Print and web design: narrative and behaviors

I was recently involved in a conference call with managers of university communications staff. They were looking for better ways to organize and increase the team-building in their internal communications personnel. They were considering how to bring their print and web folks closer together.

They wanted to pick our brains because, as an organization, we were a print print-focused long before we added web services. They wanted to know how we had integrated the print designers into the web design process.

This answer is, we haven’t; at least not in the sense that we use print and web visual designers as interchangeable parts, plugging them in and out of interactive and print-based projects at will. We certainly have — and strongly believe in — input and cross fertilization on these projects, but we haven’t tried to organizationally force people to be what they’re not.

My observation — based on years of working with design in both print and web projects, and which I shared on the call — is that you can’t expect interactive and print designers to casually change rolls.

Yes, the fundamental traits of a good visual designer — taste, talent, and tenacity — apply to both fields, but the way those aspects are applied and realized are significantly different between print and web. It’s not unheard of, but it’s a rare animal that can move effortlessly between print and interactive design and maintain equally high quality work.

NYTimes.com Design Director Khoi Vinh recently wrote about the differences in approach and skills needed by web and print designers:

…on the Web, design is not a method for implementing narrative, as it is in print, but rather it’s a method for making behaviors possible…the Web is not commonly an effective tool for highly expressive displays of typographic, photographic or illustrative skill. Looking for opportunities to execute the sort of improvisational and dramatic creative visions that we see in printed periodicals, for instance, is likely to be an exercise in disappointment.

Understanding how to finesse, and appropriately subvert, the many constraints involved in working in digital media requires, as Vinh notes, “an attention to detail that bores all but the most dedicated.”

More: This Way to the Web, Print Designers!

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