Making Print Work for You in a Digital World

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by Jessica Ruscello at Blurb, Inc.

Designing for a digital world is just as difficult as designing for a print world 50 years ago. While technology has changed such that the process for developing concepts, creating layouts, arranging type, etc., is unrecognizable from a generation ago, the demand for digital design work would have been unthinkable. The sheer volume and fleeting nature of the digital world make it hard to preserve and articulate important work.

It’s not too late. Resist. Put your work in a book and take hold of the power of print.

1. Wow clients with a printed portfolio.

Nothing is better in-person than print. Sure, you’ve uploaded you work to a site and built a great display. But when you walk into an interview with your iPad, you’re left scrolling and shuffling through a body of work that’s too large to navigate and view at a glance. It’s a more passive experience for the client or interviewer. When you walk in with a printed book, you hand a physical, statement-making object to your prospective employer or client. Your portfolio makes its own lasting impression, disrupting a screen-based environment, and requiring a different kind of engagement for its viewer. This works because print can appear cost-prohibitive and reveals investment in your own work. An endless stream on an iPad is free for the creator, but costs more time for the viewer. A carefully-edited print piece sets you apart.

Tip: Create scaled versions of your portfolio. You can create a coffee-table stunner to carry around and share, and then create a more-economical magazine-style version as a leave-behind.

2. Develop new revenue streams.

As a designer, you’re constantly creating content either as part of your work or to promote your work. Why not put it in print? Print has become a new luxury “object of desire”. Your friends, fans, and followers would be willing to purchase your work at scaled pricing, from collectors’ anthologies to short collections from events or series. Consider going from Blog to book, and giving some of your most popular content new life. Make your print pieces available in person or sell through your website or newsletter.

Tip: Take advantage of print-on-demand. You don’t have to order hundreds of copies and fulfill them yourself, or store piles of books in your garage. You can create your book or magazine and set it up for sale, where books are printed as they’re ordered. There’s no up-front cost for you, and it capitalizes on the fact that people are used to ordering books online already.

3. Make a difference.

Designer Hannah Eloge and Photographer Shannon Johnstone found ways to channel their work and their passion into print pieces that literally change lives and rescue animals. Hannah created Kindred + Co, a firm that produces adoption books for people in search of a match with an adoptive mother. Pooling expertise from designers and copywriters who have experience with the adoption journey, she creates a book that tells the adopting family’s story, then makes it available for them to buy as many copies as they need. Shannon shoots portraits of animals from a shelter that need a new home. Her book, Landfill Dogs, sold out a large offset run, and the proceeds made it possible to house more animals at her local shelter.

Tip: Look for print opportunities in unexpected places. Because books can be fully-customized, no niche is too small. Think schools, religious organizations, non-profit yearbooks, crafting clubs, supper club cookbooks, local city and history guides. The possibilities are endless. Charge to design the project, then let your client set the project up for sale. You get paid upfront for the work, and the client can recoup some of the cost by selling the book and keeping the markup for themselves. Or you can capitalize on a built-in audience and keep the markup for your work.

4. Create lasting archives.

If it goes on a web page, it can go on a print page. With its roots in print, good graphic design will transcend the medium, and it deserves to be preserved. Build a library of your best work not only for posterity, but for promotion and inspiration. Viewing the development of a brand, the growth of an agency, the expansion of clientele over time can be a really powerful experience.

Tip: Create a template for each “yearbook”. Then drop work samples into it as you go along. At the end of the year, you can print your annual, and you’ve got it ready to go. With each year maintaining the same format, you get better at seeing what and when to archive, your grand portfolio builds itself, and the matching volumes look great on a shelf.

Bottom Line

Print carries with it a kind of prestige, immediacy, and intimacy that’s unavailable to a screen. Show your range and empower your work to its full potential by putting it in pages.