Passion for Print Remains in the Age of Social Media

53rd Annual Print Design Survey

Sponsored by Verso Corporation

By Gordon Kaye

For the 53rd year, GDUSA has conducted a reader survey about print design. When print was predominant, our surveys got into the weeds: details about projects, presses, papers, practices. Today, print is an option and a choice and, therefore, the survey focuses on existential questions: its role, purpose and future. Here, the 2016 results and comments are both suggestive and informative.

First, print remains crucial as to how professional graphic designers make a living. More than 9-in-10 designers work in print as part of their mix and nearly 3-in-4 projects involve a print component.

Second, designers retain responsibility and control for large swaths of the print process, with roughly 8-in-10 involved in print buying and paper specification.

Third, designers believe print perseveres because of its classic strengths. Foremost is touch — sensual, physical, real, permanent, credible – the human connection that is missing in the virtual world.

Fourth, these classic strengths are amplified by context. In today’s digital clutter, and the current rush to social media, print has the potential to stand out and be special – fresh, welcome, surprising, disruptive, personal, engaging, meaningful, a statement that a brand values itself and its customers.

Fifth, it follows that print lends itself to certain audiences and offerings where the communication needs to be retained, contemplated or trusted: luxury goods and premium services, fundraising and memberships, event invites and announcements, real estate and capital equipment purchases, fashion and cosmetics, law and medicine, real estate and investments, music and art, are telling examples.

Sixth, print’s special role comes with responsibility: superior print design, well-crafted production, strategic deployment, sustainable manufacture and distribution matter as much, perhaps more, than ever.


Our 2016 survey was sent to a random selection of 12,000 GDUSA print magazine and e-subscribers, and generated 1,089 responses. The benchmark results convey a clear message: print remains essential to the graphic design profession. A few specifics: 97% of GDUSA readers work in print as part of their mix and spend 72% of their time doing so. Control over key elements of the process still resides with the designer: 82% buy or specify paper and 87% buy or specify printing. Other notable findings: brochures and collateral are the most frequent print projects; package design is seen as a stable area of the business since it’s role is less directly impacted by the internet than other print-related activities; digital printing and digital papers are mainstream; sustainability continues to influence design solutions and purchasing decisions; and designers maintain significant purchasing influence with regard to related products and services such as type, images, software and hardware.


Designers feel strongly and positively about print. They value print for its classic strengths and how these can be effectively leveraged to convey a message or a feeling. Foremost is touch, but other practical attributes continue to matter: permanence, portability, convenience, accessibility. Print works, in the view of respondents, because it creates a human connection and a trustworthiness missing from the ephemeral, oversaturated, often anonymous world of digital communications. In addition, many observe that the relative rarity of printed communications makes the impact of print felt even more.

People are beginning to return to the realization that print’s relative permanence, its ability to be shared in ways that electronic media can’t match, have a real place in the marketing and advertising mix. Reading on a screen can be an unpleasant challenge. Besides, you’ve never lived till you’ve done a print campaign to publicize a website!
— N. B. Carroll, President, B Plus C Communications

Print still has an important place. We continue to get much higher amounts of donations in response to our physical asks compared with email asks, even though our lists are roughly the same size and contain little overlap; additionally, we find that people retain more if they read it on a printed piece instead of via web or email.

Print is still a large part of my professional life. People still value print, it’s changed to be more of a luxury and use of unique papers/inks/color is what is hot. We’ve become print snobs.

Yes, print is still a viable solution. People seem to like to take a break from the glare of the screen to the tactile. Touch is still relevant with the different paper types and visual and special techniques. It involves a individual personally, a different and still useful way of connection.

Although online marketing is important, print is still relevant. Tactile printed materials should complement websites for strong branding.

Print will always have a place in our world; research tells us that when people have an emotional decision to make, or want to read something for pleasure we want to do that with a print piece.

Clients are noticing a stronger impact with print this year. Things are getting lost in the digital-social world and there is better ROI in direct mail.

The printed word has always been powerful and this has never changed. People treasure printed pieces and keep some for a lifetime if their name or a loved ones name is on it … commemorating special events, fond memories or achievements.

There’s something about printed products that still attract people. Having a magazine to physically look at, a printed invitation to send or hold, a signs or poster or announcement to keep as memorabilia. Maybe it’s the nostalgic aspect of printed items that appeal to people.

