HERE ARE MY TAKEAWAYS FROM THE POLL, CONDUCTED JUST WEEKS AGO IN EARLY MAY 2023:
Print continues to play a vital role in how professional graphic designers make a living. Fully 96% of respondents say they work in print as part of their professional mix and 55% of their projects involve a print component. In addition, 72% say they expect the same level of print design this year as in the past and, of the remainder, more designers say they expect to do more print (19%) rather than less print (9%) in the coming year. In short, our readers reaffirm the relevance of print to their professional lives.
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 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. And then there is the related concept of digital fatigue. The fatigue factor from the pandemic era seems to have fostered a new appreciation for the attributes of print.
Closely related is the issue of trust: quality printed pieces are seen to possess authenticity and credibility because they feel real and present, spring from an identifiable source, and are the result of a deliberate act of craftsmanship. This strain of thought is much stronger this year than in the recent past, and that may be notable. The fleeting and ephemeral nature of digital communications does not inspire similar confidence.
If print is to stand out and be special, that imposes a responsibility on creators and producers: superior print design, well-crafted execution, strategic deployment, sustainable methods matter more than ever. Perhaps that explains why, when print is part of the marketing mix, designers try to retain responsibility and control for critical steps in the process: 80% buy or specify paper and 86% buy or specify printing.
Everyone understands that print is now a role player rather than the star — best used as part of an integrated marketing mix or for certain targeted audiences and purposes. That requires more sophisticated judgments about how and when to deploy print, and how to combine technologies such as QR codes and AR combined with print deliverables.
Relatedly, designers have a sharper understand of where print is most effective and where it is not. There is a growing consensus: Packaging is a growth area and an opportunity. Print excels for luxury brands, large consumer purchases, catalogs, invitations, and a host of specific industries like real estate, healthcare, art, engineering, education where quality, permanence, craftsmanship and depth of information matter. For fast-paced industries or circumstances where immediacy counts and information changes rapidly, not so much.
There is clearly less emphasis on printcraft and its intricacies. Digital solutions tend to be the default position — they feel bigger, broader, cheaper, easier, more contemporary, often sexy to clients — and this is especially true for each younger generation of designers and consumers.
As has been true for six decades, Brochures + Collateral are the most frequently executed print projects. This year, Sales Promotion, Posters, Invitations, and Direct Mail follow closely. Against the odds, Business Cards remain popular, while Annual + Corporate Reports and Catalogs are mainstays.
Sustainability is an important factor when assessing a project — including, of course, whether to recommend print or digital media. In earlier times, there was an easy assumption that digital had the lighter footprint. But designers now have a more nuanced understanding of the environmental costs of the digital infrastructure, and many see print and paper as a green option and a renewable resource. That said, the print and paper industries have work to do to spread the message: respondents to today’s poll are divided as to which media is more sustainable, and nearly 40% simply do not know.