Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

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.

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commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Tuesday August 5, 2008

Heard a podcast today that covered elastic design (em-based layout). Take this page and bring the font way up and way down. You have to create image backgrounds that can gel with it but its impressive and way better than Meyer’s liquid layout.

utopia 23

wrote the following on Thursday August 7, 2008

This is a great thing, the melding of the two disciplines in a world where more and more, the two intersect not only in the designers studio, but in the marketing office, with communication plans requiring a cohesive connection between all media and a unified message that builds on itself to elevate the branding and promote the clients’ business. I appreciate the ‘document’ concept, but could we get a sexier name? Thanks for promoting this idea, since I seem to be caught in the middle, with two disparate plans requiring my push toward the unity of the two.

Böke Yüzgen

wrote the following on Tuesday September 23, 2008

Yes, a decent typographer will never let the line length go nuts. He will always try to invite people to read the copy, by making it pleasing to read, no matter what the medium is.


wrote the following on Thursday October 30, 2008

Hey Jill- Do you think the link ( you´ve got posted is the right one?
sadly it does not work right!
Greets, Flüge


wrote the following on Tuesday November 18, 2008

Hmm. worked for me. Great example.

On the more global topic of integrated design: most agencies I’ve worked at, or come across, have at one time or another implemented an in-house “interactive” group. It used to be called a “digital” department compared to the “analog” group. Nevermind that it’s completely inaccurate.

The notion that they are different disciplines still permeates much of the marketing/advertising world. Take a peak inside corporate structure and in-house design groups, and it’s even more apparent.

To make matters worse, there may also be the IT contingent to throw into the mix, as well.

Once an organization reaches a certain size, the division by function automatically comes into play – and it hinders any efforts toward integration. Evaluations are made by like-functioned supervisors and often the end goals are not the main evaluation criteria.

Once you reach that point, it takes a complete re-organization of the structure and development process to support a universal approach whereby print, interactive, media and technical considerations all come into play. I think it’s extremely important for today’s designer (and copywriters) to at least understand all possible media channels. Even better to be fluent at producing content, as well. Although it may not always be practical for someone to keep up with developments in multiple areas of expertise. There’s also environmental design that comes into play depending on the task at hand.

Design is design, it’s just applied within different constraints. If you understand the constraints, and have talent, you can design for the application at hand.


wrote the following on Thursday June 4, 2009

At this year’s WebDU conference, Stephanie Sullivan, founder and principal of W3Conversions and Adobe community expert gave a thorough presentation named “CSS Layouts & Dreamweaver CS3”…