How Web Design Has Changed Print

Not only do web designers learn from their print peers, but print design has evolved a great deal thanks to web design.

How Web Design Has Changed Print

Print design – from newspapers to magazines to ads to books – and web design are often linked because of their differences. The two often come up in conversation at the same time as opposites.

But there is more to the story.

Print and web design are more alike than ever before. The lines are fading and the concepts that dictate good design are becoming more universal every day. Designs in the two mediums also look more similar than ever before and more designers are working in both digital and print.

And it is not just because web designers are learning more about design theory from the world of print. More and more print projects (and designers) are learning from the web. Some of this is because many designers work in environments where both skill sets are necessary but moreover more print designers are looking for inspiration and learn from their digital-publication peers.

New Shapes and Bolder Look

There was a time when almost every layout in a print publication came in the shape of a rectangle. Most were designed horizontally, some vertically and occasionally you would find a square in the mix. Colors were limited in most print design – it has only been in the last decade that many newspapers have began using full-color presses that allow for more than just black and white outside a handful of pages.

No more.

Welcome to the world of new shapes. Many metro newspapers are experimenting with an upside down L-shaped layout that breaks the box mold. Others are using circular shapes for text on feature pages and using more color for an increased “wow” factor. Look at the baubles coming out of the block on the Oliver Russell site; this style of design is where the trend started.

The brighter, bolder color schemes are a direct take-away from web design. While many digital designers have scaled back on the use of animation and bright flashing colors to grab your attention, print designers have evolved with the trend. More ads appear in full color (and bright color), newspaper pages are built using color navigation tools (similar to those on websites) and sport brighter color palettes than in the past.

New navigational tools are also borrowed from web design. Print design has long used forms of indexing but simple navigational keywords (sometimes matched to specific colors) really gained popularity and functionality on the web.

New Details

Rounded corners, more transparent shadows, cutout images and even streamlined typography are just a few of the common web techniques that are becoming more prevalent in print design.

The rigid rectangular form that was used to outline individual stories was also used for all elements in print design. Each photo had corners that came together at 90-degree angles. There were no soft shadows to help “lift” elements off the printed page. These effects, which have been prominent features on websites for a while, can be found in almost any book, magazine or newspaper you pick up now.

Print designers can also thank their web counterparts for eliminating the font mess. There are few restrictions to the number of and type of fonts you can use in print work; this is not the case on the web. The limited font selections used by web designers for years, has helped print designers reign in their desire to use a plethora of typefaces.

The more minimal font palette makes for a cleaner, more streamlined project.

Better Writing

Yes, search engine optimization techniques have helped people working in the print realm write better, sharper, more focused copy.

It has happened over time because most of us publish some form of our print work on the web where keywords of search are key. Rather than rewriting every bit of copy (double the work), designers and writers are using words that provide more information and more description for all of their projects.

Gone are the days of what newspaper editors called the “label headline,” a two- to-three word punch for each story. Now headlines have to sell you each bit of content and filling them with action verbs and impactful keywords are the new norm.

The Lingo

Print designers are learning a whole new set of words that describe things they have been doing for years. Some of the terminology is also changing to reflect the increasingly mainstream web variations as well.

Print designers have always worked in kerning and leading. (Kerning is the space between letters and leading is the space between lines of type). But these terms are becoming replaced with letter-spacing and line-height.

Not only do the web terms sound less jargon-y, they are more easily understandable. There could even come to be a time where letter-spacing and line-height are the common design terms for print and web designers while the terms kerning and leading disappear from the vocabulary.

Software and Technology

Not only are print designers learning more (and emulating) more web design because they are looking at it, they are also using many of the same tools.

Because of products such as the Adobe Creative Suite, which contains software for print and web and tablet design, designers from both disciplines are able to easily learn software that might have otherwise seemed intimidating. Having a set of tools with a uniform look and feel helps encourage designers to cross those borders and work across platforms.

Designers of all kinds must to work harder all the time to stay up-to-date with all the changes in technology. This affects print designers just as much as those working on the web because of cross-platform software. Each update a print designer gets all the same new tools and options that web designers have come to rely on; all designers would be wise to learn and find ways to benefit from those feature updates.

Further, the web world has helped print become more efficient when it comes to file sizes, saving and compression. Working with images that are sized to fit and load quickly is a key part of any web designer’s job – a site that won’t load (or loads slowly) will lose hits. Print designers, too, are learning to better size, scale and package files.

Personal Experience

I spent the first part of my career only designing for print. I have learned firsthand how the design industry as a whole has changed and continues to evolve.

At one point, I thought I would be left behind because I was not labeled as a web developer. But what has become increasingly clear is that design skills are design skills. If you have the eye, and a willingness to learn how to work across multiple platforms, you can create beautiful things.

They may have different names, but the concepts are all the same. It’s just the paper, or screen, that’s different.

Credits: featured image background by Anatoli Nicolae

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Carrie Cousins

Carrie Cousins has more than 10 years experience in the media industry, including writing for print and online publications, and design and editing. Carrie is also a sports fanatic and spends way too much time planning football and basketball trips and obsessing over stats.

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  1. Tisk tisk Damien. I believe Tony is simply saying that the implication of “Print design has evolved a great deal thanks to web design” is totally absurd. I agree. If a web designer doesn’t draw upon the visual guidelines established by decades of print communication, they cannot be considered a competent web designer. Is a web page not a page with text and imagery like a printed page? Of course it is. The only difference is one is reflective and one is transmissive. You need more education boy! 😛