Print Archetypes in a Web Design World

December 20, 2011

The printed word has been around about 500 years; websites have been around about 20. It’s not much of a stretch to say that the former has influenced the latter. Or to say that traditionally printed communication has made such an incredible influence on our society, that digital visual communication could not possibly develop independently.

It’s with this in mind that I think one should look to traditional print formats when considering how to design a particular website. Or, more specifically, what purpose does this website serve, in comparison to traditional print media.

Is this website a business card? Are we simply relaying a name and an address, a contact method, and perhaps an introduction to the services being provided? If so, what are the client’s expectations on how a website can expand upon the premise of a basic business card? Can your simple, informative website reliably convey a brand identity without becoming a garish 500-business-cards-for-$10 operation?

Is this website an advertisement? If so, is it a billboard with big, bold images and catchy slogans, or is it a magazine ad with fine print that a discerning reader can consider carefully, at his/her own pace? Or, how can a website serve both purposes, with bold graphics that link to informative, but still cleanly executed, ad copy?

Is this website a catalog? Are we expecting to generate sales, or even conduct sales through an expansive online listing of products? If so, how much information can you convey for these products without turning your website into a mess of fine print disclaimers and size/color/quantity charts? Are you sacrificing compelling sales material out of an interest to provide excruciating detail for an imagined hard-to-please customer?

Or, as an overall question, how can your website serve some or all of these purposes while remaining visually compelling and communicative?

Certainly with the affordable expansiveness that the internet provides, this possibility is certainly within reach. But with the available “bells and whistles” also comes the potential to complicate things unnecessarily, interfering with the purpose you’re trying to serve in the first place. And thus an eye to a simpler, print-based format can offer clarity before an ambitious project gets out of hand.

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