What’s Your Type: Print Design in 21st Century
We are all familiar with the representation of the future in the arts of the recent past – during the Sixties the sci-fi authors were influenced by the on-going Space Race and depicted a potential world where all analogue facilities of the present era are replaced by their digital and more accommodated replicas: portable video screens resembling the old television ones, superfast vehicles using alternative sources of energy, even pill-shaped food supplements tasting like regular beef steak with mushroom sauce. During the next few decades the main course left pretty much the same one with developing the computer technologies and keeping up with the ancient familiar slogan of the Industrial Revolution days – “The life of your children will not be like yours”. Along with these feels the Sixties have seen the rise of another aspect of the modern capitalistic society – the advertising industry and its most powerful tool – the graphic design. Аs we are speaking of the past, one is obliged to remind you that the past, kids, wasn’t televised – it was printed.
The title of the first printed book known to the world is The Diamond Sutra as it was manufactured in China in the year of 868 AD. During the next five centuries the western society get acquainted with the Chinese methods of woodblocking until 1444 when a German blacksmith named Johannes Gutenberg came up with the prototype of a mold that could cast individual letters. With the printing of the infamous 42-line Bible six years later it was started the so-called Gutenberg Revolution which is the official term to describe the gigantic leap that the book publishing took over the course of next 350 years. When in 1999 the A&E Network ranked Gutenberg the No. 1 most influential person of the second millennium on their Biographies of the Millennium countdown many eyebrows were raised and heads were scratched. But with the track measurement of the effects of his invention and its contribution to the war with the mankind’s worst terror – its own ignorance - one can’t deny that the creation of the modern book was the first fundamental rock that our civilization could step on its way to the progress.
Printing easily became the most reliable method of dissemination of information. During the first half (and even earlier) of 20th century the advertising business quickly absorbed the aspects of the process to create its own subset of communication design – the print design. Printed posters saw their highest moment during the First World War when they were mostly used to inform, instruct and sometimes mislead the masses. Magazines, banners, flyers, brochures – they were all part of the same sphere aimed at reaching the audience in the most tried and tested way – strictly manually. A printed object could be seen on location, touched, weighed or even smelled. Individual senses could be instantly triggered by the text and colors and the brain is able to memorize their combinations and varieties. Until the start of the new millennium printing established itself as effectively accessible, relatively cheap and absolutely indispensable in terms of communication and business.
Almost twenty years into the third millennium things look drastically changed for design and book publishing. The digital era and the popularity of Internet reshaped the way people approach to visual communication as any new technological innovation (device or platform) plays its role as an additional tool in the game of advertising and publicity. The technological progress mainly hit the regular books and encyclopedias whereas the popular magazines were not that affected since their editors cleverly made the transition by providing their product in both formats. For example, the United Kingdom is still one of the top 5 producers of printed products employing 140,000 people in 10,500 companies with a turnover of around £14 billion. These statistics automatically lead us to one of the main justifiable reasons for print’s retention – its cost-effectiveness. Economically speaking, materials used for the work are more expensive than in the recent past and in terms of environment things are not looking good either yet print design is confirmed to be cheaper now than it was two decades ago. See, any business tactics cost money and if the money is deliberately targeted then it becomes investment. People are still swapping stylishly made business cards, they didn’t cease to be fascinated by exquisitely designed posters on city streets nor billboards on highways. Especially for post-2000 born millennials a single printed object bears physical, real-world characteristics that hardly could be compared with the perishability of 300 web banners that one sees during the nine-to-five routine. Figuratively speaking, a handwritten letter will always be more cherished than any email you would be receiving. People simply can’t ignore the fact that they’re still attracted to three-dimensional full-bodied artifacts for the simple reason that they’re quite the opposite of the cold, antiseptic nature of the virtual reality that is unable to touch at that point. The prestigious management magazine Harvard Business Review states that “touch can also create symbolic connections between people and products, and between buyers and sellers. Physically holding products can create a sense of psychological ownership, driving must-have purchase decisions.” This strong bond between a message and a recipient lies deeply at the roots of the ancient marketing – it’s not enough to show something that the masses would like, you have to make them feel attached to it.
Amidst the other key factors ruling out the print’s existence in the digital age is its outlined highlighting among the viral marketing tactics of the era. The buyer is more likely to be attracted by something that is accurately made and it vividly carries its creators’ statement than the one-click-away approachability of the Internet. These facts directly lead us to the real reason for this hype during the late 2010s – the nostalgia. Paper, ink, typography – these are words that we mostly connect with the 20th century’s aesthetics and as in any other fashion the sentimentality for the past has not passed graphic design’s trends. How do you grab the youth’s attention in this modern world? When you reinvent before their eyes something that used to be cool during their parents’ glory days. Print has the potential of a wooden figurine placed among metal or glass objects – it’s just standing out by delivering naturalism and warmness. Many young artists or consumers are sharing the opinion that print is indeed cool and its use is complemented by the man’s eternal necessity of creating something closer to his essence – objects set in the present world, valued for their features and remembered for their beauty.