Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Ink on Paper

This is a really interesting insight into the future of print/books etcetera from the blog of the graphic designer Frank Chimero:

• Question: What is the future of print design? How will the tangible, ink-on-paper pieces that designers love coexist with design on digital platforms in the years to come?

Things are changing. We want to know where it’s going. But, hell if I know, or any one else has more than a hunch. Craig Mod calls it the PRE/POST era and I think he’s right. As I’ve said before, we break stuff before we know what replaces it, and we invent things before we know what they are for. Maybe we’re now living in the future tense.
Next thing to clear up: Books are not music, so I’d stop looking to apply the patterns from that experience to ink on paper at a high level. (Though, it could work at a smaller level.) Music lacks a physical form, gained a physical form for a short while, and some people made loads of cash selling that artifact. Some people made bookoos of bucks selling stacks of vinyl and cassette tapes and CDs. But now music is moving back to the vaporous state from whence it came. Neat. Wait. Magazines are like that. Just sub out reams of paper. Damn it.
But not so much books. Literature requires an artifact, whether it’s ink on paper or e-ink on e-paper. We have to see the words with our eyes, which means they need to exist in meat-space. Maybe I’m overly romanticizing this. Books could be considered to be vaporous (storytelling has its roots in the oral tradition), but the idea of “story” is bigger than the idea of “ink on paper,” so you’d spread yourself too thin to think about where story is going to live in the future. (I’d say television is just as good a receptacle now for some stories. In fact, in some instances it’s better.) And, I’d say, really good literature requires an artifact. But that’s just me. I think quality creative work deserves a physical form that achieves some sort of permanence. It’s the reward for producing something good. I know reading Infinite Jest wouldn’t be the same if you didn’t have to pay the penance of carrying around that monolithic paper slab on the bus, and risk being judged terribly bookish by your neighbors sharing the ride. (Still haven’t read it. Going to give it a go again this summer. We can do this Frank, we can do this. This time!)
So let’s talk about ink on paper. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but here is what I want to see: I want to see things earn the privilege to be objects. If we have the option of things being “real” and “not real,” I want the real stuff to be really good. I want the times when ink hits paper to always be beautiful, useful, and desirable. It seems like such a shame to cut down a tree to print this Land’s End catalog, with the thin model coyly smiling at me on the back in her awkward swimsuit. I bet it bunches up in the wrong spots. It seems silly to give permanence to a thing that was meant to be ephemeral to begin with. This goes for junk mail, beach-books, handouts for students, whatever. If your shelf-life is shorter than forever and ever amen, I think we need to think about whether or not it needs to be printed. (Although, it is so damn nice to print something to proof-read it. But that’s a different story.)
If I’m thinking as a normal consumer, I don’t really care terribly much about what the future of ink on paper is going to be. I care about what the future of content is going to be. I want fuller, more thoughtful, more substantial, more enriching, more nourishing content. I want good stuff. I want stuff that doesn’t feel like a chew toy. I’d suppose that the only people who care about the future of ink on paper are the people who make their money (or not) selling the paper that has the ink on it. (Or if your magazine is named PRINT.) Those of us who consume the content, I’d suppose, don’t give much of a rat’s ass. We want convenience and access, and then after that quality.

It’s easy to think of a future where the predominance of ink on paper is minimized. And, as a designer who practices the kung fu of deciding how that ink gets slathered on that paper, it’s scary. But, here is my tip to you: stop thinking of yourself as a print designer. You’re not designing for print. You’re designing for content.

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