Ten Observations

Here are ten observations that flesh out the state of print design in 2019:

Print remains important in how professional graphic designers make a living. Fully 88% of respondents say they work in print as part of their professional mix, 67% of projects involve a print component and 61% of their time is devoted to print and, by a slight margin, designers say they are doing more rather than less print than in the recent past.

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

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.

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.

The question of trust bubbles to the surface. In an era of fake and/or ephemeral electronic communications, readers see a quality printed piece inherently suffused with authenticity for the sender and to the recipient. A quality printed piece, so the argument goes, exudes (more) credibility because it feels real and present, springs from a committed and identifiable source, and is the result of a positive act of craftsmanship.

In a related thought, selective use of print lends itself especially to certain audiences and offerings where communication needs to be retained, contemplated, touched or trusted: luxury goods, premium services, large or expensive purchases, products or services where the devil is in the details. These are but a few of the common sense examples.

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

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 plateau. There is a small but growing artisanal demand for album covers, paperbacks, posters and other items millennials view as quirky, quaint and, yes, authentic.

Despite the many positives noted above, everyone understands that print is a role player. As noted above, slightly more respondents say they are doing more print work, but we also record a small decline, once again, in the percentage of time spent on print by designers and on the number of designers specifying premium papers. This is part and parcel of the challenges that confront the overall commercial print and papermaking industries. An interesting sidelight: designers say that more accessible paper promotions and swatchbooks would help them convince clients to use print.

The move to social media as a primary advertising and marketing vehicle is accelerating. This seems driven by clients, who want in on the promise of big reach with small budgets, and designers plagued with small budgets and fast turnaround times. Some designers observe that their print recommendations face resistance from clients who are convinced that Facebook and Google are a panacea for reaching young’uns. This is strangling legacy media, of course, and wounding digital-first companies like Vice, Buzzfeed, Vox Media, HuffPost.