Submitted by: Jess Taylor 21/06/2016
Tim Milne Artomatic design agency explains how the physicality of print forges deep emotional connections with consumers.
If we are to seriously consider the future of print in a digital age, we have to first accept that Gutenberg’s original vision has finally, after 550 years, reached its sell-by date. We might also conclude that the internet is the final realisation of his vision: information-for-all.
Far from the existential threat that many in the industry see, new technologies differ so fundamentally from printed communications that they reveal its hitherto hidden qualities. As well as liberating print from the burden of transporting information, new media provides the backdrop against which a new future for printed matter can be defined.
In the digital age, we can at last look upon printing as the physical medium. It might be blindingly obvious, but printed objects exist in a way that virtual entities like Facebook don’t. Tangible materials and the irreversible act of putting ink on paper shape our relation to the messages they carry.
We understand the authenticity of physical print and for things that matter such as money. We trust its currency – bank notes might only be bits of paper but we accept their value because of how they’re printed and by whom. Forgeries need to be masterful acts of deception to get past our acute print sensitivity, and digital currencies such as BitCoin remain pioneer technologies that are yet to become stable and useful.
The UK Government continues to print its laws on vellum (which lasts for 5,000 years) rather than paper, which lasts only 500 years, but the additional 4,500 years feels more durable and stable now. The digital equivalent, Wikipedia finds a kind of stability from the idea that someone who knows better must have corrected it. It’s unlikely we’ll see a wiki-style approach to law making before the vellum deteriorates.
Because of print’s ubiquity, everybody intuitively understands its manufacturing lexicon: materials, formats, construction etc. through which brands can project status, stability, tradition, beliefs, ideas and feelings, all of which can be hard to articulate digitally.
Indeed, the most powerful communication language residing in print is emotion: exquisite print makes consumers feel special because human beings conflate emotional and physical sensation – evolution necessitated that feelings from physical inputs drive immediate decisions. We are heavily influenced by tactile sensation – carefully considered packaging rather than opulent stores have helped Net-a-Porter become a powerful luxury online retailer.
Brands are emotive entities and making consumers feel something has long been the driver of brand advertising. Elsewhere in the media landscape, digital technologies are re-shaping television with technologies that enable consumers to avoid TV advertising or tailor it around attention-grabbing offers.
These will be difficult landscapes on which to build lasting emotional brand relationships, so it might not be inconceivable that print will emerge as the emotive communications medium, rich in tactile language and free from burdensome information (all available online).
If so, we might see a bright and lasting future for this medieval technology and a role to which it’s finally and perfectly suited.