Print still has a very important place in my business and personal life. Additionally, when asking clients which they prefer, most want printed products for the tactile sense. But some clients are hesitant to pay for the production costs of really good printed pieces.

There is a longing for tangible visual media. Though digital media has taken a prominent role in the business, it is nice to feel an actual printed piece, to hold a newsletter or an invitation that has clever folding, diecuts and special effects with ink.

Print will continue to have an importance for many years to come, I just think it morphs with the times … In my personal life, paper still holds importance as I do better when I write down notes, or when I want to doodle.

The tactile feeling of paper draws me in. I love creating for print, developing companion pieces for digital materials, and sending and receiving print materials. People like to get their hands on print materials because there are just too many emails!

We have always been tactile beings; meaning from infancy we have the desire to touch and feel – that hand/eye relationship will never leave us.

Print is not dead. More and more people are actually turning away from digital; they look at screens all day and want to unwind with a magazine or good paper book. Paper never pauses or disconnects!

Every time I get a blue-line in my hand I close my eyes, get my nose right up on it, and breathe it all in. I believe a truly talented digital designer must have experience in design for print. The physical constraints inform digital restraint.

Print is an aspect in everything I do. I believe it has an even stronger impact because of the fact that there is too much digital marketing; having something tangible gives it a completely different feel and perspective.

Print is highly important in my professional and personal life, it is a passion. Touch, permanence, and impact are all still meaningful, more so now than recently because it’s being used more sparingly and appropriately now.

Print plays a crucial component in both my professional and personal life. As we become more and more digitally oriented, our senses crave to be stimulated with tangible tactile triggers.

While its place maybe more of a niche, print still has an important place. Because it is more niche, its impact is greater. I am influenced by high quality, well-done print pieces.

Print is still important to an extent both professionally and personally. I believe touch matters and print can have greater impact because it says you put thought and effort into it. But clients, not so much, they care about price.

Folks hold on to a postcard or direct mail as a reminder more then an email, especially when a fun-to-touch paper is involved.

Print is not dead. Print will continue to be important for such things as catalogs, books and direct mail. Everyone is online so much. It’s nice to be interrupted with a tactile piece.

Print is more important than ever and I hope it is returning to the forefront. Most of us are oversaturated with digital and are feeling the deficit of tangible information.

Print advertising continues to be very relevant to our clients. Improvements in direct mail targeting and the continued popularity of niche publications play an important role.

Print can capture someone’s attention more than an email. Anything digital seems removed, distant, and impersonal.

I still prefer holding it in my hand vs looking on a screen, and I grew up in the digital age.

Print is even more prominent in my life than ever before. PERIOD.

Absolutely, email can be easily ignored and forgotten.

You have to have print to be any type of successful business. A take away, something as a reminder, something more tangible than an email.

Print is especially great for invitations, annual reports, leave behind brochures; anything worth retaining, if only for a little while.

Print and packaging works especially well these days in support of luxury goods and premium services.

I have seen great results with fundraising pieces for non-profit organizations, churches or schools.

I have noticed that event marketing projects benefit from various print components. Print is great for music and art. The community appreciates a great print.

Print will always have its place. I do lots of poster design in a local music scene. The posters add to the design and culture of the city.

Print is still very impactful. It feels more valuable than digital communications/publications, because of its permanence, touch and smell.



We hypothesized that package design presents a growth opportunity designers and printers because it is an area less directly effected by online communications than many other activities, and because it is well-positioned to help advance the brand and make the sale in a fragmented media marketplace. Readers responded as follows.

Package design is all about look and appeal. In a world of so many options, you have to make your product stand out otherwise you just fall into a sea of nothingness. It’s similar to standing in front of a magazine rack and picking out what magazine you want to read. It’s all comes down to whether what’s presented on the outside appeals to you or not.

This is true. Products still need to be housed in something and that something needs to be printed.

Package design is important because it will survive out of necessity, but also because people are judgmental and showy. They will buy something that is more expensive to get the brand reputation association. They want others to see this and be jealous.

I don’t do package design, but I am very sensitive to how eco-friendly the packaging of the products I purchase is. I don’t like to purchase products if I feel their packaging is wasteful.

We will always need packaging, no matter what material is used for containment. A virtual box of tissues really doesn’t solve the consumer’s need or problem.

I design for fragrance and skin care companies. Got to see the products in person for people to commit to a purchase. So yes, print works best here.

Package design will always have a special place in print. I mean … you can make water sexy by just placing it in a box – with some nice typesetting ; )

Packaging has always, and will always be, important. It’s the last stop before a customer buys.

