This is going to be rather a long post, so bear with me. I'll try not to ramble, but there are several things that I've come across or been involved in over the past month that I think are connected. So I'm going to string them together and see if I can come up with a sensible argument.
Later this week I'll be sitting on a panel which will be carrying out a review of a BA (Hons) Graphic Design course (I won't tell you where, just in case someone's tempted to nobble me). I imagine that part of our time will be spent discussing whether the teaching on the course should be primarily concerned with design for print, design for screen, or design skills that are transferable between the two. Because some might say that print is dead. Certainly there are plenty of people around who are all too ready to tell me that their teenage sons won't read anything unless it's on a screen; so surely print must be dead? Actually, I think not.
And if you're involved in designing for print, as I am, you must be asking questions about whether there's going to be a print industry left in five years time. (Given that at least 50% of the printers that I've used over the past five years are no longer in business, that might seem entirely probable.) But, of course, the real problem with the print industry is that there's more supply than demand. That will eventually balance itself out; but only the fittest, or the most fleet of foot, will survive.
And there's the rub, I suppose. A fleet-of-foot printer must surely be an oxymoron. As somebody recently said to me: "when I meet printers, all they ever talk about is B1 or B2".
So if you're a printer reading this, just stick with me.
Now I imagine that a large proportion of those reading this post will recognise this as being from the newspaper-style mailer that Ben and Russell recently sent out in order to announce their new, experimental business venture, the Really Interesting Group. And an interesting use of print, I'm sure you'll agree (assuming you've seen it in the flesh). (Actually, as an aside, has somebody set up a Flickr group yet to track the personalisation boxes of all 1,000 copies? That would be an ace thing to do, especially if they all had geo tags.)
But to my mind, the most interesting part of the exercise is not the printing at all, but the content. Because, as Ben and Russell have pointed out, what they've done is to take what was out there in the blogosphere and republish it in another form. Without asking first. And what does this tell us? Copyright is dead (or it will be one day). But it also tells us that, as designers, we have to concern ourselves with content; a point that I'll come back to a little later.
First, though, let me tell you about another project that parallels Things our friends have written on the internet 2008:
It's William and Joost's upcoming O.K. Periodical: O.K. Failure. "As in the previous issue, a large number of people from around the world contributed material and articles to this magazine. This gave us the opportunity to make a publication with a wide range of subjects crossing various disciplines; an article written by neuropsychologist Roos Bijvelds about how our blundering brain makes us dazzle when seeing op-art, great glitch images made by JODI and Beflix (the godfather of glitch-art), all kinds of computer errors, scientific blunders, misspelled tattoos, environmental tragedies, government mistakes and even the effects of dementia on time perception. The magazine itself has been submitted to an accident-prone production process."
So, again, here are designers concerning themselves with content, as well as revisiting the way that print is being used. As William explains: "Today we went to Ando printers in
The Hague to have a look at the printing process. Not only have a look,
together with the nice people there we fucked up one sheet (16 pages)
by doing weird stuff with the inkrolls and printing machine itself! The
result is awesome. Every magazine will be unique, having 16 pages
throughout the mag with varying colours and messy inkstains."
Which leads me on to David Carson. Here he is giving a TED Talk back in 2003.
Forget what you already might think about David Carson: it's worth sticking with this one. As he wryly points out, his book Print is Dead is already in its fifth reprint.
But stick it out to the end and reflect upon what he has to say about People magazine's response to 9/11.
And now I'm going to attempt to bring this all together into a conclusion - and that is this: as graphic designers, our training and practice over the past 80 years or so has all been about style. What font should I use? How much leading? Pantone 356 or 124? But from now on we have to concern ourselves with content. Not necessarily the content that we ourselves create (in the manner of Stefan Sagmeister, say) as a means of self expression. We also have to concern ourselves with, and get involved in, the content that we are asked to handle.
And if you're a printer and you're still reading this: well done, you're already half way to surviving the recession.