A new generation of graphic design

Jon Severs
Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It started with an email, which was kind of ironic, because the subject line was 'Power of Print'. In fact, the whole project that PrintWeek was proposing to the email's recipient, University of Brighton graphic design lecturer Rose Gridneff, was based on a publication of that very name - the one that you are currently perusing - a publication that aims to celebrate how effective print is and can continue to be as a communications medium.

So, in emailing our request for the 37 graphic design students under Rose’s tutelage to design us a cover for the Power of Print, you might say we’d undermined our argument from the start.

 You’d be wrong. For while this supplement is all about celebrating print, it is not trying to say that print should be the only form of communication – far from it. The print industry has long acknowledged digital’s right to a place at the communications table and print has reached out increasingly to work with it in ever-closer ways. Printers acknowledge that in some areas digital is best, but likewise they want to showcase that in others, print does it better – and also that it is often when print and digital work together that the most effective campaigns are made.

It was this message that we wanted to convey to the next generation of designers. Raised on a diet of Apple, Google and Facebook, their experience of print is far reduced from that of previous generations. They therefore have less of an affinity with print. Gridneff goes as far as to say that, in some ways, graphic design and print have slowly been moving further apart.

"I think graphic design and print have always had their own separate identities, but this gulf is perhaps widening due to the increase in digital processes, meaning that many current students have little or no experience of designing specifically for print," she explains.

Hence, the cover design project PrintWeek proposed for Gridneff’s second-year students. We wanted to engage young designers in a debate about print’s place in the communications mix, and decided to start with students on one of the UK’s leading graphic design courses. The best way to engage them, we believed, was to have them design the cover for a supplement that aims to make the arguments for print through tangible, real-world evidence.

The University of Brighton was keen to get involved and so, in early October, we headed down to the south coast to deliver the students a simple brief: create a cover that demonstrates or showcases how print and digital can work together.

We encouraged the students to take this theme and be as creative as possible with it, to read around the subject and to engage with the arguments that they discovered. As we had hoped, they approached their task in very different ways.

"I started with research on digital printing alongside traditional print techniques," explains shortlisted finalist Takashi Otsuka. "I had an idea to create a 3D replica of the oldest printer – Gutenberg’s – and photograph it. However, I realised that although I loved the 3D printing process, the cost and the time would be too great.

So, I then developed the idea by deciding to build the diagram of the Gutenberg press using binary code – thereby creating an image of the press through digital coding. By repeating and layering the image, I built up texture and gave a 3D element to the cover to really showcase what print was capable of, but still through the filter of digital in the form of the code. I think that by combining elements from diagrams, binary code and historical printers, I have successfully represented the past of printing, but also the future."

Fellow shortlisted finalist Ryan Neil took another direction. "I wanted to erase the history of print and digital, to start afresh from nothing," he explains. "In my opinion, we have yet to find a way of really successfully combining print and digital – I don’t think things like QR codes or PURLS have been the answer – so I wanted to erase the past attempts, which perhaps have become a distraction going forwards. I stripped out all the recognisable elements of PrintWeek branding, leaving just a blank black page – so we were starting from nothing. Then I chose a typeface by Wim Crouwel to spell out ‘The Power of Print’. Crouwel’s work was always created in response to new technologies, and not against them. He wanted to work with what was emerging and combine it with his existing methodologies to create something new. It was perfect for the cover of a supplement showcasing print’s traditionalism, working with the relatively new form of digital."

The other 35 entries were just as varied. There were cartoons, sculptures, paintings, illustrations, typographic renderings and vector drawings. One design showed digital and print creating a padlock; another depicted Gutenberg and Steve Jobs in a David and Goliath battle – except they were shaking hands, not fighting; while yet another cover showed the lead of a computer mouse being fed through a digital press. CMYK featured prominently, as did the insignia now associated with computers, such as mouse arrows and wi-fi symbols.

A team of eight judges – including Gridneff, PrintWeek editor Darryl Danielli and design director at Haymarket Business Media Paul Harpin – assessed the entries and after much fierce debate, a shortlist of five was established. In addition to Ryan Neil and Takashi Otsuka, the other two runners up were Barney Stepney and Helen Dean.

"We were really impressed with the high standard of the entries and the creativity shown across the board by the students," says PrintWeek art director Dinah Lone. "Their talent made the process of creating a shortlist incredibly difficult, as each of us had particular designs we felt were strong, but in the end we were unanimous in our choice of which design should win."

