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Impact of Electronic Technologies on Print: Creative/Designers

December 7, 2012
Is the glass half full or half empty? There are several ways of looking at the impact of electronic technologies on print, including: the relative impact on page volumes within a specific application, the impact of print loss within a specific application, and the loss of page volumes in total compared to other applications.

Unlike most parties in the print industry, for creators and designers of print, the impact of electronic technologies is likely to be of greater benefit than business loss for two reasons:

1. Shorter run lengths and greater frequency of print drive the requirement for more frequent designs and design updates, and

2. It opens the door to expanding creation and design services to a new, incremental business: web design.

NPES Electronic chart 1
[+] click to enlarge
The second reason is the most significant. As best told through the “Annual Report Chapter” in the “2011 PRIMIR Impact of Electronic Technologies on Print” study, annual report designers have benefited greatly from electronic technologies entry during the collapse of annual report printing. Annual report print volumes collapsed independently from any impact of electronic technologies; they were the victims of a result in changes in investment habits (e.g., mutual funds) and a decline in trust in the information found in annual reports (e.g., Enron financial scandal).

The decline in print demand, ahead of any significant impact of electronic technologies, caused the annual reports creators and designers to look elsewhere for business. The more successful ones transitioned their rich skills to website design and development. Many designers viewed this as an extension of their print business, but, more importantly, often as something new and exciting to challenge their creative skills.

Opportunity for Creators and Designers

NPES Electronic chart 2
[+] click to enlarge
Not all creation and design will transfer as seamlessly between print applications and electronic technology as annual reports have translated to company website design. Typically most image-rich applications are easier to convert than time-sensitive, data-driven applications, such as newspapers and magazines, or predominantly monochrome applications including journals, books and directories.

At the forefront of graphic-rich image applications are catalogs, marketing collateral, and direct-mail applications often deployed by small businesses with frequent turnover—resulting in the need for more design services. These are just beginning to be impacted by electronic technologies (see Exhibit 1).

The creators’ and designers’ eye for photography and image placement/positioning gives them a great advantage over website creators focused on programming and coding. While the tools are in place to allow self-service design, a professional’s eye will provide a level of quality unmatched by a layman. It’s akin to designing your own house without the help of an architect. The design may be functional, but not necessarily esthetically appealing.

Website design is also opening up a whole new category for creators and designers of print: video. High-quality video (as opposed to do-it-yourself YouTube videos) integrated into websites.

Threats to Creators and Designers
While online technologies are opening up new, incremental opportunities, they are also removing the low-end of print design services. With web-to-print services becoming more popular, self-service design using a limited range of standardized templates is becoming more common. These applications were often low-value applications, so the loss in revenue may not be as great as the loss in terms of number of jobs.

Yet to be sorted out is the ability of creators and designers to keep up with electronic technology development. For example, educational book industry migration to electronic books is proceeding slowly, in part because the expectations for electronically interactive books are not yet matched by the availability of designers within the traditional publishing industry. Software-based start-ups in Silicon Valley, such as Inkling, may well surpass traditional educational book designers in their ability to make content truly interactive.

The good news for designers of print is that the migration to interactive content will take years to perfect, not just because of the skill sets, but also because of the funding that will be required to rewrite and design content to make it interactive.

How Do Creators and Designers Respond?
The most urgent requirement is to expand one’s creative and design service to include website design. The skill sets required for this are different but complementary; at its core, graphic design remains the key. Particular focus must be provided to mobile electronic technology platforms, as this is the area where most effort is concentrated for future growth.

Top-line expenditures on all marketing-related activities, including creation and design service, are projected to remain flat during the coming years as marketing communication channels continue to fragment and compete for finite resources. To thrive, creators and designers of print should position themselves in the digital print design, website and video design segments.

One particular area of importance will be the ability to migrate designs from one application to the next (particularly for promotional goods), and from one technology platform to the next. For example, a well-designed marketing brochure may also serve as the foundation for designs on digitally printed T- shirts, smartphone covers, and other related printed goods. Anticipating how the content might be reused in the future will become as valuable as the traditional understanding of color management skills when solely using offset printing technology.

Technology platforms and electronic display screen output size differences will vex designers for years to come. Designs that work well on one platform may perform poorly on the next technology platform. With rapid electronic technology display, life cycles and technology obsolesce, and expert input from designers will be more important than ever in the future.

Conclusion
Printed page volumes are in irrevocable decline. Inventory management of print is becoming more efficient and the trend towards shorter print runs, created as needed, is creating higher frequency of print job orders. This opens the opportunity for more frequent, up-to-date and tailored designs. The march to digital production printing technology will only help to increase the frequency of design alterations, in part because one now can make changes quickly and easily.

Crossing over from design services for print to electronic technologies is a natural migration for many graphic-rich print applications. The skill set required for managing graphical display output across multiple platforms will be in ever-greater demand as the complexity of the number of available platforms increases.

The days and funding available for perfecting design for print jobs that tended to last months or years will end. An unintended side-effect of digital technologies is the ability to continually adjust the designs, with little impact on the cost. Few designs will ever be final. This may lead to more focus on faster turnaround rather than perfection, since any mistakes can be quickly resolved on the next short-run print job or electronic web-design revision.

While printed page volumes are declining, the value of good design will continue to pay, whether it is design for analog print, digital print, or electronic output display. Manufacturers and suppliers positioning themselves in the value chain with tools for designers in both digital print and electronic output display should enjoy continued demand for their products and services. NPES
 

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