Why Print Matters

When I designed Julia Child’s classic cookbook, The Way to Cook, she taught me a crucial lesson. No, it wasn’t about baking the perfect soufflé. When we were laying out the recipes, she insisted that the how-to steps and pictures always appeared on the same page as their recipe. Words and images mutually reinforced one another, creating a sum that was greater than its parts—just like a good recipe. Julia’s book wasn’t just a manual. It was a series of stories. But those stories couldn’t build on one another unless each one was properly understood.

As a designer, I’m always working to find new ways of turning information into memorable stories. And though my company produces plenty of innovative digital work, I’ll always hold on to the power of print. Whether a cookbook, brochure, magazine or memo, when something is thoughtfully designed and printed, it carries weight. Digital may be replacing print in some ways, but it also gives print more value and meaning. In today’s media landscape, printed materials are personal, powerful and increasingly unique. They captivate. They build business. 

Here are five reasons why print still matters.

When you’re browsing the web, you’re always a click away from more media, and more distractions. There is only one place to go with printed material—forward. In print, you control the confines of your argument, and can show readers precisely what matters, and why. Readers always know the scope and size of a printed text. They also know how to navigate it (they’ve been doing so since kindergarten!). Print delivers your message, distraction-free.

This spring, Google reported that its users across the world spend an average of less than four minutes on each website they visit. And online content, like our attention spans, can be ephemeral. There’s no guarantee that the information we read online will be in the same place tomorrow. Printed matter stays with us. A beautiful magazine, brochure or document can be a crucial reference or source of inspiration months or years after it’s published.

Anyone can write a blog post. Even in today’s media environment, nothing carries more weight and conviction than a well-designed argument printed on paper. When we print, we show that we stand behind what we say—that it is permanent and powerful. That it can’t be minimized or x’d out.

Stand Out
The more we go digital, the more unique and valuable printed matter becomes. A hold-able, read-able, hug-able printed document stands out today as never before. Friends have told me how refreshing it is to receive a beautiful piece of mail that was thoughtfully designed and composed. That feeling corresponds to business. A printed brochure is worth a thousand emails. Or a million text messages.

Even today, everyone carries a business card. Why? Because printed materials leave an enduring, tactile impression that can’t be replicated online. Printed matter can be distributed anywhere, to anyone. If it’s well-designed and memorable, it can take a business relationship to the next level. Sure, some of today’s web design is dynamic, gorgeous and great for sales. But you can’t put a website in your bag and bring it home. You can’t feel the pages. (Sometimes, you can’t even remember the URL.) When something is printed, it lives outside your inbox. That, in and of itself, makes it special.

Every year, businesses invest more and more money in building flashy digital platforms. But you don’t have to be digital to be innovative. Printed materials are effective because they are tangible, portable and clear. If done right, they deliver a potent, memorable experience whose power is timeless.

Janet Odgis