A Permanent Work in Progress

Posted inPrint Design Articles
Thumbnail for A Permanent Work in Progress
The Web is a Permanent Work in Progress

Way back in 2007—and believe me, three web years is a long time—I read a column by Harry McCracken, the editor-in-chief for PC World, that I’ve not been able to forget since. In marveling at the pace of technological change, and its increasing scope of reach across the world, he wrote:

“More than any communications medium before it, the Web is a permanent work in progress that’s always new.”

I’ve probably parroted that line hundreds of times since then—to colleagues and clients alike—in order to impress upon them this truth that we will never be finished. And really, this is the central, most profound distinction between the design for print paradigm and design for the web. While a printed piece moves in one direction, from inception through design and production to the point at which I can hold it in my hands and keep it, web content moves forward and backward in an endlessly undulating pattern, from idea to implementation, there and back again.

Work that is never done. That changes everything: design thinking, the processes we follow, the way we estimate costs and plan schedules, the promises we make, the way we measure success. Each facet of the practice of design looks very different when considered in light of the web. But the fundamentals of design, those truths by which we judge design good or bad, do not change. This means that designers, though they may naturally specialize in one form of practice over another, need not feel permanently unqualified for interactive work simply because their primary experience has been in print. Which brings me to why I am here…

I love the imprint tagline, “expanding the design conversation,” because the design conversation is so much larger than just about particular disciplines or media, whether print, products, or the web. I’m excited to contribute to it from my point of view, which, since making the transition from being a student at RISD to being a student of the world, has been primarily through the lens of web technology. But so much of my work has been done in partnership with creative agencies, which means that it has relied upon our ability to create and maintain a relationship around this expanding notion of design.

So, thank you, Print, for making a place for me here at the Imprint blog. (A blog, you know, is the perfect example of this idea of a permanent work in progress. A blog is not one post, but all of them, nor one author, but all of them, and it flows forward like a river, never exactly the same.) We have a lot to talk about.