26 May 2010

I was talking to someone at lunch at An Event Apart yesterday. She, like most of the people there, is a web designer (and not a print designer). She was talking about the size of her apartment and how the living room sofa is her office. She said she has one drawer in the living room entertainment unit for her files.

I have an utterly overflowing 12×12-ish room for my office. Even though I’ve been going progressively more paperless over the past few years, storing stuff in the cloud or on my computer with programs like Evernote, Backpack, BidSketch and NeatWorks and scanning everything I possibly can with my Fuji ScanSnap — even forcing it to eat things like napkins with drawings and old passport books which don’t make it very happy at all, but do make me, with my mania for archiving, quite chuffed.

I have 2 monitors, one rather large, (well, not by today’s standards), as I’m often laying out items that are physically big enough that you can’t see them on the screen easily (a spread in an 11×17 book, for example) and that in a program like Adobe InDesign or Illustrator that have palettes upon palettes taking up screen real estate. This just doesn’t happen with web design… I never open any palettes in my code editor. I never design a web page that doesn’t fit on my screen.

But because I’m a print designer as well as a web designer, I have a lot of stuff. I have 6 Pantone chip books and 4 Toyo ones for showing clients different color swatches with various ink systems and methodologies. I have 3 shelves of paper swatch books (and I don’t even keep the printed sample pieces). I have books on technology, typography and books of royalty free art to scan, lots of old Emigre and RayGun magazines. And, taking up scads of room, I have printed samples from jobs I’ve done over the past 15 years. A few each of a zillion business cards and stationery systems and brochures and books and annual reports and this and that and this.

Then, of course, as well as the desk where my computer is, there’s a drafting table, for sketching and for making comps. Although one needs far far fewer mechanical supplies than one used to for print design, there are comp-making tools: black boards for mounting design options, glues, tapes, xact-o knives, and all sorts of different sizes and types of paper for the inkjet. I have drawing pens and pencils, various pads of design vellum for sketching. I have all my filled-up notebooks of work notes and sketches.

More and more often these days, I make electronic comps, and present things to clients with emails and PDFs and Basecamp, but certain presentations still demand the old school formality or exactitude of physical comps and designs pasted up on boards. I wonder if that will eventually fall away completely. I wonder if color management and monitor calibration will ever be simplified to the point of ubiquity.

I’m not even talking about all the art supplies and photography stuff I have because I also do that stuff. Or all the paper samples I’ve kept after not using them for projects because they’ll come in handy for art later. Or all the reference books about things tangential to design and technology.

There isn’t a whole lot of point to this article. I just thought it was interesting that a web designer can operate without a lot of trappings, whist a print designer is a bit beholden to their stuff. Certain things like color and paper texture cannot be experienced through the computer screen with any semblance of critical accuracy (yet)— so you have to have actual, analog samples on hand. My possible tendencies towards pack-ratting notwithstanding, it explains a bit about my non-minimalist office, and why, though I’ll wander off working with my laptop for days at a time, I always end up back here somehow.

Maybe life is simpler if you design only for the web. Certainly the folks at An Event Apart were very focused, and very knowledgeable about their craft. Maybe print is dying, like they say… certainly it’s a lot more dead than it was 15 years ago when I started as a designer (and worked on only print). And I’m not much one for advocating printing via traditional methods these days, with the toxicities and resource-wastefulness (there’s argument about resource usage in print vs. web, but I’ll not go there today). Nonetheless, there is something very pleasing about understanding the art and craft of all that analog printing technology (or its newer digital counterparts) and knowing the ins and outs of making physical things as well as virtual ones.

Every day, every year, I feel my one, cluttered foot in the past slowly pulling away, towards an all-digital world, or at least work world (my film cameras and my piano without a power cord are happily entrenched). I wonder about print, and print design. I’ll still be designing logos next year, for sure, but I wonder about the one-off brochure mock-ups to show clients the way the paper feels in the hand.

But, as I sit here copying 155GB of precious, laboriously scanned and retouched photographs from my backup drive to a new home (“about 8 hours”) on account of yet another traumatically failed hard disk, I’m going to guess it’s going to be a little while before I’m totally ready to let my paper samples hit the recycling bin.

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