Written by Gordon Kaye
Editor, Graphic Design Magazine USA Magazine

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a Google+ Hangout on the future of print design and the value of design in business. Xerox was the host and sponsor, appropriate because it has long been an advocate for print and Xerox products have done so much to advance the graphic arts industry. Google+ Hangouts are an interesting new option for meetings; I found the technology reasonably easy to adapt to, and it invites a relaxed and informal give and take. My sense is that the camera put about 10 years on me – maybe twenty. Just kidding. I can’t blame Google for the extra years, though I would if I could.

The heart of our hangout was an exploration of the myth that “print is dead.” Luckily, our magazine, Graphic Design USA, has been polling on this issue for half a century, and had just completed our 50th annual survey on just this topic. So I was loaded with rebuttal information. And, luckily, no one loves the feel and smell of a printed piece more than me.

The conclusion we reached during the Hangout is simple but profound: print is unique and powerful because you can touch and feel and hold it. Print creates a human connection missing from the ephemeral and desensitizing media world of digital communications. Designers value print for its classic strengths – tangibility, sensuality, permanence. The good and great designers know how and when to employ these traits to advance a message, a brand, an emotion, an idea, a cause, a sense of authenticity. That is the fundamental take-away; all the rest is but a footnote.

That said we collectively managed to mine several other nuggets about the strength and prospects of print. Among them:

  • Print is practical. It is portable, convenient, accessible, easy to read, unplugged, it goes anywhere.
  • Print is crucial to how designers make a living. 93 percent of designers work in print as part of their mix, and 75 percent of their time is spent on print-related work.
  • Print is a team player. Print may no longer be the superstar, but it is an excellent complement and collaborator, a vital component in the marketing mix. From print to inbound telephony, or online to direct mail, print drives and motivates consumers.
  • Print is getting smarter. New technologies to customize, personalize, sharpen, target, interact and integrate are wringing out the waste and infusing responsiveness.
  • Print is novel. As the digital deluge, the online onslaught builds; print will be even more effective because it is fresh, rare, different, and welcome.
  • Print is sustainable. I hate the canard that print is dirty and digital is clean. I ran out of time to harangue the Hangout audience on this point so let me do it now. Print and paper are becoming “greener” and more transparent up and down the supply chain; the online world should only be as honest about its energy use and other sustainability issues.

GDUSA has been conducting our Print Design survey for 50 years. So let me close with a question. What do you think designers will be saying about the role of print 5, 10 or even 50 years from now?

Interested in other topics similar to the practicality of print, its many benefits, and its future? Check out:

Gordon Kaye, Editor of Graphic Design USA MagazineGordon Kaye is editor and publisher of Graphic Design USA magazine. He joined GDUSA in 1990 after a first career as communications lawyer for a private law firm and then for the NBC Television Network where assignments included NBC News and Saturday Night Live. He received a BA from Hamilton College, and a joint degree in law and public policy from Princeton University and Columbia Law School. Gordon lives in New York City with his wife Susan and has two daughters, Sasha and Charlotte.

Contact: editorial@gdusa.com