Unfit for Print

These days I’m getting my fill of the world of print design. We’re getting ready to send out a new marketing brochure at Behavior and I’m lending a hand to get the production files out to the printer. A lot of Web designers would like this change of pace, would like the opportunity to work on something tangible and based in atoms rather than dealing with the world of the Web, but not me.For the first four years of my career as a designer, I produced design for print. My first two employers produced advertisements, books, brochures, marketing collateral and identity work. I never realized how much pain this work caused me until I started designing solely for the Web. At first I thought that I was going to miss print, but six months later it struck me that I was much happier working purely for the screen.

The complicated mechanics of print production — color separations, paper selection, imaging, proofs, etc. — are a complete drag because it seems like every time you’ve cleared one, you’re presented with another. You might make the argument that the technical aspect of prepress is just as complicated and involved as that of interaction design, but the thing that really aggravated me is that, no matter what, designing for print is still designing by proxy. No matter how beautifully constructed a QuarkXPress file or expertly manipulated a Photoshop image, the final result in a print job can only roll off a printer’s press.

On the other hand, when you design for the Web, the final product is exactly what you’re working on, in front of you, on the screen. Sure, Web production can itself be long and involved, but the designer’s ability to render an idea in something very, very close to its final form is virtually unimpeded on the Web. The distance from concept to finish is infinitely shorter, and that’s what I’m most interested in: the immediate expression of an idea.



  1. I wholeheartedly agree. Print just bums me out everytime I am faced with it. I suppose if I was properly trained in print design, it would make it a lot better, but everything is so much more difficult. Hell, Quark doesnt even have muliple undo’s!? What gives??

  2. True, it all comes down to the people and machines you hand your Quark files off to, but the joy of a printed piece far outweighs the chance that the project may come out less than perfect. If you work with print on a regular basis you learn how to avoid most potential problems. Having a regular relationship with a printer is obviously a good thing as well.

    With web there is no legacy. In fifty years, there will be no antique stores selling copies of your old websites.

  3. P.s.,

    Quark v.6 has multiple undos.

    Quark v.4 has two options of undo; ‘save as’ and ‘revert to saved’.

    I’m defending Quark, but I do realise that its a 1990 program in a 2003 world.

  4. Mark, that’s not a bad point. I guess it’s a question of defining ‘legacy.’ Selling copies of printed collateral in the antique stores of 2053 is one kind of legacy… I would argue that’s more like a trivial footnote than a legacy, but I agree that print does have leave something behind for successive generations. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s fair to say that there is ‘no legacy’ with the Web — witness the billions of dollars of technology that has been given a face by Web design, and the countless sites devoted to nothing but the practice and art of Web design. Clearly, those designers working for the screen have led the art form — or at the very least, been among its most influential practitioners — in the past 5 years. That seems like a legacy to me.

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