Learn the art of working in mixed media

By Jon Severs, Friday 14 December 2012

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The next generation knows that print and digital are both part of a broader media spectrum


It demands a second look. And then a third. And soon you find yourself getting lost in contemplation and, well, then you may as well take a seat because you are going to be here a while. For just tracing the individual letter formations, the subtle differences in each pressed limb of each character, will take you an age. Clearly, Charlotte Bassett’s design demands attention. And that’s one of many reasons it was selected as the cover image of this year’s Power of Print.

It emerged from the now annual competition PrintWeek runs for students on the University of Brighton’s graphic design course. Second-year students are challenged to design a cover for this supplement that shows how digital and print technologies can work together. We ask: show us how together they are more powerful than they are individually.

The quality of this year’s entries was extremely high. It was also refreshingly diverse. Be it a delightfully ramshackle piece of sculpture or an intricate and woven piece of computer-aided design, the span of ideas and interpretations of the brief was impressive and inspiring. The message that came out was very encouraging for print and very educational for the marketing community.

"I think there is something a lot more lasting about print – with the internet, it is such a temporary medium, that messaging gets lost too easily," says shortlisted student Hannah Blows. "Though people see our generation as the online generation, we actually still see print as more personal and if print is working hard enough and doing its job, then it can be incredibly effective."

"The media says we all love iPads and smartphones and the like and want to be talked to only through those medium. It’s not actually always true," adds shortlisted student Con Chrisoulis. "Print still has a place, we want to be talked to in different ways through different mediums. We want the variety."

For these students, the thought that someone would assume that just because of their age they would not have an affinity or desire for printed items seems absurd. That anyone would see print and digital as being in opposition is seen as similarly confounding and incredibly frustrating. 


Medium is the message

Fortunately, this is the message of this very supplement. It strives to showcase how print and digital are better together than in competition. Hence, the covers entered by the students were all perfect for what we wanted to portray. The student that summed up this message best, though, was Charlotte Bassett.

At first glance, her design resembles a cardiograph formed from what seem to be Matrix-style runs of code. Look closer, though, and individual letter forms emerge, each unique in their creation – some faded at the edges, some bold, some hardly there. Now lean closer still and you see running through the heart of these letters is this quote: "These contrasting technologies are bound together through a well balanced relationship between organic and electronic".

The judges loved it first and foremost because it is a beautifully subtle and engaging design. As we looked closer, however, we realised just how well it fit the brief. It is formed from a run of type that was printed on a letterpress and then manipulated digitally to reveal the aptly chosen quote and to form the powerful thudding beat of the cardiograph effect. It is print and digital working together to form a powerful message and an incredibly effective piece of design. It began, says Charlotte, with some extensive research.

"I realised the print versus digital debate that had been ongoing for some time – as far back as the 1990s – and yet it was something we are still struggling with today – we still haven’t fully realised how to mix the channels effectively," she explains. "Hence, with my design I wanted to try and break down the boundaries between digital and print – I wanted to merge the two in order to get away from a binary debate and to let the two mediums freely mix. We are still fussing over boundaries for the two now and I wanted to get away from that and look to a future where those boundaries do not exist."


Technologies combined

During the research she came across the central quote of the design in an article in magazine Printmaking Today from 1994. "It summed up perfectly what I wanted to say and everything fell into place," she says.

She wanted to incorporate that quote into a design that did as the quote said. Hence, she chose a font for the quote forever associated in the public consciousness with computers: monospace. And then she embedded that quote in a composition also easily recognisable as digital: the imagery of a run of binary code. However, she created the design firstly in print and instead of numbers she used letters. 

"I printed a single line of characters using letterpress, spending hours in the studio getting the right print effect, so adjusting how distressed the characters were. I wanted to be sure it looked printed, that it was an effect that could only have been achieved with print," she reveals. "I then manipulated that line of text digitally using Photoshop – cutting, replicating and moving it – to create the overall design and to form the quote running through it."

What Charlotte had created was essentially the perfect amalgamation of print and digital techniques in order to create such a delicate and harmonious image.

"It is a design that would not have been possible without both the digital and the print elements of its composition, and its success is determined by that mix of technologies," she says.

It was, in short, perfect for this supplement and the unanimous choice of winner. We hope you agree.

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