Print in the Digital Age

For most of my life I've been dead set on being a print designer. I've been told for years print was going the way of the 8-track, but I'm attached to it and somehow don't find it plausible that it could disappear completely in the next few years.

What I love about print is the tactility of it—something that can't be replicated on screen, no matter how many advances we make in resolution or user interface design. The end of print would mean the end of physical artifacts, which I think we're more attached to than we let on. This trend of skeuomorphism in user interface design, whether we like it or not, speaks to a desire to maintain a connection to the physical objects of yore. An animated page turn in iBooks reminds us of the physical pages we used to turn before we made the switch to digital, but there's something about turning that animated page that feels strange and unsatisfying. We want our user interfaces to make us feel like we live in the future, not like we're holding onto the past, and yet we still want some connection to the technologies came before.

I will admit to being on the side of designers who give skeuomorphism the side eye, partly because it can be extremely unattractive, but mainly because, as Tom Hobbes says in Co.Design, "it’s very easy for skeuomorphism to become a crutch." It's easy because it's familiar; people understand it because it looks like things they've used before. We don't have to come up with new visual cues to show people how to use apps if we stick to what they know. But if we stick to what we all know, we can never make anything new.

It seems that people are starting to understand this more and more, which I think suggests that we can expect to see a new direction in user interface design—especially with Jony Ive at the helm at Apple. What this means is that we'll have to find other ways to maintain a connection to print, and unsurprisingly, I think that can only be done in print. Over the past couple years, several print publications have emerged targeting a web design demographic. Magazines like Offscreen and The Manual are about web design specifically, while others such as Codex have grown out of popular blogs. What I think stands out most about these three publications is the focus on quality. They're not cheaply produced monthly issues; each one is carefully compiled and designed over a longer period of time, which readers understand and are willing to pay handsomely for. This is the sort of print I expect to persist as we progress further into the digital age.

I will not argue that printed gossip magazines and romance novels will exist forever, nor should they. Such things tend to crop up where publishing is easiest, and these days, that's no longer in print. We should focus on using older publishing techniques to produce works worth caring about instead of insisting that their days are numbered. The face of print is changing, but that doesn't mean it has to disappear completely. In fact, I'm telling you right now that I'm not going to let it.

DesignMelissa Green