The Future Of Content Delivery: How Print Loves Web

About The Author

My name is Mark Cossey and I’m a Visual Designer in Brighton, UK. Read more from my blog here or follow me on twitter @burning_ More about Mark ↬

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How do print design and digital/Web design get along? Mark Cossey explains why these two trades have to get together and make friends: the future of online content depends on it.

A recent power cut highlighted the fragile and dated way I access content on the Web. I sit in front of a computer which has a number of hardware elements like a keyboard, mouse and monitor — all connected to a black box which houses a number of other smaller more complicated bits of hardware. To access content on the Web, I rely on all of these layers working, not to mention the parts outside of my control-like cabling and remote servers.

As soon as one of these layers goes down (the electricity in my case) I’m left with nothing. A mobile device allowed for some surfing but eventually my batteries died and I was back to darkness.

There was nothing for it but to pick up a book to try and satisfy my visual hunger. With all other distractions (the kinds that need juice from the wall) lying lifeless around my flat, I was able to really enjoy a book I’d been meaning to look at for some time. With many image filled pages the large hardback book (Supply and Demand by Shepard Fairey) was a real joy. Controlling the speed at which I let the pages flick with my thumb, the smell of the ink and paper and the subtle cracking noise of the spine as I opened the book wider, it was the best user experience I’d had in a very long time.

Thumb flicking through the pages of Smashing Book #2
The smell of the ink and paper are a wonderful user experience.

Reflecting On The Web

I started to think about not just the delicate nature of accessing Web content, but also what it feels like to look at and navigate websites and use applications via a computer. It’s clumsy to have to press keys to say what I want to say, then have to stop pressing the keys to hold onto a small bit of plastic which moves a tiny pointer on my screen, which I then have to click on stuff that makes other stuff happen. It also made me question my own trade of designing these sites that we expect people to use and enjoy.

All the effort that I put into styling buttons, spacing letters, creating harmony in colour and then building it to work in browsers I’m convinced don’t actually exist. A whole heap of work for a lousy user experience of clicking, typing, scrolling, then clicking again, then typing. A modern Web user is spending less time sitting at a desk in front of a screen and is constantly connected.

Pixel drawing hand and mouse pointer in a vector style heart
Hand and mouse.

When Two Trades Go To War

In our industry, print design and digital/Web design are two very different trades. Print designers (or graphic designers if you want to get all old school) are seen to be folk that don’t have a place in a trendy digital agency with their mumbo jumbo talk of spot colours, bleed and ligatures, and Web designers are seen as a bunch of jack the lads that know nothing about typography and how to use colour, they simply talk of validation, hover states and hex values. This might be true in some cases but the real story is that these two trades better get together over a beer and make friends. The future of online content depends on it.

I don’t own an iPad or Kindle but I’ve used both and I do have an iPhone which I use a lot. If you take a step back from the technology of these types of device and just think about the function for a moment, it’s clear that they have been designed to be held and touched (haven’t we all) in much the same way as a book. Many apps that are available on the iPad and iPhone right now are based on physical objects that need to be touched to work like a piano or guitar. So what does this have to do with print and Web becoming best buddies?

Two heads facing away from each other. One thinking of print and the other thinking of web.
Heads facing away from each other.

Web, Meet My Friend Print

I have a background in print and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some brilliant graphic designers who have taught me about paper types, printing techniques and good typography. These are skills the graphic designers have developed over a much longer period of time than the Web has existed. Good graphic designers are able to communicate a message visually in more than just two dimensions. Being aware of scale, environment, textures and light are all skills that are fundamental to graphic design.

Graphic designers were user testing their creative even before Tim Berners-Lee had even come up with the catchy mouthful WorldWideWeb. I’ve been involved in focus groups where participants have been asked questions about not just the message and content of printed direct mail campaign but also on the quality and finish of the paper.

Imagine creating a super team of forward thinking product designers, Web designers and print designers to re-think the way we deliver content online and digitally. Collaborative working with experts in these fields focusing on new ways to deliver and present a print style magazines in a digital format is an exciting prospect. Thinking beyond the faux page turn styles we’ve all seen in various book readers over recent years but moving more towards a device that can re-create fidelity of a printed page and content that can dynamically populate itself with location aware content and personalised messages.

Two heads facing each other thinking about print and web.
Heads facing each other.

Future generations of the iPad could find a way of re-creating the sensations I experienced when I flicked through that book during the power cut. Tactile feedback and textures could be standard features and the way colours behave in certain lighting could be much more realistic. Devices will have a whole new approach to power consumption, too. Speech recognition is a dead donkey, and only ever used by sales reps who are happy to listen to sound of their own voice while weaving around on the M25. The ability for the device to connect to the users mind to cut out all the mundane key pressing and link clicking would be a wonderful feature — thinking and doing at the same time.

