Print is Novel in Digital Era

For the 52nd year, GDUSA has conducted a reader survey about print design. When print was the dominant medium for graphic designers, our surveys split hairs: lots of detailed questions and analysis of projects, presses, papers, specification practices. In 2015, print is far from the only game in town and this survey focuses on the fundamentals — the present and future role of print in graphic and media communications. Here, the 2015 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 roughly 3-in-4 projects involve a print component.

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

Third, designers see the move away from print and the embrace of all things digital as having moved too far and too fast. Everyone appreciates the cost and reach advantages of digital communications but believe that print belongs in the mix.

Fourth, designers say that print belongs because of its classic strengths. Foremost is touch — sensual, physical, real, permanent, credible, the human connection that is missing in the virtual world. As one respondent states: “People are people. They want something tangible.”

Fifth, these classic strengths are amplified by context. In the digital clutter of 2015, print can be special — fresh, surprising, novel, welcome, personal, revealing, even a statement that a brand values itself and its customers.

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

Finally, print’s evolution to a smarter and leaner profile — think digital printing and sustainable paper making — are helping keep the medium a relevant option when hard choices are being made about effectiveness, economics, and ethics

The Numbers

Our 2015 survey was sent to a random selection of 20,000 GDUSA print magazine and e-subscribers, and generated 2,359 responses. The benchmark results convey a clear message: though print is no longer the superstar, it remains essential to the design profession. Specifically, 96% of GDUSA readers work in print as part of their mix and spend 74% of their time doing so. Control over key elements of the process still resides with the designer: 84% buy or specify paper, 85% buy or specify printing, 88% buy or specify type. Other notable findings: brochures and collateral, followed by announcements and invitations, are the most frequent print projects; package design is seen as a growth opportunity since it’s role is less directly impacted by the internet than other print-related activities; digital printing and digital papers have become commonplace and mainstream; sustainability continues to influence design solutions and purchasing decisions; and designers maintain significant purchasing influence with regard to hardware and software.



Print and Paper Have Classic Strengths

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, desensitizing, often anonymous world of digital communications. In addition, many observe that the relative rarity of printed communications makes the impact felt even more, assuming that the project is done well.

A Fresh Way to Engage and Elevate

To further explore print’s appropriate and changing role in the mix of media communications, we noted that many non-traditional brands — Uber, Airbnb, WebMD, CNET — are introducing print into their marketing mix for the first time — and many traditional brands — IKEA, JC Penney, Newsweek, Conde Nast — are doubling down on print. We quoted Kim Caviness of McMurray/TMG, the agency behind WebMD magazine, who said: “Nothing communicates premium and ‘we value you’ like print. Basically you’re taking a powerful digital experience and then personalizing it and taking it to that next level of engagement.” We asked readers to react to the notion that, in the digital clutter, print is a fresh way to engage the customer and elevate the brand. Many hope it is a trend and some see it simply as a blip.

Package Design as Growth Area

We hypothesized that package design presents a growth opportunity for 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


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