What’s the state of print in our digital world?

We speak to Socio, Omnigroup and more to find out.

Poppy Thaxter 
The Brand Identity

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How often does a request for a business card or a brochure find its way into your client’s brief these days? An Instagram ad, social media campaign or website seem to be far more likely. With the world of graphic design becoming ever more digital in its output, both internally and externally, we spoke to Socio, Omnigroup, Studio Ground Floor and Warriors Studio to investigate the role print plays in their process and client work.

When in need of fresh, exciting insights during the early stages of a new project, we found that the four studios regularly look to the physical world for inspiration. From the studio environment they spend so much time in, to life outdoors away from the screen, many external factors play a key role in their creative processes.

For London-based studio Socio and their type foundry Sociotype, who published a full-blown editorial magazine to showcase their Gestura typeface – a digital product – this was more of a recent, conscious decision. “We’ll often start by identifying a central theme or idea and then we head to a London library to broadly research the topic,” Creative Director Nigel Bates informs us, with “books on photography, archival magazines and even poetry” providing inspiration. For Swiss design studio Omnigroup, on the other hand, their surrounding studio environment is built out as a natural reference for them. “Our work desk is surrounded by bookshelves, colour and paper samples, plants and small random objects,” adding that “being able to quickly browse through the library and going through references is quite crucial” in their process. Consisting of duo Simon Mager and Leonardo Azzolini, the studio work across many disciplines, but with a strong focus on visual identities, editorial and book design.

“We also have an old bus stop nearby the studio that has been transformed into a public book exchange,” they tell us. These small excursions provide opportunities for discovery, as well as a chance to refresh away from the computer. The deliberate act of delving into a bookshelf falls under the theme of finding, away from a search engine. Alice Sherwin and Harry Bennett, Co-founders of Studio Ground Floor, share this affiliation for books as their primary source of inspiration. For the London-based designers behind TYPEONE magazine and our very own book The Interviews: Volume One, editorial design forms the foundation of their practice. “We’re obsessed with books and are surrounded by them in our daily lives,” they tell us, “since we primarily design books together, it makes sense that that is often where we find influence.”

A conscious choice to go beyond the screen, be it for research or to take a break from the digital realm, is something that resonates with all four of the studios we spoke to. For Sherwin and Bennett of Studio Ground Floor, many ideas come from life away from the desktop; through a life lived engaging with the world. Notably, there is a need for boundaries as Mager and Azzolini also observe, “we already spend a lot of time looking at a screen so whenever possible we prefer not to use digital platforms as a source of research.”

Despite naturally leaning towards books for inspiration, Sherwin and Bennett acknowledge that the type of project they’re working on tends to dictate their approach. “If a printed project has a digital focus, we’ll absolutely turn to digital inspiration,” they explain. However, the studio often finds inspiration from the medium of digital itself rather than social sites like Instagram and Pinterest, noting that “anything from messy memes and HTML web basics to digital functionalities and aesthetic languages, such as hyperlinks, ratios, scrolling and hierarchy” can trigger them.

The internet very much has its own culture now, where inspiration can be found in ubiquity. While online platforms and digital creations are far from overthrowing print as a medium; there is something to be found in the intersection between them. When it comes to the work the studios create, there is an acceptance that print and digital should complement each other. “We try not to view one ‘becoming’ the other – as much as it can feel like that. Both have their place,” James Gilchrist from Glasgow-based branding agency Warriors Studio explains. “A book is not a PDF and a PDF is not a book – they are different things which we believe work best when they complement each other.”

The studios we talked to see the value and potential of exploring both mediums, highlighting how one can complement the other if implemented into a project in an interesting or surprising manner. Socio work on multi-faceted branding projects, and Bates believes that print can provide a unique element, noting that they’ll “often suggest print-based items if we feel they will create a point of difference. A piece of print can be quite disruptive in an industry that mainly exists digitally.”

Despite this, the studios feel more satisfied by printed work, tapping into the intrinsically human appeal of the medium and process. Print not only stands out in an increasingly digital world, but can offer us two things: tangibility and permanence. “The tactility of printed matter and the whole process behind making books, choosing paper, binding, making dummies, going to the printer and inspecting the sheets is very enriching to us,” Mager and Azzolini explain, noting the rewarding feeling following the weeks-long ideation and creation process that goes into the development of a physical object. The appeal of print also lies in its timelessness, they add. “A book that can lie around for decades or even centuries and be all of a sudden dusted off and brought back to life by some curious person.” Compared to ever-evolving digital work, which can be “tucked away in five levels of folders on a hard drive,” as Gilchrist puts it, printed matter is permanent, while also serving as a snapshot of a moment in time.

Sherwin and Bennett echo this sentiment, finding joy in the permanence that comes with printed work. “Things are set in ink; you can’t just make a slight adjustment after the fact like you often can on digital work,” they tell us, recalling the minor mistakes reflective of human involvement. “It’s a bit like a piece of pottery with the fingerprints and hand movements of the potter set in the clay. There’s a kind of beauty in knowing someone was behind the object you’re holding.”