Agree, whether you order a product online or buy in a store, the experience of receiving your product and opening the packaging is the same.

Yes, it seems to be hurt less than traditional print — why am I not a package designer — so many beautiful package designs pushing each other aside for shelf space.

I’ve never been happier to have had a continuous flow of packaging and environmental graphic design projects in my experience.



As noted above, many observe that the relative rarity of printed communications makes the impact felt even more, assuming that the project is done well. We asked GDUSA readers whether the rise of social media — in particular the long shadow of Facebook and Google — reinforces or changes the role of print and paper.

Online media has certainly made an impact with print. It is more cost effective. But now we are starting to see a saturation of online ads. Eventually, I believe more companies will turn to print again. There are so many ways we can enhance a readers experience with printed materials through touch. You can’t achieve that online.
– Nicte Cuevas, Principal at Nicte Creative Design

If Facebook and Google are where everyone is, then putting a message there runs the risk of disappearing in the midst of the 9 bazillion other messages people think they have to put there. Social media have their place, but they’re not the only advertising/marketing/communication channels that work.

Digital ads are temporary and transient. They don’t have the impact of a printed piece. The remembrance or the effect is not comparable. Facebook can have all the ads they want, no one cares about shit like that, it’s just clutter. Go back to the drawing board media experts!

It depends on the industry, I have a client that owns a donut shop and does well with social media. But I have another client who is a prominent realtor in town and does better with direct mail pieces. It depends on the market you are targeting.

This goes to a fundamental misunderstanding about value. More eyeballs, yes, but less engagement or meaning. Cheap CPMs but ultimately a bad deal for brands and marketers.

Social media gets annoying and overused. You Google a topic, and when you’re in Facebook there is an ad about the topic you’d just searched. It’s downright creepy, if not a bit stalker-ish. Part of the beauty of the internet is being faceless, now, we’re so tracked, it gets old.

Social media, email marketing, and search marketing are showing strong gains because they’re starting from zero. However, these platforms, like print, are simply vehicles for great marketing. Where the money should be spent is in content development that can be used in all platforms.

It’s all evolving and I think the biggest, hardest task for Facebook and Google is how to stay relevant. How not to lose their cool factor. Does anyone really know how? or are we all just making it up as we go. Long live the creatives … they are our future.

Social media can only go so far. I am more likely to look at something and take it seriously if it’s printed and in my hands. If someone pays money for something to be printed and mailed, it seems like they also take their material more seriously.

I am not too happy about this development, but it seems about right. A lot of these ads are designed poorly with too much content crammed together. Honestly I do not even look at the ads. they are just an annoying box on the side …

Social media may be growing, but I’d say it is more because traditional print outlets have diminished … so expansion to web is only about further reach or emphasis.

A large majority of people ignore ads on social media because they’re on FB via mobile or only there to check up on their friends; there still need to be other outlets to reach people.

Social media is out of control and is causing the death of stores etc. Is this what we want??? This will wreak havoc on jobs, real estate, even leisure time and face to face interaction. More than it already has.

Yes much of the advertising is going toward social media but sometimes one seeks solace in the less crowded spaced of print, letting the eye rest for a bit.

Social media has its place for sure. We are all there — and it’s important to keep all that art and design as fresh as we can. I’m not against it at all.

Facebook and Google are effective for some subjects. Looking at Vogue and Town & Country magazines recently, print advertising is alive and well. Depends on the subject.

Facebook and Google are very valuable and trackable, but I think advertising in those areas works best when paired with other types of communication including print.

Social media has to be thought of as part of a marketing mix — but it is not the end all be all. You need to target your customers where they are.

Over-rated. Commands the attention of a gnat. Hardly any retention/recall factor in either of these.

Social media marketing is over rated, it should be one aspect of an overall marketing strategy. It is not as effective as hyped.

This may be true, but we still see and are impacted by print ads all over the place in the physical world, whether we realize it or not.

The design mind thinks in terms of AND not OR — print exists in a digital world.

I believe all channels must be cultivated in order to do business. You cannot pigeon hole yourself.

I most definitely agree but I would say its short-sighted to not recognize that they are just a portion of consumer engagement. Any time you have oversaturation, consumers become desensitized and literally tune out … We’re subscribing to commercial-free experiences or carrying our music on our own devices just to avoid the intrusion of unwanted advertising.


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