Studio Sense: Respecting Print

Design for print. It’s still a thing. When I started out, in the dark ages when websites were a novelty and high street printers needed artwork on sheets of superimposed paper, there was still a linotype machine in the corner of the studio. It was the size of a Sherman tank. You tapped a line on the keyboard and it jiggled, sizzled and farted out a line of type. It scared the hell out of me.

And that was the way it was. Designers kept well away from tech. We artworked our stuff, and it was passed on to some steampunk process that sent back some programmes or business cards.

Then, along came the web and we were forced to be techies. Techies with clean hands, but still involved in the process. I spent 36 hours straight programming a Flash site with an interactive map back in the 1990s. I still haven’t forgiven Macromedia for making actionscript a developers’ tool. But all along, I worked in studios and agencies that relied on print for their bread and butter. Two million leaflets for the DoT, vending machine posters for Durex, even booklets for video pioneer MTV. And it has never stopped.

In an effort to promote creativity, Tradeprint made a colouring book and pencils
In an effort to promote creativity, Tradeprint made a colouring book and pencils

Paperless = more paper

The paperless office never took off. People still exchange business cards. Not every billboard is digital. And flyers have never been replaced by social posts. Oh, the stats I could quote. Direct mail gets a response rate more than 36.5 times email. Sales increase by 2.5% for every 2,000 business cards handed out, etc. etc.

As creatives, we have handed over the tech stuff again. Developers code, designers ask for the moon on a stick. At least, that’s what my Dev guys tell me. Printers alchemically put ink on paper or plastic or fabric, designers ask for the moon on a stick. So my Pre-Press guys tell me.

And that’s where we miss out to a degree. The great thing about print is that it’s real. It’s in your hands. And there’s so much we can make it do. Understanding the process is so important. There are still the old hands who stroke their paper samples, who spec exactly and understand esoteric things like embossing, hot foiling and die-cutting. Much as I’d love to, this isn’t the place to pontificate on design for print. (By the way, I’m available for advice, evangelism and weddings).

In an effort to promote creativity, Tradeprint made a colouring book and pencils
In an effort to promote creativity, Tradeprint made a colouring book and pencils

Things look great on paper

Super-annuated hipster that I am, I love the feel of paper, the smell of ink, the tactile pleasure of a well-crafted artefact. I’ve also had a cassette player fitted in my car, but that’s a different story. Projects that seem superficially simple can produce wonderful things. We worked with the charity Archie Foundation to promote the Oor Wullie’s Bucket Trail, a trail across Dundee and Scotland of artist-designed statues of the cartoon icon. On paper, the jobs looked run-of-the-mill. Invitations, shop fittings, brochures, calendars, maps. But on paper, they looked and felt fabulous.

We printed the landscape catalogue on uncoated stock for that finger-pleasing feel, and the programmes with a subtle soft touch laminate. A spot of varnish in the right places on the invitations gave them prestige. The statues were auctioned, raising £883,000 for childrens’ wards in Scotland. We did our bit in communicating the message.

Choosing the right material and finishing lifts the mundane to the sublime. The right vehicle gives the creative the chance to do its work and stand out. Print is the great support act to design.

Oor Wullie booklet
Oor Wullie booklet

Print and design – one of the great double acts

When we wanted to promote Tradeprint at exhibitions, naturally we went straight to print. We got quite excited about it. We’re a trade supplier, by appointment to the Creative Industries, and an ecommerce company, so our customers order from their personalised portal online. We’re a printer, but people can’t see the possibilities of print online. It’s counter-intuitive.

As I may have mentioned, I’m a print evangelist. So we came up with a plan. We’re going on the road to spread the printed word. Our crack team of print fanatics will bring print to the people with nationwide roadshows and exhibitions. And we started from print. We needed a stand-out stand and an object that shows what print can do and how it can feel.

We wanted the printed piece to be tactile, engaging and tell a story. In the immortal words of Shrek, we wanted it to have layers, like ogres and onions. We built a folder in a folder in a case. We printed things we thought were inspiring. Inevitably, samples of our products, but we thought we’d promote creativity, so we made a colouring book and pencils. They seem to be quite popular. And we thought we’d reward the hand-to-eye control of the creative world. So we built a buzzwire game, in the tradition of fairground barkers, the original marketers.

Oor Wullie booklet
Oor Wullie booklet

A great place to play

Which brings me back to my initial point. Print began as a communication tool. Gutenberg developed the first mass customisation vehicle. And it didn’t take long for books to become beautiful objects, as graphic design moved from craft to process. Given the choice between a delightful object or an ebook, I know where I’d place my order. Ebooks imitate the printed article; we read websites in  the same way we read a newspaper. Design for print. It’s still a thing.

As creatives, we should make the best use of the materials we use. And as marketers, we should use the best vehicles for our message. Doing that needs an understanding of the process and the effect of the manufactured object. And a fundamental part of designing for delight is the object itself. That’s where print still plays a vital role, everywhere from 48-sheeters to menus. Business cards to greeting cards. Books to pamphlets. It’s a great area to play with creativity. So, play nice, people.

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