Graphic Design: Print vs Web

IT Services Promotional Postcard
Print is not dead or dying. It’s not even taking a breather.

I. Print Now or Web Ready?
This week, three jobs rushed out the doors from here at the design desk. Two jobs were web sites and the third was a print job. The print job is the third print job that I’ve had in five months. While I was working on these different jobs I started thinking about the multiple areas of overlap between print and web.

Graphic Design for print and web are practically twin brothers. They both look identical on the surface but below that layer they are very different people who happen to being doing the exact same job: Communication.

Print work, Twin #1, is demanding. It’s unforgiving with very little margin for error. Once a typo or a bad image goes to press – it’s frickin’ permanent. And you, as a designer or a project manager will hear about it. Yet, even in circular ads and for direct mail, print is by far taken much more seriously than any well-designed email ever will be.

Print design produces a solid, authentic and tangible product. Anyone can understand it. No electricity, browser related errors or internet connection needed. Catalogs are much more accessible than search boxes. Art prints beat electronic wallpapers hands down.

However, the one thing that a static catalog or newspaper cannot do is change.

Web Design, Twin #2, is much more forgiving but several orders more complicated. Why? Aren’t each simply communicating a message? Here is where Twin #2’s complications begin…

Once, there was just Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which dominated the internet browser market, and Netscape. Designers in the 1990’s had free range to throw scaled-down print graphics online. They were free to do so in anyway they wanted to just so long as they fit into HTML tables. The results, then, were nearly identical. The code for Explorer and Netscape at that time was not radically different.

HTML5 CSS3 Portfolio Web Site
An HTML5 CSS3 W3C Complaint Cross-browser compatible website. Say that three times fast.

Today, there are dozens of smaller browsers and four mainstream internet browsers – Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Explorer. Add to that two varieties of mobile browsers (phone/tablet) with Mac and PC variants. In 2014, Explorer users make up between as low as 10%-25% of the market. All of the HTML protocol that was written for Explorer in the 90’s now only applies in the loosest possible way to a much larger digital landscape.

The most popular browsers today (the oldest of which is Safari written 2003) use software that operates very differently to display text and graphics than Explorer did in the 90’s. Designers today live and work in the era of The Browser Wars where old and new browsers are expected to play by the same rules despite being written in a different decade for an obsolete program.

Browser Popularity 2009 to 2014

Internet browser popularity 2009-2014 as tracked by Stat Counter and chronicled on Wikipedia.

II. HTML Finally Evolves
The good news is that: through robust competition in the browser market, the HTML language has been forced to re-invent several critical aspects of it’s own structure with HTML5.

This re-invention of HTML allows for many things including stream-lining audio and video. For example. the <video> allows for a broader usage of Youtube, Vimeo and video applications which were not even considered in the early days of a dial-up Internet.

In those days, downloading a 2Mb extension to view a website would stop a viewer dead in his or her Pennyloafers. Today, with widespread high-speed internet and client-side scripting, it’s barely noticeable. HTML5 makes this aspect much more accessible to designers.

Next, and most importantly, in re-considering the current HTML and writing HTML5 the first building blocks of all HTML sites were examined; namely – tables. This brings us to an unavoidable situation and the bad news: Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Explorer each interpret tables differently. That includes table alignment methods, table borders/padding and even how standard image formats are seen inside of tables. This produced an amazing array of possible errors with tables depending on which browser is used.

Since designing tables for just one browser or for just mobile devices is not a viable methodology – finding a better solution became critical. Enter the seldom used <div> tag from HTML4 which is now critical to the under-lying structure of HTML5 sites.

With neatly stacked <div> containers, questionable tables are no longer essential. Dividers (divs) allow a more cross-browser friendly web design to be developed. No special lines of code have to be added to collapse tables and borders or to center text and graphics in the HTML. This method removes unnecessary redundancy and the high probability of misaligned graphics and text within tables.

HTML5 CSS3 Restaurant Web Site
Using modern specs, a site looks the same in Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Explorer.

The are complexities that have to addressed in both print and web based Graphic Design for designers. To say one method is more or less complicated is not a productive line of thought. What is productive to recognize is: access to audiences and target markets is easier today than it has ever been.

The methods to reach them are only a matter of style. Consistency in message, print or web, is all that is important in this context.

Next time, I would like to talk about practical usage of CSS3. There will be some style sheet code examples that mimic Photoshop tricks for shading, shadows and highlights.

eLearning Design

Online College Graphic Design Ball State Paul Schmitt

This image featured a simple way to understand the atomic structure of Electricity. This piece has been entered into two national Design competitions including the National Science Foundation’s International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge in Arlington, VA and Communication Arts Magazine’s 2012 Graphic Design competition.