Is The Future Of Print Luxury?
by Rob Steer on 01/22/2021 | 5 Minute Read
In the age of digitalization, the web page continues to dominate its printed counterpart. But does this mean the death of print?
Certainly not. Instead, we see a shift in print’s position within content consumption and, as such, a shift in its value. Digitalization is not a bad thing; it is often more readily accessible, cost-effective, and environmentally-friendly. From a designers’ point of view, the creative possibilities are arguably enhanced by the fluid, flexible digital page compared to print’s fixed dimensions.
However, our inherent human fascination with physical objects will never go away. I appreciate the visible aging you get with print, with pages getting dog-eared and torn, as this not only tells a story about its usage but how we cherished it. We're naturally sensory beings, and we'll always long for a physical element in the entertainment we consume. The resurgence of record players and vinyl in recent years, despite the digital availability of platforms like Spotify, only exemplifies this. Yes, it's a beautiful artifact, but an LP allows listeners to experience music in a more tactile way—it becomes an emotional form of content engagement that can never get replicated through a digital streaming service.
The desire for physical brand experiences is only accelerating. Screen fatigue is a very real by-product of increased digitization, made worse by the era of social distancing and remote working. As consumers’ longing for physical touch heightens, isn’t it time we invest more in print rather than ignore its value in the name of digitalization? In short, can’t print be the “new Vinyl”?
Yet, we can't ignore environmental and cost concerns. The survival of print now relies on prioritizing smaller production runs, sustainable materials, and beautiful craftsmanship, ultimately transforming it from a mass-produced item into a collectible artifact.
In an age of ethical consumerism and waste consciousness, brands must now produce printed content that adheres to today’s social and environmental standards. They also need to consider the type and the amount of content they put out into the world. A focus on quality over quantity is now critical.
Consumers are tired of receiving cheaply made and environmentally-harmful leaflets destined to go straight from their letterbox into the trash. Superfluous, ill-conceived printed products will only isolate consumers and call a brand’s design and sustainability credentials into question.
Digital technologies can actually help shift the focus from quantity to quality. The rise in digital printing allows for cost-effective—yet high-quality—print runs on a far smaller scale. Modern printers can print a fifth color toner, such as Neon Pink or White, colors that would be expensive to use on shorter runs if using traditional litho techniques. Therefore, digital technologies can make printed artifacts more affordable for brands and accessible for consumers.
Nonetheless, physically printing and distributing an object must only happen when it offers a meaningful and effective representation of a brand’s offering. That means prioritizing smaller, bespoke pieces, beautifully designed items that utilize high-quality materials, elevating print into the luxury realm. Using environmentally friendly materials, such as 100% recycled paper or paper sourced from bamboo and vegetable-based inks, will only further affirm a product’s luxury offering, as these—often expensive—materials have premium connotations.
Of course, premium artifacts will not be equally available to everyone. In today’s market, a brand must be accessible, authentic, and well-designed. That’s why they must consider how they can optimize both print and digital mediums to engage a range of audiences, from the everyday consumer to the more affluent and luxury-minded. That involves finding ways that digital and print can interact with one another, like through QR codes. They can seamlessly transport readers from a physical page to an online AR portal, enriching the printed experience via digital interaction.
Leading brands are already proving that while digital may appear an easier and more popular choice, print still holds a unique and powerful position in brand communications. Take IKEA’s recent discontinuation of its iconic printed catalog after seventy years. The Swedish powerhouse is re-channeling its efforts into its suite of digital apps in a move that will better enable its customers to discover and purchase new products.
Nonetheless, IKEA is continuing to release a commemorative catalog in autumn 2021, paying homage to the legacy of seven decades of its publication. As the anticipation of this one-off, collectible artifact rises, which will in no doubt be as beautifully designed as the original catalog, we can see that thirst for premium print still very much exists.
Each of us wants a more tangible and sensory experience when it comes to the content we devour. It’s time for brands to optimize the uniquely emotional offering of physical artifacts and invest time and resources into the realm of print. While digital’s undeniably sustainable and accessible benefits go unmatched, we should embrace the potential for print to transform into a luxury item and not shy away from it.