Print and Trust

Here are ten observations about print design in 2018 gleaned from the data and comments.

1. Print remains crucial as to how professional graphic designers make a living. Fully 98% of respondents say they work in print as part of the mix and that 2-in-3 projects involve a print component.

2. When print is included as part of the marketing mix, designers retain responsibility and control for critical steps in the process, with roughly 8-in-10 making decisions on paper specification and print buying.

3. Designers believe print endures because of its classic strengths. Foremost among these is tangibility – it is sensual, touchable, physical, real, permanent, and encourages a human connection often missing in the virtual world.

4. These classic strengths are amplified by the digital clutter. Because print is relatively rare, it 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.

5. These traditional strengths are also magnified by a general lack of trust in everything from the electronic communications we receive, to the companies with which we deal, to the institutions on which we rely. A quality printed piece, so the argument goes, exudes credibility because it feels real and present, springs from a committed and identifiable source, and is the result of an act of craftsmanship.

6. In a related thought, selective use of print lends itself to certain audiences and offerings where communication needs to be retained, contemplated, touched or trusted: luxury goods, premium services and expensive purchases are a few of the commonsense examples.

7. If print is to standout and be special, that imposes a special responsibility on creators and producers: superior print design, well-crafted exec­ution, strategic deployment, sustainable methods matter as much, perhaps more, than ever.

8. There are pockets of growth. Package design is robust since the need for packaging is less impacted by online communications than other traditional print areas. Digital short-run printing is valued for its ability to target and customize. Cards and invitations make a personal statement. Paper book sales are up a few percent as ebooks falter. There is a small but buzz-y artisanal demand for album covers, paperbacks and other items millennials view as quaint.

9. Despite the many positives noted above, everyone understands that print is now a role player. Slightly more survey respondents say they are doing slightly more print work, but we also record a modest decline, once again, in the percentage of projects and the percentage of time spent on print by designers. This is part and parcel of the challenges that confront the overall commercial print industry, which has spent years trying to find its floor.

10. The move to social media as a primary advertising and marketing vehicle is accelerating. Despite a mix of fear and loathing, media decisionmakers have accepted the tradeoff. They recognize that social media is “where the eyeballs are” and see the Facebook and Google duopoly, in particular, as compelling because of the ease and affordability of targeting consumers. Happily or grudgingly, brands and products are voting with their feet to the detriment of legacy media and even to forward-facing digital media companies like Vice, Buzzfeed and Vox Media.