Justine Ragany Justine Ragany

Content director, collaborator and moderately sceptical of business speak. I’m here to support my team to do its best work. You'll also find me at every ideation meeting – creating strategies and content that get the right results for our clients.

Is there anything print can learn from digital?

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Print, having been around for hundreds of years has, naturally, had an influence on digital storytelling. But now that digital content is both established and ubiquitous, is there anything it can teach print? As an agency whose portfolio is pretty much equally divided between print and digital, we are all used to working on an omni-channel basis.

I put the question out to some of the team at Sonder and got a mixed response. I kicked off the discussion.

Nab narrative styles from digital

If I were digital, I would be jealous of print. All those wonderful ways to guide a reader to the copy – headers, imagery, pull-quotes and picture captions. Instead, digital has to do its ‘sell’ in about 60 characters and one image.

Then again, if I were print I’d be insanely jealous of digital. They get to have videos, infinite picture galleries, interactive quizzes, all sorts of exciting ways to read and watch. And they get to do it instantaneously.

So if print can’t have any of those things – what can it nick from digital? The directness of digital could be envied and imitated, as can the practicality of digital headlines and content. Most of all though, there are ways it can be flexible. As long as the brand is strong enough, play around every issue with the content, style and layout. Introduce new themes, design values, illustration styles more often. Forget ‘evolution not revolution’. Be disruptive every time. Use the variety and fluidity and enthusiasm to embrace the change that digital offers. Okay, so you can’t tell the story in a video format but there are other ways to tell stories. Do it in a flow chart, do it with a comic strip, do the whole magazine in first person from a customer’s point of view. Take on the challenge of competing with digital storytelling and win…

Perfection is the enemy of done – and a block to opportunity and success

The pressure of the finality of print means that huge amounts of effort, time, resource, intellect and pride are focused on achieving one-time perfection in a familiar solution – sometimes without examining the broader opportunity, purpose or effect.

Working in digital channels demands flexibility, exploration of new solutions and timely reactions to respond to immediate results. You have the opportunity to deliver many iterations throughout the process, and optimise the approach to remain relevant and appropriate. Sometimes it can be at the expense of quality, after all, a typo can almost always be corrected later. We also need to work hard to make sure continual access to results data doesn’t lead to just following trends or knee jerk reactions without examining what the real challenge is, rather than disrupting or innovating. But, in my experience, more often than not, digital forces us to continually re-examine how, why, what, when and deliver tangible results.

Having said that, I’m a strong advocate for print, knowing how it continues to engage certain audiences in ways digital is not. Working equally in digital and print at Sonder, we apply learnings from both in all projects. For me, the connection you can create with a wonderfully crafted magazine can be a welcome respite in our 365 24/7 connected world!

I love a good template

Working on digital projects has influenced the way I approach print and I’ve been able to put this into practice recently. It is, however, more about efficiencies rather than design, and I applied them by taking the digital approach of designing with modules.

For example, Triumph’s quarterly web app Spirit (a precursor to always-on website used HTML5. I created a series of modules that could be used – similar to a ‘pick and mix’ approach. This significantly reduced the amount of time in coding the pages but without reducing the impact.

We’ve used the same approach in print for the M&S employee magazine. Rather than creating every feature from scratch, we created a series of module templates that could fit within the wider template. There are many more templates than pages, so the same ones are never repeated in two subsequent issues or the particular mix used more than once a year, so the magazines always look different to one another.

Using this combination of predesigned modules, we could create a page layout that took a fraction of the time but still retained the editorial elements and values that the magazine originally had.

Get to the point!

If there was one thing print could learn from digital, it’s don’t always take too long getting to the point. Like most people, I read online when I need a quick, immediate hit of information, no messing around, you know what you’re going to get. Print can do the same job but it can also take its time telling a story, building a picture, revealing details in a more leisurely, tantalising way. Both formats are necessary for different purposes, but that’s not to say print is only good for long-form copy and digital only for informative copy.

Think differently about UX in print

This is a good subject for debate and I’m not sure if print should learn anything from digital because both mediums have advantages depending on audience objectives and needs.

A well-designed page in print guides you through the feature and I think a reader will actually learn more about a topic. Reading a book is relaxing and print is comfortingly tactile. It’s more pleasing to the eye and has a different pace and flow, allowing the reader to take content in at their own speed.

In digital, we scan and pick out content based on position and hierarchy in a more linear approach. Animation and visual prompts are employed to guide the user.

Digital allows the user to dip in and out of content because we scan-read or engage in short bursts. I think this is because we have shorter attention spans when using digital and use it as a resource.

If there was one possible thing, then I would recommend print content being primed to aid scanning information, over and above techniques such as numbers, bullets, etc. For example, by putting short-form headlines and a standfirst surrounded by white space on multiple pages so when the user flicks through the book they settle on the information they are looking for. Or by placing relevant information together into simple digestible chunks that inform queries and motivate the user to delve further.

Digital is trying to capitalise on thousands of years of human interaction with print; I don’t think it can work the other way round just yet.

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