The battle/harmony of print versus web.

Web design sure has come a long way. As a designer who started out specializing in only print design, and then transitioned to web design, I can tell you that there are many differences between the two mediums. But even though web design gets a lot more attention these days, I don’t think that print design is going anywhere. Both mediums have their own strengths and weaknesses. My number one piece of advice to keep in mind is: the goals are often different. Don’t try to make them duplicates of each other. Let’s take a look at a few different ways you should be catering to each medium:
1. Messaging
TIP: Call. To. Action.
Be honest with yourself. What do you really want your viewer to do? In print, often the goal is simply trying to get someone’s attention, first and foremost. Once your have their attention, you want to convince them to follow up with calling to place an order, emailing for more information, visiting your website to try a free trial, stopping by your store for a blow-out sale, etc. Think of postcards, flyers and billboards… most are designed to generate awareness, capture attention, and pique interest. That’s it.
Your website can then be an effective tool for reinforcing that message, and “closing the deal”… and you want them to stay on your website for as long as it takes until that happens. This means all the details of your products and services can be found on the website. Don’t try to cram all these details onto a tri-fold brochure. Do include an obvious way for your visitor to contact you, buy a product, or whatever it is you want them to do from there.
2. Content
TIP: The web is flexible. A printed piece is not.
How much information do you need to share? The challenge with print vs. web is to keep your content relevant to the matter at hand. Do you want to put ten paragraphs of text onto the back of a postcard? Not a good idea. You are working with a very limited amount of space. Instead, why not include an eye-catching image (to make it stand out in stacks of junk mail) and ask them to visit your website for more details?
Your website, on the other hand, has an unlimited amount of space. You can change your mind on your content. You can — and should — continue to add more and more to your content, and the site will expand to hold it all. You can have a lot of information, but the design can dictate how much is seen at one time to keep from overwhelming the visitor. For example, including a short description on the homepage with a “click here to read more” link allows you to organize a lot of information without it feeling like a lot of information. This is important, because on the web, even though available space is longer — attention spans are shorter. It is all too easy for your visitor to leave your site for another.
Do you need to share a novel? Consider a link on your website for a visitor to download and print. When dealing with extremely long blocks of text, print is much easier on the eyes.
3. Interactivity vs. Touchability
Websites can be so much fun. Think about it — websites are meant to be interacted with. Your visitor can click and scroll and navigate through the site in whichever order they choose. They can watch videos, participate in conversations, and share your content with others. A website truly is more than a means of delivering a message. A great website is all about the user experience (this is something we’ll get into in another post).
Print designs, however, are meant to be touched. They may not be as interactive as a website, but they can be felt, flipped, and folded. The tactile quality of a printed piece can have a major impact on how your audience perceives it. Think of the way a recycled, brown, kraft paper is interpreted differently than a shiny, metallic foil. If wielded correctly, a powerful sensory experience can lead to a stronger connection to your audience.
4. Use your canvas.
The interactive nature of web design naturally gives you a lot of flexibility when it comes to how you organize and present your content. But, no matter how creative your web design ideas may be, you are always limited to a rectangular-shaped canvas to account for rectangular-shaped screens. Meanwhile, print designs can be die cut into nearly any shape, giving you greater design flexibility. Are you in need of a special piece that will really make a statement? A unique shape is often unexpected and helps make your printed media stand out.
5. Accessibility
TIP: Where is most your audience going to be coming from?
The only way to access web content is through the use of a computer, smartphone, tablet or other internet-ready device. This requires your audience to own one of these devices (as well as an internet connection and power supply) in order to view your design. Print does not.
Meanwhile, print designs do not fall back on any other factor apart from direct human interaction (pick it up and read it) and this can happen at any time and any place, allowing you to reach a very broad audience.
6. How do you need to track your results?
This is something that the web really has going for it. With analytics, it is so easy to see where your web traffic is coming from, what they are looking at, and where they go next. It is the type of information that we just can’t get from a printed piece, no matter how many QR codes and special offers you include. Web also gives you greater precision when you want to target a very specific niche, whereas print tends to be more broad.
Ok, what out of all that do I really need to know?
In summary, I suggest that you use both mediums in harmony to reinforce your brand, and communicate with your audience. Send out a postcard invite that directs fans to your Facebook event page to RSVP. Drive your social media traffic to your website to learn more about your products. Include a link on your website for visitors to download and print important forms. All of these channels work together to paint the picture of your brand as a whole.