With so much “web centricity,” print design is a graphics niche not to be taken for granted at marketing agencies and design firms. There is ongoing concern within the print and design communities that graphic arts students are graduating with only basic print knowledge. “I graduated [from...
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With so much “web centricity,” print design is a graphics niche not to be taken for granted at marketing agencies and design firms. There is ongoing concern within the print and design communities that graphic arts students are graduating with only basic print knowledge.
“I graduated [from the renowned Kansas City Art Institute] in 1999 … and didn’t know how to print anything,” said Clifton Alexander, 35, owner and creative director of Reactor Design Studio in Kansas City, MO. The official title on his business card reads, “Creative Chuck Norris,” and the firm bills itself as a “master of awesome print design” and “creator of EPIC brands,” where EPIC is an acronym for “Engaging People In Conversation.”
So how did Alexander evolve from print novice “grasshopper” to Kung Fu master at a seven-employee, $300,000 firm specializing in design for the printed medium? More on that in a moment…
Printing is just a single component of multichannel, integrated marketing. Print firm owners and managers know how other established designers have felt the seemingly magnetic pull of “e.” Curt Schultz, founder and president of creative marketing agency Curtis in Batavia, IL, west of Chicago, told me: “Our focus has dramatically shifted to electronic the past few years. We do a lot of web design and development, mobile, custom apps, SEO/SEM,” elaborated Schultz, who grew up in print designing food packaging for Bunge, then got ink in his blood working within RR Donnelley’s corporate communication department in the early 1990s before moving on to Moore Wallace. “We still do print,” said the 40-something, evolving designer; “just not as much.”
At Austin, TX design firm UnderConsideration, founder and principal Armin Vit admitted, “We do some [print], but the little we do never involves variable data, so I wouldn’t really know the first thing about it.” It was Vit who referred me to Alexander at Reactor. “They do a lot of print and direct mail,” he assured me and, indeed, they do.
“We do print design almost exclusively,” Alexander confirmed, acknowledging that his firm’s media strategy is a bit retroactive. “I feel like I’m on a crusade [for print] every day. Three years ago our sales were flat,” he explained. “We were doing web design, social media, print, and advertising, but nothing stood out.” So Reactor rededicated itself to producing the “highest impact and best work in the print niche,” noted Alexander. “We call it ‘tangible marketing’ that people can touch and feel.” To this end, Reactor’s work often employs effects such as texture and foils. A recent variable-data direct mail piece featured custom folds and a diecut.
“Headlines are More Important.”
Variable data and imaging very well may be the print medium’s last bastion of viability. The ability of digital printing presses to alter text and photos based on people’s interests is a powerful proposition. Alexander and his colleagues at Reactor foresee the future of print, and it is variable: Whether or not designers are ready for it, more variable-data printing (VDP) volume is coming, reported industry research analysts at Smithers Pira: nearly 1 trillion sheets globally within the next five years.
Worldwide, more than 656 billion sheets were printed with variable data and images last year on both digital and traditional offset presses. By the end of 2017, the number of VDP sheets is expected to increase to more than 853 billion, growing from 28 percent to 34 percent of the total output in the market segments under review, added the firm, which had its roots as the Printing Industry Research Association and later was known as Intertech. It should come as no surprise to printers and designers that digital is cannibalizing offset print, and these forecasts give some idea as to how quickly and to what extent.