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The Future Of Content Delivery – How Print Loves Web

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.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

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

Reflecting On The Web Link

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

When Two Trades Go To War Link

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.

Web, Meet My Friend Print Link

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.

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

Brendan Dawes

Brendan Dawes4 is Creative Director for magneticNorth5, 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 Link

Steven Heller

Steven Heller6 wears many hats (in addition to the New York Yankees). For 33 years he was an art director at the New York Times7, 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 Link

David Airey

Graphic designer and design author8, 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 Love9, davidairey.com10 and brand identity showcase Identity Designed11 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.”

Conclusion Link

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!

Further Reading Link

  • Mike Matas: A Next-Generation Digital Book12 (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 Paper13
    A prototype flexible smartphone which has been created by Canadian researchers with the help of electronic paper.
  • Microsoft Surface 2 CES14 (Video)
    A demonstration of Microsoft’s second generation of Surface.


Footnotes Link

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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_

  1. 1

    Pedro Coitinho

    May 23, 2011 7:12 am

    Very true. Currently we aim to create interfaces that mimic physical objects. But then comes that age-old saying “the medium is the message.” Long ago I realised that there was no point of making a digital photograph look like a traditional one, and the same goes to the web.

    We need s revolution, and the new tablet Market is making it closer, we can interface with the web much more fluidly and intuitively than before, but it’s still a long way to go.

    (side note: just imagine kids taking a book and saying “oh, you flip the pages just like a tablet!)

  2. 2


    May 23, 2011 8:07 am

    I was just reading this article, which opens up possible new UI designs which could incorporate some tactile elements graphic designers are often fond of.
    A Touch Screen that Plays Sticky “Programmable friction” provides a new kind of feedback.

    • 3

      Mark Cossey

      May 25, 2011 2:07 pm

      Thanks so much for this link. I’m going to write a follow up to this article sharing some ideas and more thoughts so this is really useful.

  3. 4

    I totally agree with this article.

  4. 5

    This book may also be appropriate to post here:

  5. 6

    If it was to work, both sides would have to (at the very least) become familiar with the other sides industry. In my experience the majority of print designers who are new to the web find it very difficult to understand the basic principles of web design and contribute. Whether they’re unable or just unwilling, I don’t know. I have, however, come across print designers that have taken to web design straight away and have even switched to web design permanently. I think, if it was to work, it would be these specific forward thinking and versatile individuals that would make it happen.

    • 7

      I think that barrier will break down as the strictures of the web recede.
      Currently, web and print are two different ways of thinking, but in the future you’d have to imagine that things would become much more similar.

    • 8

      Random Anon

      May 24, 2011 3:45 pm

      I agree!

  6. 9

    mohamed fiteh

    May 23, 2011 1:18 pm

    old question, but you can easily edit printed version from web article by CSS print media types, to make web Love Print.

  7. 10

    Sebastian Cooper

    May 23, 2011 4:13 pm

    Interesting thoughts. The inherent nature of web and digital media is faster and more easily generated and consumed, and its low barriers to entry mean that it can and does evolve faster than print ever has. One might say that its evolution is crowd-sourced.

    Web objects are transient, if only because of the speed at which content and presentation can change, whereas print design is often involved in the creation of more permanent, own-able objects, regardless of external factors such as availability of power.

    Print design and those who work with expert knowledge in this field will always have their place, as long as the paper/non-screen medium is more cheaply available than screen-based media, and the same principles that make for a good experience of an object such as a book apply to creation of a good experience of a digital object, such as readability principles applied to typography on a blog for example.

    One might say that a book as user experience has a more linear flow than a website, and perhaps it is more this simplicity than anything else that we appreciate when comparing the printed medium to web. There is less room for interruption, no links, no IM, no browser tabs, and perhaps this makes for a purer, more focused experience, meaning that the reader is more engaged with the experience.

    Thus it falls on design for digital to create original, engaging experiences based on sound design principles and user-centric thinking, in order to offer the same enticement to a pure and focused experience.

    And I think that often, simplicity and good sense may dictate what creative choices should be made when confronting design challenges. As designers, we select an idiom based on an intended effect, be that in the look of old-fashioned font faces or sticky notes. If familiarity eases the path to use and usability is a goal, then this is the intuitive and sensible option.

    The age-old principles we inherit from print design will always be useful, as they are born of the principles of aesthetics and ergonomics.

    I think that the future of web designers, lies fundamentally in being responsible for developing the strongest combination of technique and creativity possible, and to deliver projects in a forward-looking fashion as far as is possible. By designing and building device responsive digital objects, implementing progressive enhancement or graceful degradation, and quickly adopting and pushing new technologies such as HTML5 and CSS3, and by creating user experiences that offer solutions and enrich people’s lives, we fulfill our roles as designers.

    Every challenge we face, and every problem we solve and solution we share, furthers the collective evolution of the digital medium.