 Creative conversation
Indeed, the unequivocal winner was a design by Jamie Rickett. For his cover, he took a digitally-created Microsoft TAG code – a 2D code similar to a QR code, but capable of incorporating much more inventive and colourful designs – and, in an outstanding feat of creativity, he built the code out of coloured card and fishing wire to make a physical 3D object about half a metre square. This was hung like a mobile to be photographed for the cover; Rickett then manipulated tiny details digitally in Photoshop. It has now been transferred back in to the physical realm for this supplement, but you can scan it to take you back into the digital sphere (and to a video of Rickett explaining how he came up with the idea – see box on page 18).

Its creation, then, is a constant conversation between digital and print that perfectly reflects the future of communications. The end result is a code that will be a central part in the next stage of cross-media, as it progresses through the doors opened by QR codes.

"We felt that this cover was really looking to the future of print," says PrintWeek’s Danielli. "Jamie had done a fantastic job of researching the evolving cross-media sector, and has come up with a design that perfectly embodies the link between the sensory world of print and the ‘rich’ content opportunities of digital. It is also a stunning cover visually."

Rickett took home an iPad 2 for his victory, in addition to having his design on this supplement’s cover. He says he was pleased with how his concept eventually found form in his submitted design, but he admits the competition from his fellow students was tough.

"I was really pleased to win," he says. "I was confident in my design, but there were some very strong contenders in the group who I thought stood just as good a chance."

He feels that the project has given him and his fellow students a glimpse of what is possible in the print medium, and he would encourage the industry to be more active in its education of design students.

"I think that more involvement with the print industry would be really beneficial," he explains. "We know some of the basic things that are possible, such as spot varnishes or the like, but there is obviously much more in the way of techniques and processes that we just don’t know about."

Having the hunger to go and find out about those techniques and processes is exactly what this project was trying to initiate, and in this sense it has undoubtedly been successful, judging from the feedback from the students. Gridneff adds that the competition has also helped the students in other ways.

"I think the students had an incredibly valuable experience, working to a real brief with a real deadline and real clients," she explains. "But I think that the value runs deeper than that, as the content of the project forced students to engage with their own positioning on the print-versus-digital debate, which will stand them in good stead as these disciplines continue to evolve and merge."

The interaction that these students have had with print should also stand the printing industry in good stead for the future. The project aimed to get print talking to the next generation of designers, and it has certainly achieved that. The hope is that they will now be able to make better-informed decisions in their future careers as to whether to use print or digital in their designs. Perhaps, too, they will be more aware of what is possible through the print medium. But as all in print will know, one conversation is never enough – so next year we will return the south coast to challenge the next group of second-year students to be as inventive and imaginative as the class of 2011.


The winner and runners up

Jamie Rickett, from Cornwall, is a 20-year-old University of Brighton graphic design student. His design was the unanimous victor from 37 entries after an extensive judging process. The judges felt that Jamie’s innovative use of the latest 2D barcode technology, Microsoft TAG, created a cover that not only had impact, but also an exceptionally strong message about cross-media communication.

One judge praised Rickett’s inventive creation for "looking to the future, rather than dwelling on the past." Another said: "It is an amazingly clever bit of design that really gets across the power of print in the communications mix."

 The interactive cover links to a video where Rickett explains in full how the design came about, why he chose certain elements – such as colour – and what effect he hopes the cover will have on readers.

"I was really pleased to win," says Rickett, who also won an iPad 2 for the design that appears on the cover of this supplement. "I was confident in my design, but there were some really strong contenders in the group that I thought stood just as good a chance."


The judges

Darryl Danielli PrintWeek editor; Anthony Davis Haymarket Business Media production manager; Iain Green Haymarket Business Media senior production controller; Rose Gridneff University of Brighton graphic design lecturer; Paul Harpin Haymarket Business Media design director; Dinah Lone PrintWeek art director; Jon Severs PrintWeek features editor


How to scan the cover

1 Go to the App Store on your smartphone
2 Search for ‘Microsoft TAG’
3 Download the free Microsoft TAG app
4 Open the app and hold the scanner above the image, ensuring the image is on a flat service and that the whole image can be seen in the scanner frame
5 After less than a few seconds, you should automatically be taken to a video on the PrintWeek website
Troubleshooting Ensure you have 3G signal; if the video does not automatically load, try placing the phone nearer to/further away from the image; ensure the page is flat.

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