The Future Of Content Delivery

One thing most of us humans have in common is the ability to touch, talk, see and think so we should be designing for everyone. Hardware builders need to consider all environments on earth and think about things like battery life, connectivity and sustainability, too. I’d like to see the large hardware manufacturers that are celebrating massive financial profits exploring ways of making their devices usable by every human in every environment.

The information available on the Web should and can be available to everyone on earth. With a new breed of mobile device that delivers this content in a whole new way will ensure that each and everyone, young and old will understand and enjoy accessing this content. We need to think physical and we need to think touch but we also need to review the way we behave online right now and decide what goes and what stays.

It’s up to us, the designers (both Web and print), to be pushing and nipping the heels of the hardware manufacturers to encourage these new ideas. Apple’s App Store is good at this; it’s still not perfect but the Web as a whole will allow these ideas and thoughts to trickle out and be picked at and improved.

Asking The Pros

I asked our industry experts in both print and Web what they thought about a future where print and Web designers join forces to create new form of Web content. Can it work? Should the age old rules of print be used in the next generation of Web content? What Web design rules can we safely leave behind and what new rules should we adopt?

Brendan Dawes

Brendan Dawes is Creative Director for magneticNorth, a digital design company based in Manchester, UK. Over the years, he’s helped realize projects for a wide range of brands including Sony Records, Diesel, BBC, Fox Kids, Channel 4, Disney, Benetton, Kellogg’s, The Tate and Coca-Cola. Brendan was listed among the top 20 Web designers in the world by .net magazine and was featured in the “Design Icon” series in Computer Arts.

“I think in many ways we are still tethered to romantic notions of how things were in the past; whether that’s adding filters to digital photographs to make them look like Polaroids, or typing notes into apps that are made to look like their paper counterparts. There seems to be something warm and more human when you add these analog layers on digital things; layers derived from the things from our past and how things used to be. But for me I think it’s short-sighted to let the past bully potential new thinking in this way. Personally I hate digital page-turn effects — why are we trying to shackle digital interfaces to old paradigms? You turned a page because that was how a book was/is constructed, but there are no pages as such in the digital domain.

If we’re talking about making a deeper connection from a user experience point of view then trying to emulate the past is not the way we should be going — we should be exploring entirely new techniques that are born from the exciting possibilities of the new rather than the old ways of the familiar. But there is comfort in the familiar; familiar is easier, whilst new is harder and often scarier. Yes, I love holding a beautifully printed book in my hands, the feel of the ink on the printed page and all that, but I equally love holding a beautifully crafted, often magical app in my hands, too. Surely, it’s more exciting to create new things rather than Xerox the past? I know which one I’m more excited about.”

Steven Heller Steven Heller wears many hats (in addition to the New York Yankees). For 33 years he was an art director at the New York Times, originally on the OpEd Page and for almost 30 of those years with the New York Times Book Review. Currently, he is co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author Department, Special Consultant to the President of SVA for New Programs, and writes the Visuals column for the New York Times Book Review.

“Whenever I hear print and Web mentioned in the same sentence, it is usually a downer. Print is dead. Web is alive and weller. Well, I think the marriage of the two may not last into the 22nd century, but for this century, there should be happy bedfellows. Can’t wait to see the offspring.”

David Airey Graphic designer and design author, David has been featured in Creative Review, HOW Magazine, Digital Arts, LogoLounge, and more. He also has been mentioned on the New York Times website, and was interviewed live on BBC Radio. David’s graphic design blogs Logo Design Love, and brand identity showcase Identity Designed attract more than one million monthly pageviews.

“A future where print and Web designers join forces happened some time ago. Today’s designer considers every aspect of a project’s deliverables. S/he might not take full responsibility over each touchpoint, but there should at least be some level of knowledge acquired about the project’s bigger picture — the main goal.

Compare it to a jigsaw puzzle that was pieced together by five different people. Each person focused on one specific area, but at the same time, before they began, all five knew what the completed puzzle was going to look like. This insight helped them to streamline the process, placing the pieces they were responsible for in the correct area within the overall frame. They saved time and effort, just as designers of today who specialize are at an advantage when they stand back and view a project from every angle.”


It seems there is no place for the traditional print designer, but then again, nor is there a place for the traditional Web designer who ignores our print design history. The modern designer is much more than a Web, print, digital or visual designer. Perhaps the modern designer is one that embraces all forms of design to create content that ‘knows’ where it is and ‘lives’ and behaves in a way that brings us as humans much closer to it.

What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comment section below!

Other Resources

  • Mike Matas: A Next-Generation Digital Book (Video) Software developer, Mike Matas, demos the first full-length interactive book for the iPad with clever, swipeable video and graphics and some very cool data visualizations to play with. The book is called “Our Choice” — Al Gore’s sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth.”
  • Flexible Phone Made From Electronic Paper A prototype flexible smartphone which has been created by Canadian researchers with the help of electronic paper.
  • Microsoft Surface 2 CES (Video) A demonstration of Microsoft’s second generation of Surface.

Further Reading

Smashing Editorial (il, mrn)