Print Isn't Dead!: Why I Always Say I'm A Print Designer

May was a month of self-reflection, which honestly should have been done in January. But no matter; this blog was created to track my own personal journey through freelancing and beyond, so I don’t feel too guilty about it. I’d like to start by saying that regardless of the title I am not swearing off any other type of design aside cold, hard print work, but I do want to touch on why print is so important to me as well as why it should be important for other designers as well.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it— First of all, I just found out that phrase is not actually the original quote (the original is below for all you linguistic/history buffs out there!) but even in its original state, it’s absolutely true. Forgetting the past just means you’ll eventually make the same mistakes others have already proven to be wrong. It’s a vicious cycle of human error that, what with the current state of affairs in the US as well as other parts of the world, is coming back into style.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
— George Santayana

While technology has given designers a literal cornucopia of tools and options to create things that only fifteen, ten, even five years ago might have been unthinkable, it all began with pencil and paper. And maybe not even that, maybe brushstroke and canvas. Maybe rock against rock. Whatever set of tools you coin as the start of it all, the main point is that they all created a tangible final product. And it was a revered and respected tangible product. Manuscripts from days of old when every book was painstakingly handwritten are still as precious and worth protecting as they were then. It was and still is a privilege to own one. Even when the printing press emerged and books became more accessible, it was still regarded with joy and wonder. People today still collect newspaper clippings of important events, ticket stubs, museum maps, and postcards.

And it’s that wonder and that need for possession that differs print from digital. As much as we would like to convince ourselves of the opposite, we do not own digital. It’s a static web page that everyone can access. It’s an album artwork that’s 150 x 150 pixels on your iPod screen versus the full color vinyl you could have bought. While digital graphics can be visually stunning or more vibrant or even move across the screen like magic, we still don’t own it. It doesn’t exist past the screen. Even a holographic that can emerge past a screen still isn’t tangible. It’s all a trick of light and of perception.

Print isn’t like that. Print occupies space and is harder to part with or ignore. My print portfolio is a full color magazine that contains my CV, resume, contact information as well as my portfolio showcased in editorial style. Now, when people view my website, they can access all the same information as my magazine, but people are not as engaged with a website than a magazine. If someone clicks on a piece I’ve designed and doesn’t think much of it, they’ll click exit and that’s it for me. I had that one chance (which is also why I show my full breadth of work in snapshots on my portfolio page). But a magazine forces you to keep turning that page, to see the full breadth of content before you can close it. If that same person had my magazine and kept flipping, I believe I would have held their attention.

And to reiterate more, digital is so, so easy to forget and toss from our memory banks. I looked at tons of wonderful, innovative, super creative websites from other designers and agencies when I was working on my own website’s redesign and I, sadly, can’t remember many of them. It wasn’t that they were bad or not worth remembering, but it was just a glance at a screen. I was distracted by moving parts and pretty pictures to really absorb anything. And it’s just so simple to click that little x in the right-hand corner and move on with my day.

You know what holds my attention these days? Books. Magazines. Those cool little letterpress cards for snazzy events. Anything with a metallic sheen. Anything made on nicely textured and thick paper. I literally have folders full of these little treasures that I’ve picked up from art fairs, design talks, and vacation trips; it’s hard to throw them away when they’re just so lovely. And maybe all these wonderfully designed print materials are going to cause a paper hoarding problem, I still say they’re important to the society that we live in.

People don’t absorb things like they used to. And this is not a critique on modern society, but it is a reminder that, hey, things change every day! And we should get with the times in order to stay relevant but letting go of what has inspired and jump started the field of design into what is today is just not the way to go about it.

Moving forward, I must admit, I had a list of web-based personal projects on my list of things to do but now that I think more about it, I might cut back a few.