Written by Patrick Henry
Executive Editor for WhatTheyThink.com

Originally published via WhatTheyThink.com

Innovative Uses of Print

Dipping into Xerox’s #PrintWins Twitter feed, I came across Vladimir Gendelman’s well-reasoned article, “Six Common Printing Myths Debunked.” His Myth 5, “Limited Options,” prompted thoughts about print’s abundant possibilities as a creative medium—an attribute that deserves more attention from creatives than it sometimes gets.

Gendelman reminds us that with print, “you’re not just restricted to a bland, printed rectangle.” His article deals primarily with marketing collateral, but his point about the magic that happens when print is used imaginatively applies to every type of product that the medium comprises.

Publishers in particular have done strikingly inventive things by stretching the definition of what printed books and magazines can be. In the following examples, printed paper remains the core of the product offering. But from there, the end-user experience soars to new aesthetic and technical dimensions:

  • Melville House publishes a line of what it calls “hybrid books”: printed texts with digital links to “illuminations” that surround the works with rich contexts of historical and cultural materials.
  • Building Stories, a graphic novel by Chris Ware, consists not of ordinary pages between standard covers but of 14 distinct printed objects delivered in a box. These narrative elements are meant to be perused in any order the reader chooses, multiplying the architectures of the tale the author is telling.
  • Novum, a German design magazine, gave new meaning to the term “cover fold” with an issue featuring a cover consisting of more than 1,000 triangles die-cut into the surface of the paper. This gave readers tactile gratification by enabling them to fold, bend, and roll the covers into whimsical shapes.
  • For the last five years, Esquire has been the premier innovator among magazines with covers enhanced by e-ink and augmented reality features. Most recently, Esquire entered the mobile realm with an issue that could be scanned, saved, shared, and even shopped from with the help of an iPhone app called NetPage.
  • Wired and its advertiser Lexus demonstrated their grasp of the potential of near field communications (NFC) technology for publishing by co-producing a print ad containing an embedded NFC tag. By placing their NFC-enabled smartphones over the ads, readers could see not only words but interactive online features detailing what Lexus wanted them to know about the dashboard-mounted “Enform App Suite” in its GS-series cars.
  • Speaking of Twitter feeds, Entertainment Weekly found a way to “print” a live stream for the CW Television Network with an advertising insert containing a processor with an LED screen and a 3G mobile connection. This setup continuously presented the network’s six latest Tweets, marking the first appearance of a live Twitter feed in a print ad.

“Bland, printed rectangles” these media-melding experiments clearly are not. It’s equally clear that they’re not typical of the kinds of work being done in most commercial, in-plant, and enterprise printing environments. But, they’re good news for providers in every category because they reaffirm print as a medium that still can do the unexpected, even as our interactions with the digital media start to seem routine.

That’s an inspirational idea, and for proof that it is taking hold among members of the industry’s rising generation, look no further than posts by RIT School of Media Sciences students Ashley LongTim Orbanac, and Kelsey Seibt at the Xerox Digital Printing Hot Spotblog.

“Because of the vast uses of print, it will never become obsolete,” writes Seibt. Similarly, Long observes that “print is in the work you do, the food you eat, the games you play.” Orbanac declares, “I still see print as an integral part of today’s media and as a beautiful way to strongly communicate a point.”

To friends of print, it all goes without saying. But from voices as earnest and committed as these, it’s always nice to hear.