Web dev at the end of the world, from Hveragerði, Iceland

I’m available as a consultant and for coaching. I also have a book out.

The print design mentality

Screen design isn’t print design and will never be print design, no matter how high the screen’s resolution gets.

Digital design needs to account for a level of changeability and dynamism that print has never had to deal with. The interaction model of print is embodied in the book object and not in the on-page design. The interaction model of digital has to be accounted for in the screen design itself and functionality needs to be specifically designed.

The differences in the two colour systems, additive and subtractive, are also more than just a matter of how the colours are specified. They behave in fundamentally different ways. The same colour looks and feels different in print and on screen, even though according to all objective measurements they should be identical. Digital colour screens that use the subtractive model are as good as non-existent in the market.

Digital design offers the possibility of animation. Print does not.

Binding content to the book is what all good book designers do. To do this, they use Canons of Page Construction, or other principles to design grid systems that, when populated by content, create that connection. But with all paper-based design, they start with paper. Paper that has edges, ratios that can be repeated. A canvas. And here’s the thing. Creating layouts on the web has to be different because there are no edges. There are no ‘pages’. We’ve made them up. (Mark Boulton – A Richer Canvas)

No iteration or evolution of current technology is going to turn screen design into print design.

A print designer is going to think that the above are minor differences. Which is why print designers are rubbish digital designers.


The problem is that you can’t really attain a singular design in digital. Even apps have to adapt to changing circumstances (accessibility settings, screen sizes, updates).

The digital mindset acknowledges constant change, recognises that getting a specific design is sometimes impossible, and thinks of projects as ongoing concerns—not one-off products. Platforms change. Design contexts and capabilities are fluid. Ebooks and apps need to be updated by somebody down the line.

Anybody who doesn’t understand this will be a liability in digital publishing.

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