continue to be involved in varied and complementary projects in diverse media. The phenomenon of the content creator is at the center of responsibility and control over multiple media is the basis for the graphic design community’s considerable influence on communications, as well as its buying and specifying power. Second, print projects are key to how designers actually make a living, a conclusion confirmed by our TrendWatch Graphic Arts strategic allies (www.trendwatchgraphicarts.com), who find that “print and collateral” remains the leading sales opportunity for creative firms. Third, point-of purchase and package design remain very high in the creativebusiness mix, which makes sense since they have some of the physical attributes and appeal of print and, if anything, are
even less impacted by new electronic media than print.
Web design remains important, as well. Again, the result comports nicely with a recent TrendWatch survey that found that “web page design” — which had ebbed badly as a source of creative business after the dotcom bust — is on the rise. This is especially the case as the first generation of websites need makeovers and, also, as designers become more adept at website maintenance in addition to design. One logical explanation for the continuing strength of prepress printing, even while web work rebounds, is that cross-media projects — which encompass print and web components — are increasingly common. We asked explicitly about “Cross Media” for the first time in this year’s print survey; 23% of respondents said they had worked on such projects during the past year.