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FEBRUARY 25, 2009   

Dead tree media (back in print)

Screenshot of brochure layout created with InDesign softwareMost days I think, work and communicate in the dynamic world of the web where information is responsive and malleable.

One simple example of this: I often have trouble reading small type, especially if I don't have my glasses on. So while I may silently curse the web designers who act as if everyone has the eyesight of a 25-year-old, it takes half a second to hit "Command +" on the keyboard to make the text larger.

You want bigger type, no problem (unless the designer has locked it in by using Flash, but that's a rant for another day).

And that simple yet revolutionary act of changing the size of the type shows how the web gives the reader/user control over the document that doesn't exist in the print world. Beyond this there are changes—not always pleasant—that you may not ask for, but get anyway. They happen because different operating systems (Mac, Windows, Linux) and different web browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari) interpret the designer's instructions differently. The best websites show only minor differences in these situations, but many others have serious problems.

These variables don't exist in traditional (dead-tree) media. Designing for print is a different animal from designing for the web. Sometimes better, sometimes worse, but always different.

This became clear to me as I spent the day working in Adobe InDesign laying out a brochure for my wife's lead information group. You can spend minutes (hours, days) moving every letter, every word, every element to exactly where you want it. The software allows you to set position in thousandths of an inch. And when the piece is printed, everyone will see those words and pictures precisely where you put them.

I spent more than twenty years doing print design, so all this came back to me in a flash as I endlessly adjusted the space between lines of text, between words and even individual letters to get it just right. On the web you can do some of this but it's usually pointless since the first user like me who hits Command + will make your efforts meaningless.

It's too late at night to give this discussion the attention it deserves. Maybe another day. If you have thoughts on the topic, please use the "Comment" link below.

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