  8. 11

    Ever since I got my iPad, I’ve been thinking exactly this.

    Web design and print design are converging into one. The old mouse interface is dead, and web designs need to be treated the same way as the design for a tactile object.

    Navs will change, advertising methods will change, everything will need to become more like the printed page. I’m not saying exactly the same, but designs will have to start converging somewhere in the middle.

  9. 12

    Ill Literate

    May 23, 2011 6:45 pm

    what is a book?

  10. 13

    I don’t think so there is always place for traditional print designers ,Web designers should understand that without print medium is always a greater medium of communication even
    though web is growing faster.

  11. 14

    Of course print and web designers should work together. Personally, after working on a computer all day, I need to get away from the artificial light of my screen and find natural light, usually via a book and some sunshine. Nothing will replace the book, lest we become robots.

  12. 15

    How many people, over the age of 70 and are still struggling to embrace ICT, will actually like this article or the comments made by experts?

  13. 16

    I – and I’m sure others – still expect different experiences from print, web and mobile web. The fact that I use Reeder and ReadItLater to deliver most of my mobile web browsing points to ‘there’s a future in replicating the book – or at least magazine – experience’. But, equally, on the big screen, I’m expecting more dynamic, interactive, visual content. I expect horses for courses.

    But you can take a book into the bath and it only costs you £3 to replace if you drop it in. Can’t say that about an iPhone.

    PS Reps like the sound of there THEIR own voices

  14. 17

    Mark Cossey

    May 24, 2011 7:40 am

    As is normally the case, hardware will dictate how we produce digital content. It’s clear to see that ‘touch’ and ‘depth’ are both technologies that are leading the way at the moment. It’s very difficult to imagine things like folding content or perhaps feeling the texture of the content you are viewing (online), or perhaps using varying amounts of pressure to manipulate that content, and we would be right to question if this is actually what we even want or need in the future.

    I for one think we do need to thinking about these analogue actions and reviewing our print design past is essential to understand what will engage users.

    The ‘click’ is weakening.

  15. 18

    Excellent article. I agree with it but not necessarily for the same reasons. In my opinion it is important that we be careful and not confuse familiarity with higher quality or even forward thinking.

    Is the experience of reading a book a matter of perception? Most of us reading this article are old enough to have been raised on books. Only later in our childhood (if not later) did we familiarize ourselves with computers. Would a generation of people raised only on computers feel different about web vs. print? Would they speak fondly of scrolling down a site or the feel of mouse click?

    I do believe, however, touch is an important part of any user experience. Our sense of touch is also capable of interpreting information and could be used in conjunction with sight to deliver a great experience. Print is ahead in this because it’s a physical medium. I don’t think we should be thinking of merging web and print, but rather looking forward to adding a third dimension to the digital medium.

  16. 19

    Good article –

    The human race will really have arrived when we’ve spent millions of dollars and man hours creating a tablet that looks, feels, and smells like an old book.

  17. 20

    Any article that relates to a book and begins with “it was the best user experience I’d had in a very long time.” means :
    1] the author needs to read more [as in books and not online]
    2] the author is a nerd, books are not “user experiences” – books are books.
    3] sorry , didn’t get past the opening paragraph of the article as “it was the best user experience I’d had in a very long time.” made me feel ill.

  18. 21

    I love reading articles like this because it is fresh and gets you really thinking. Great post and I just keep thinking, what if (and yes I know it may never happen but still, what if) the internet is shutdown somehow? Or if we are unable to connect, what is the step to get into all that information and sharing on the web?
    I personally like to save webpages (articles) like these, videos, songs, and much more on my storage just to feel like I can access it if my internet was ever down or so.
    Again, great article!

  19. 22

    Nice Article……..

  20. 23

    ika sma dupa

    May 30, 2011 8:08 pm

    thank otur info

  21. 24

    Great article.
    I do miss the way a book actually feels. I like the physical world. I and we get too sucked into the virtual or digital world that we forget to actually appreciate the physical touch of actual things. Staring at blaring computer screens wreaks havoc on the eyes and our brains.
    I am a web designer/developer that knows graphic design. I like the physical print on paper, posters and the unrestricted space you get with the possibility of printing something as small as a grain of rice or as large as a building. Much more wow factor in the print world than on a computer.
    People on the web just scan and move one. The physical print, people usually examine and experience.
    Some day the two worlds could definitely meet. A lot of new companies make it work. But there still is the old school separation of web vs print.

    My funny thought is what are people going to do when their battery dies on their precious phones and devices and/or you have power outage. What will you turn too. A good old fashion book, magazine, poster, pen and paper, paint on canvas, etc.
    Take a walk, experience the world around you, get inspiration from nature and the physical world. Digital can never replace that no matter how many sensors, vibrating discs, or electrodes you put into a screen or device.


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