by Emily Gordon
The father of Print was a printer, William Edwin Rudge, who in 1940 founded the magazine to share technical savvy and inspirational examples with his journeyman colleagues in fine-press printing, printmaking, and book binding.
As Print’s new editor in chief, I have the privilege of overseeing the magazine we have become nearly 70 years later. Even in its earliest days, the demands of wartime commingled in Print with the preoccupations of the graphic arts, as graphic design was then known. Eventually, the word “culture” began to define the magazine’s point of view. The issue you are reading now is a celebration of the social and professional bonds so vital to innovative design, and the visionaries of all stripes who find connections and take action—in person and on the web.
We find ourselves in a troubled time for the industries Rudge and his fellows served so faithfully. Megastores have devoured most of the independent booksellers, which means the browsing shopper won’t encounter many of the most innovative titles. Advertisers are trying frantically to find new strategies for survival in print and online. As we went to press, a magazine seemed to be folding every week, and a newspaper every day.
The outlook can appear alarming outside the world of media and publishing as well. Design students find themselves majoring in everything at once, unsure what future will greet them in a digital landscape that changes as often as the headlines. In a shaky economy, who can afford to take on the most needful clients? Paper costs are rising; mailing costs go up as energy resources dwindle.
So why are we not inconsolably gloomy? Because we’re convinced that print culture is too vital to die. Defending the primacy and vitality of print is more than privileged nostalgia. We would have no design field at all without the craftsmen and women who refined the art over the centuries. Each time we look back, it makes our work better. We’re heartened to see that commitment to print culture reflected all around us. Even the most digitally addicted (and we count ourselves among them) are—as a result, perhaps?—craving magazines. On her blog, Still Dottie, graphics and marketing coordinator Ann DeOtte writes: “I love seeing that stack of magazines next to my couch; I love flipping through them, running my hands over the pages, tagging them with Post-its & tearing out things I truly love. There is something about the glossy, the matte, the textured, the scented—the print.” Design for Mankind’s Erin Loechner agrees: “There’s just something to be said for holding inspiration in your hands rather than online.”
It’s no surprise that Print believes in print; the page is vital to all we cover. And yet there is no standing still. For seven decades, we’ve moved forward with all that print culture has become. We’re consumed with the extraordinary—the ways in which visual pioneers transcend the requirements of a job and create something that raises the bar for all of us, designers and design appreciators alike.
We found that talent and energy in the Alabama designers who appealed to citizens’ imaginations with posters of a new city; in the Argentine comics artists discovering an international audience online; in images of a world of vacation resorts that welcomed African-Americans in the Jim Crow era; in a Chinese stained-glass-window artist’s reinvention of a Catholic church in Shanghai.
We also want to know what’s going on in the design communities in which you work, travel, and play. In the January/February 1958 issue of Print, then-publisher Milton L. Kaye (no relation to Joyce Rutter Kaye, our stellar former editor) wrote encouragingly, “We want Print to communicate with you…we also hope you will communicate with us. We are anxious to make our relationship more intimate.” One of our favorite things about the 21st century is how many forms that intimacy has come to take. There will be plenty of room for your contributions on the ever-evolving printmag.com, and on our pages at Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter. We’re starting to host online events and conversations. E-mail us; we’d like to hear what you want to read and see more of.
When Rudge launched the magazine in 1940, “print” didn’t sound like the name of an endangered species. Like His Girl Friday’s Hildy Johnson, the world had ink in its veins. Back then, it was printers and typographers who needed us most. Now, we celebrate all those inspired people who bring word and image to a limitless array of spaces, from the wet impression on the fiber of a page to a floating web of digital typography, to signage wrapped around a building, to tiny but brilliant icons on a mobile phone.
Is it possible to cheer this pixilated beauty without losing touch with the precedents, processes, and standards we’ve lauded for so long? Can new technology also deliver ways to help designers and their clients establish and meet ethics and environmental standards? We won’t lose sight of those questions.
Alongside our coverage of classic forms of visual communication—including new challenges facing product designers, ad firms, and in-house designers—we’re reaching beyond print. Our readers are fearless explorers of craft, fashion, film, and street art; we are, too, and you’ll see it in our pages. Non-practitioner enthusiasts and passionate amateurs will also see themselves reflected here.
We share with you what’s worth printing, worth posting, worth saving—worth looking at as we facethe world we live in.
Emily Gordon is Print‘s editor in chief. This letter appears in the February 2009 issue of the magazine.