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Print and web: two sides of the same design coin.
Though print and web designers have a lot in common, there are some important variations that people (both outside and inside the industry) often don’t understand — ranging from workflow and file formats to tools and terminology. While certainly not extensive, the following guide offers a brief overview of some of the biggest (and often, the most confusing) differences between the two disciplines.
Viewing Method: How Users Approach Your Design
One of the biggest differences between print and web designs is how people view them. Holding something physical in your hand — a piece of paper, a folding brochure, a book — is a much different experience than viewing something on a screen. There is some crossover, such as digital magazines that are laid out in the exact same way as their printed counterparts, but generally, the physical versus digital experience is a pretty clear dividing line between print and web design. Where and how designs are viewed play a big role in the decisions designers make.
Static vs. Interactive: The Design Lifecycle and How Users Connect with a Project
Once a design goes to the printer, it’s not going to change (barring a decision to re-design and re-print — which costs time and money; not ideal). Web design, however, can be tweaked, changed, or completely redesigned at any time. Many websites, especially those with frequently changing content — a news website, for example — will look different every day. Different pictures, different text; they’re created to change.
Usability & Navigation: Making Your Designs User-Friendly
Since print design is contained to the physical size and shape of the surface or object, navigation is usually limited to flipping or unfolding a page. On the web, it’s not so straightforward. Users might encounter any number of different layouts and need an easy way to find the content they’re looking for. That’s where menus come in. They have become the hub of website navigation, and need to be in a location that’s easy for visitors to find.
Layout: How You Arrange Your Content
Both print and web design have many design elements in common: typography, images/graphics, shapes, lines, color, etc. So, many of the same best practices apply to each.
Each approach also has its own unique layout requirements. For print, all information must be presented within the constraints of the printing surface, whereas for the web, designers have almost unlimited flexibility to organize, arrange, and filter information.
Printed projects must meet certain standards using parameters such as margins and bleeds, while websites aim for a consistent experience between different viewing methods, such as web and mobile. Because various browsers may change a web designer’s original layout, achieving top functionality requires testing with different browsers and operating systems.
Size: Making Good Use of Your Design Space
Size and layout go hand in hand. For print design, the size of the printing surface is one of the biggest determiners of how the designer will make use of that space — what design elements will be used, the amount and size of the text, etc. Though there are standard sizes for many projects (letters, business cards, posters, photos), possibilities are virtually unlimited, as paper and other printing surfaces can be cut to any size or shape.
For web, “size” is more abstract. The sizes that designs are viewed at tend to be limited to a certain number of devices that are currently available — from computer monitors and laptops to tablets and smartphones, but that content should ideally scale to fit any device. That adaptability, known as responsive design, is becoming increasingly in demand as people’s web browsing habits shift in a more mobile direction.
Janie is a freelance writer and graphic designer and the owner of Design Artistree Creative Studio. After college, she built on her background in art to explore design…and loved it. Now, she enjoys finding ways to combine the craftsmanship of traditional fine arts with the digital possibilities of graphic design.