Azzcat Blast

Design stories & tips, peppered with life's little tidbits

Print Design in a Tanking Economy

November 30th, 2008

Recently, a question posted on LinkedIn, inquired about the relevance of print design in today’s market. I kept my answer short, so as not to repeat what others had said:

I think there will always be a need for print—not everything can be “delivered” to the intended audience online. However, in terms of marketing dollars, environment, timeliness, etc., web often supersedes print. Honestly, though—I love browsing the Crate & Barrel catalog—in my hands! But I feel eerily guilty. Raw materials, ink, transportation—I should just view it online and spare the environment! Bottom line, cover yourself and do both. My business has definitely switched more towards web. As we’ve heard before…It’s the economy, stupid!

The designer had seen a significant portion of workload shift from print design to web. So have I. And I have such conflicted feelings!

On the one hand, as mentioned above, less print work reduces the amount of wood pulp, ink & solvents, and transportation costs. On the other hand, it also reduces income and jobs in these industries. I want less junk mail, but I want my favorite printer to stay in business—what a conundrum!

Really, it comes down to the needs and budget of the client. Let’s use one of my clients, The City of Tualatin, as an example. Two of our projects have to be print. Both the city newsletter and activity guide go to every residence. Only way to do that is by snail mail. However, printing is pricey—especially on a municipal budget—so page count is important. What the city does (and this is a trend in newspaper publishing, too) is print critical info on paper and post the PDF version on their website. The website has the added benefit of including additional content.

I think this process is a great start, but it doesn’t truly utilize the interactivity of the web. Yes, it’s less expensive to simply upload PDFs for the user to view & print. But going that extra mile by adding live links, interactive forms, etc. shows your user (ie: customer) that you’re thinking about their online experience. Bottom line, even if you’re solely a print designer, it’s good to know how to translate a print piece for optimal web use—and sell this to your client.

What about direct mail?

UGH! What a mixed bag! Personally, I hate junk mail. I hate coupons. I hate sorting & shredding all those credit card applications. In duplicate. Or triplicate. (My husband and I have different surnames—sometimes we get variations on a theme…his first name w/my last name…) And yet…sometimes…I get paid for designing direct mail. Ouch.

Here’s where I can rationalize that the direct mail I’ve done has been targeted to existing customers for a special event or sale. Therefore, not so bad. (ie: it’s not a credit card app!) ;-)

Actually, I do mention other options like email marketing. Often, the best I can do (from an environmental point) is to seek and specify the highest PCW (post consumer waste) content paper within the client’s budget. Baby steps.

Of course, on bigger budget print projects, there are additional green choices: avoid varnish, use soy-based inks (most printers already do this), and design to paper size/reduce paper waste. I think these are easy sells—everyone wants to be on the green bandwagon.

Wrapping up, I think that design projects—when appropriate—will favor web over print. Print is not dead, but may well be on hold for many small businesses in this economy. As a graphic designer, it’s a good idea  to diversify your skill set and money-making options (see ittybiz.com) in this skunky ecomony.

Thanks for reading!

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