Print Design + Web Design = Document Design
Over the years, the print and web hemispheres of my brain have overcome their differences, and where once there was barbed wire blockades and police escorts, there is now a civil exchange of information between the two, and, dare I say it, a bit of collaboration and idea-sharing. To hell with print. To hell with web. Long live the document designer.
In this age of maturing websites and web design tactics, it’s refreshing that designers can now make educated decisions about things like HTML text versus images, blue links versus red links, and liquid versus fixed layouts. The research and user testing that has gone into the nuance of human brain / computer screen interactivity is voluminous; a website could be designed by a machine fed only on the results of surveys and Jakob Nielsen’s Alert Boxes.
These decisions do not weigh upon print designers, though they have their own vernacular that requires right-brain thinking — paper stock, bleeds and margins, die cuts, spot colors, and about a hundred other technical terms that make press operators sound more Klingon than human.
A lot of web designers, like me, come from a print background. Others, also like me, continue to work in both mediums. A lot of times, I make visual decisions based on my experience laying out ink on paper. Things like establishing a grid, paying attention to color, choosing typography carefully, and retaining appropriate white space.
Turn it 180 degrees, and I find myself applying some lessons learned in web design to print, like creating a deliberate hierarchy of content and style, minimizing noisy graphics, and making sure text can be read by the general populace instead of just elitist designers, that marketing manager guy who hates copy, and mutant owlbots with telescopic vision implants.
One chunk of the print side of my brain that I cannot shake, however, is the need for fixed column widths for copy. No matter what high-profile web swami advocates liquid design, or what accessibility and usability experts say, when I develop a page for online viewing, I am developing a document for reading. Frankly, I have never seen a liquid design with variable column widths that feels as good for reading as any given fixed layout.
Long story short, the blending over of the two disciplines is interesting. Multi-page brochures and multi-page websites both require information architecture, a regard for context, and appreciation for the intended audience. The distinction between “print” and “web” designer is fading; these days, my specialty is designing documents.
I wish I could extrapolate something more meaningful from this riffing, but I am sadly not nearly that clever.