Trend Report Shows Changing Role of Print in a Digital World

A trend report “Hello, Print in a Digital World 2018” illustrates more than 70 creative ways brands are combining the tactile, sensory nature of print with the real-time technological powers of digital. Thanks to augmented reality technologies or specialty inks, printed billboards, posters, magazine ads, and packages are serving as platforms to more engaging and immersive digital experiences.

The report was written by Michael Chase, Chief Marketing Officer at St. Joseph’s Communications, a full-service, smart-content factory that helps brands navigate the world of omni-channel communications.

Chase introduced the Print in a Digital World report in a presentation at PRINT 17 last fall. He points out that “We are in an information revolution powered by the intersection of two of the most commanding knowledge transfer mechanisms of our time — the Gutenberg Press and the Internet.”

Instead of relying solely on digital content to generate likes, retweets, and clicks, many marketers are finding innovative ways to integrate printed materials into their campaigns.

For example, below some case studies featured in the report:

McDonald’s Canada turned ordinary drink trays into the McDonald’s Boombox.

Travelers on Emirates airlines could scan their amenity kits to unlock augmented reality content such as games and travel tips.

French retailer Castorama created interactive wallpaper that allows children and parents to enjoy storytime together.

An SS+K ad agency holiday greeting card included a custom-designed Google Cardboard mailer that connected recipients to an 360-degree virtual reality bobsled ride.

Google and Vogue collaborated to bring voice-activated content from the print magazine to Google’s Home device. By prompting Google Home to “Talk to Vogue” users can access behind the scenes audio content from selected celebrity interviews.

IKEA “Cook This Paper” campaign used food-safe ink on parchment cooking paper to produce illustrated, interactive recipe posters. At-home chefs added the designated ingredients, rolled them up the parchment paper, and popped the creation into the oven.

Samsonite printed a specially designed sheet that customers convert into a handle-like, paper “Weight Tag.” When customer wrapped the tag around the handle of their luggage and picked it up, they could determine if their packed luggage exceeded the 50-lb. restriction set by most airlines. Special perforations on the tag snapped off when the weight exceeded 50 lbs.

ASICS used thermochromic ink to publish a print ad that folded out to create a mat that readers could step on to see the shape of their foot. A chart on the ad talked about what types of shoes were best for specific foot shapes.

Crust Pizza used capacitative touch technology from Novalia to create vinyl outdoor advertising posters that could play music. The posters encouraged passers-by to remix music on a pizza-shaped DJ deck.

About St. Joseph Communications

St. Joseph’s Communications in Toronto began as a printing company. Today, printing is just a portion of what they do. In addition to printing catalogs, custom publications, and packaging, they assist brands with omnichannel marketing, including digital production, digital signage, augmented reality, social media, custom videography and photography.



Why The Competition for Tech-Savvy Designers is Heating Up

If you are having trouble finding tech-savvy design professionals to help your business serve clients who want more than print communications, there’s a good reason. A new wave of opportunities for designers is coming from technology companies, start-ups funded by venture capitalists, and professional services companies.

Since 2013, companies such as Google, Facebook, AirBnb, IBM, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Accenture, PWC, and Shopify have been acquiring digital design firms with expertise in fields such as user experience, app development, creative technology, industrial design, and video storytelling.

Instead of hiring graphic designers and other design professionals to aid in short-term, campaign-related projects, these big technology and professional services companies want design teams that can assist in planning and developing new products and digital experiences for their customers.

Design in Tech

In his 2016 “Design in Tech” presentation, John Maeda, design partner of the venture capital firm KPCB, attributes the recent wave of acquisitions to the growing importance of customer experience as a competitive advantage.

He cites a Temkin Group study that shows that if people have a positive emotional experience with a company, they are 6 times more likely to buy from that company, 12 times more likely to recommend that company, and 5 times more likely to forgive a mistake.

Design In Tech Report 2016Maeda believes a new type of design is emerging that will require designers with skills that are radically different from classic design disciplines such as a graphic communications, fashion design, architecture, interior design, and landscape design.

When designing for digital experiences, he says, “Design isn’t just about beauty. It’s about market relevance and meaningful results.”

Instead of spending weeks or months to create a “perfect” design for traditional distribution channels, designers of digital experiences can have their work instantly delivered to hundreds of millions of users. The design will never be “final,” but continuously evolving through continuous testing and data analysis.

Because classic design and design thinking are not the same as computational design, Maeda believes “The general word – ‘design’ – will come to mean less as we will start to qualify the specific type of design we mean.”

Computational designers will be business-savvy professionals who know how to use research and data analytics in their designs. In addition to coding and testing skills, computational designers will need to be able to design systems and cultures.

Design Education is Lagging

Maeda predicts “The large influx of designers into top services companies through mergers and acquisitions activity will reboot the design industry,” predicts Maeda. “We will see more designers becoming investing partners at VC firms, and eventually starting their own funds.” He said many designers in tech are active angel investors.

Because this new field of design is still evolving, it has been difficult to traditional design schools to adapt their programs. Maeda notes that, “Currently design education lags behind the technology industry’s needs for data-oriented, coding-enabled graduates with business acumen. Many resources are available on the internet to supplement formal education in design. Becoming a skilled self-learner is a critical skill for a new designer.”

