Despite all the doomsday predictions to the contrary, print is not dead, and digital has not killed it.
If anything, we now know the two get along suspiciously well. Instead of competing for attention, good print and digital branding can act in concert to deliver consistent messaging about your company across media channels. Which raises a new question: In 2018, how should we think about print versus digital design?
To answer this, we brought together Well Done’s senior art directors Brittany Mason and Jenny Tod to have a conversation about how print and digital work together, how they don’t, and the challenges of designing in both.
WELL DONE MARKETING: So what exactly is the distinction between web and traditional design?
JENNY TOD: It’s a little tricky, because they do share a lot of elements in common. But the idea behind web design is to conduct users down a path—my goal is for the user to find information, reach a destination, complete a task. It still needs to be aesthetically interesting and effective at conveying a message, but it’s very much about understanding the user.
BRITTANY MASON: It’s interesting to think about “the path,” because you have a little of that in print. There is an action you want the reader to take. With web, there’s a longer process of interaction, and the user gets immediate feedback when they take a step forward. But as a designer in 2018, I think it’s imperative to have a working knowledge of both web and traditional media.
JENNY: I don’t know that I’ve ever met a client who doesn’t want a website and printed materials. A website is essentially just another piece of collateral. In a lot of ways it’s replaced the business card, in that it’s often the first experience people have of your brand.
BRITTANY: And that’s why it’s such a huge plus to have the same designer create your business card, logo, letterhead, and website. That gives you such a nice, cohesive story through everything.
WDM: How does your process differ between web and traditional design?
JENNY: I actually start by sketching in both cases. But in web design, there’s a big piece that happens before I get started, which is that our digital strategists develop the structure and site map. That architecture is just as important as the design, because it shapes the user experience. If it looks great but doesn’t function well, it’s bad design.
That said, if it functions well and looks bad, that’s not successful either. So I work on both elements in tandem—I have to pause and consider how someone will interact with each element and adjust accordingly.
BRITTANY: I’m relieved to hear you talk through your process like that, because I’ve yet to hear anyone say they definitively start with one or the other. With web projects you keep going back and forth between design and architecture because it has to work smoothly. The best design is the design a user never notices.
I read something once that illustrated the idea with soup spoons. If you eat soup with a spoon, you don’t ever think about your utensil, it just works. If you try to eat soup with a fork, though, you spend the whole meal thinking how terrible the fork is. Web design is almost better if it’s never commented on.
WDM: Which could also be said for print design, right? You don’t want someone distracted from the message by a terrible layout.
BRITTANY: Design principles are design principles. They’re going to carry through whether the project is traditional or web. But with print, you can put the pieces exactly where you want them to be. There’s much more control over it—you can decide the visual hierarchy, and where people’s eyes will fall.
Online, who knows what’s going to happen? You don’t always know how it will be displayed, and the design can change radically between desktop and mobile. That’s where user testing, heat maps, and prototyping can all be a huge asset.
JENNY: When you’re designing in traditional media, it’s never going to move. Designing for interactivity and size adjustments adds a whole new layer of complexity. Even the way someone interacts with a homepage graphic could mean they see a whole different story than someone who interacts differently.
BRITTANY: Now we’re straying into yanny versus laurel territory…
WDM: Do you find yourself preferring one medium over another?
BRITTANY: I’m still learning a lot about web design, but I’m especially interested in the new tools it offers. I’ve always designed with a mindset of thinking through what I want someone to feel and take away, but web design gives you access to animation, gestures, and movement in a way that’s just not possible with print.
JENNY: They both have really unique challenges, and I enjoy each. What really excites me is making something really different and unique that people haven’t seen before. Web and print both offer opportunities to do that. Good designers always push to take things further, no matter what medium they’re working in.
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Curious to see how our thinking translates to design? Check out our work to learn more.