The Rise of Customer Experience Design Affects Ad Agencies

According to a 2016 SGIA Industry Survey Report, 15.6 percent of graphics producers rated ad agencies as their top declining market. In contrast, the four biggest growth markets were interior decorators/designers (55.7 percent), health care institutions (55.6 percent), environmental graphics (53.5 percent) and hospitality services (46.6 percent).

In my opinion, the decline of ad agencies as growth customers reflects three interrelated trends: (1) the rise of customer experience design; (2) the growth of in-house design teams; and (3) the emergence of different types of agencies for new types of creative services.

As I researched career opportunities for designers for my Creatives at Work blog, I discovered several articles that suggested the traditional advertising agency business model is archaic.

Instead of hiring ad agencies to buy ad space and design campaigns, companies today are hiring multiple agencies to help their in-house teams with specific elements of “customer experience design.”

Customer experience design determines how customers discover a product, learn more about it, buy it, and use it. The goal of delivering a consistently great customer experience is to build a following of loyal customers who will recommend a company’s products to colleagues, friends, and families.

CustomerExperienceWhile paid advertising plays a role in customer experience design, it’s becoming less important. Customer experience is also affected by product performance, packaging, and ease of use as well as customer support, and in-person interactions in stores and at events. Other customer experience tools include personalized communications and the delivery of educational content that is relevant to the customer’s interests.

Recommended Reading

In the article “Are Branding Agencies Still Relevant?” on, Paul Woods argues that the traditional top-down “brand-development” strategy is a waste of time: “Increasingly, a brand is defined by what a product actually delivers, not by how the marketers tell us how we should feel about it.”

He points out that many startups forgo lengthy brand-definition processes in favor of getting their products out into the marketplace. After the product is launched, the goal is to deliver positive customer experiences that can help build a community of fans. The start-up can then use real customer insights to refine the products and articulate the brand.

In UX magazine, Chuck Longanecker explains why “Customer Experience is the Future of Design.” He writes: “Experience design (XD) is not just a medium, like an advertising campaign or online app, but rather a strategy to keep customers engaged with a brand through impactful interactions.” It’s a strategy in which everyone in at the company must deliver a unified customer experience: “The idea is to wow customers at every point in their journey.”

Kevin Kelly's cover story on Hypervision appears in the the May 2016 issue of Wired.
Kevin Kelly’s cover story on Hypervision appears in the May 2016 issue of Wired.

The ultimate customer experience may involve virtual reality. In Kevin Kelly’s fantastic Wired magazine article about virtual reality, mixed reality, and augmented reality, he quotes an neuroscience expert who says, “VR talks to our subconscious mind like no other media.”

Kelly writes that virtual reality technology “forces you to be present — in a way that flat screens do not —so you gain authentic experiences, as authentic as real life. People remember VR experiences not as a memory, but as something that happened to them.”

New Types of Agencies Are Forming

While many companies are becoming less reliant on paid advertising and ad agencies, most businesses do need help navigating the many complexities and opportunities in customer experience design.

New types of agencies (and print-service providers) are stepping up to help manage complex projects, test emerging technologies, or provide specialized skills.

Today, some agencies focus on creating digital products such as apps, websites, videos, and virtual reality experiences. Others coordinate the design, execution, measurement, and analysis of integrated multi-channel marketing campaigns.

Members of the Society for Experiential Graphic Design collaborate with architects and interior designers to shape content-rich, experiential spaces for stores, airports, museums, campuses, healthcare facilities, and offices. They blend printed and digital signage, artwork, displays, and information kiosks into buildings and public spaces in a way that ensures a consistently positive experience for visitors and employees. (Note: The Society for Experiential Graphic Design was formerly known as the The Society for Environmental Graphic Design. The update from “environmental” to “experiential”  indicates how quickly agencies and design studios are evolving.)

A Talent Drain

With so many new opportunities emerging on in-house teams or for new-era agencies, it’s not surprising that many young designers are leaving traditional advertising agencies behind. One industry analyst believes entrenched Boomer-age executives in ad agencies have been slow to adopt new business models and capitalize on changing technologies.

In a column for Communications Arts magazine, designer Ernie Schenck asks: “If Advertising Is So Great, Why Are We So Unhappy?”

Schenk writes: “An increasing number of young creatives are turning not to advertising, but to companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter, companies where creative freedom is virtually infinite, where their ideas are more likely to result in something tangible, and where, rightly or wrongly, there’s a sense of purpose – compared with the frequently suffocating atmosphere of agencies.”

In Adweek, Jason Zada explains “Why It’s Time to Kill Advertising as We Know It and Start Building ‘StoryWorlds.” Zada believes ad agencies should think like Hollywood and hire “dreamers and executors” who can create story-worlds that play out a story narrative across multiple platforms.

Instead of producing TV commercials or negotiating product placements in TV shows or movies made by Hollywood, ad-agency creative teams could help brands produce their own feature films, short series, live streaming events, virtual-reality experiences, experiential events, museum exhibits, and more.

The creative team might include a producer, writer, director, designer, story architect, and technologist.

Print-service providers should pay close attention to shifting business models within all sorts of creative services agencies, because printed graphics will continue to be needed.

As brands become more active in creating entertaining and educational experiences for customers, print-service providers that can produce a full range of large-format graphics, custom interiors and backdrops, digital signage, and 3D printed objects may be well-positioned to benefit.