15 Web Design Lessons You Can Learn from Print Media

Seeing you spend most of your time online, you’re probably skeptical that you can learn anything from print designers. After all, you subscribe to different schools of thought and work with totally different media and tools.

But Paul Wyatt, an award-winning creative director, writer and film maker based in London is of different opinion. He believes there is so much web designers can learn from print media, and I’m with him on this one.

This post is covers 15 design lessons you can learn from the world of print design. Without further ado, here we go:

Art Direction

A quick look at any magazine worth your while will reveal how print designers use well-directed images to add impact to the copy. The sizing and positioning of the images is, well, picture perfect. But this isn’t usually the case online especially since the emergence of content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress.

WordPress is notorious for automatically creating a slew of smaller images from your full bleed big images. What happens next? Art direction loses direction as some images are shoved off to one side, others lose impact and so on. Art direct your lead images, so they can work with your entire website instead of letting any CMS do it for you.

Uniformity

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What makes you choose one magazine over the other on the newsstands? The stories? Not really. Paul Wyatt says, “The ones which work or catch your eye will have a point of difference to them by instantly communicating their tone and mood from their mast head, cover line typography and image choices.”

In other words, the magazine you end up picking up has a unity about it. Your website should emulate this – you should strive to unify your styles and harmonize your content as opposed to haphazardly slapping together your templates.

Font Hierarchy

The reason we have headings (h1, h2, h3 etc) is to copy font hierarchy standards that have worked wonders in print media for years. Just pick any daily newspaper right this minute, and you’re bound to spot sensibility at work in the choice of typography and font hierarchies. Use headings, subheadings and different font sizes on your website to draw attention to your content and reinforce your design.

Quality Control

Web designers are more open to making errors compared to print designers. Why? In the online world, nothing is set in stone, and you can correct a typo or a major design flaw at a moments notice. In the print world, there is little (if any) room for error, for as soon as the work is done, it is locked for the  printing press.

In other words, print designers must learn how to get it right the first time, and since they’re not gods but human like you, why shouldn’t you learn to get it right the first time too? Ponder on that.

White Space

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Have you been to a website with content that was suffocating for lack of space? You probably wouldn’t remember the website for the bad user experience. In print media, chances are low you’ll find content without enough room to breath. As a web designer, this is one lesson you want to take home.

Pull Out Quotes

Pull out quotes can incentivize readers to explore your content, make incredible eye candy and act as visual filler where images are not available.

“Print designers have used pull out quotes since time immemorial, and with almost every magazine using them, we can argue this trend is popular, if not extremely effective.”

In the online world, you want to be cautious though – don’t bombard your readers with pull out quotes – use them sparingly.

Grid Systems

Grid design (systems) used to be the preserve of print designers until web designers realized they could achieve so much more using grid systems as compared to “doing it by eye”. Perhaps it is time you adopted grid systems, if you haven’t already.

Typography

The type you choose can mean all the difference between a great website and a complete flop. In the days gone, web designers could not rival print designers thanks to the limited number of fonts available online.

Today, web designers have the power to turn typography whichever way they want thanks to font libraries such as Google Fonts, Typekit and Fonts.com.

Imagery

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Don’t know how to strike the perfect image-content balance? Don’t know which images to use to add flavor and meaning to your posts? Have you tried perusing any magazine or newspaper for some inspiration? If you haven’t, you should. Take note of how print designers use imagery to enrich their content.

Color

Colors play a very important roles in branding, and print designers have known this for ages. Notice how the 500th issue of your favorite daily or magazine looks like all the other 499 issues? Print designers use colors to build and reinforce brand image and tone. You can take a leaf out their book, and win at branding too.

Say NO to Centered Text

Unless you are looking at a boring and poorly designed poster, you’re unlikely to spot too much centered text in print media. However, the same cannot be said of the online world. Center a few lines if you must, but you should avoid centered text at all costs like the plague.

Relevance

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Print designers and copy editors know they have a short time span to intrigue the reader. As such, they stick to relevance, or rather reduction, something you should emulate on your websites. Don’t fill up your pages with clutter, stick to what matters to your readers.

Come up with shorter, snappier and sharper captions instead of 20-word caption lines that squeeze the life out of your copy. And so on and so forth – stick to relevance.

A Lesson on UPPER CASE

Too much upper case is an eye sore, and that’s exactly why you will hardly notice rampant usage of the CAPS Lock in print media. Web designers will, however, throw a chunk of ALL-CAPS words at your face whenever they fancy.

It is irritating, since upper case text is harder to read than lower case. It’s just the way our brains are wired. This is a lesson you must learn from print media is you’re fond of upper case.

Simplicity

The simplest design is the most effective, you don’t need a degree in rocket science to know that. You also don’t need said degree to see that print designers have used simplicity to their advantage for years. On the other hand, web designers seem to the miss the mark completely – everybody is trying to build complex designs that unfortunately, fail at their purpose. Keep it simple stupid.

The Font Mixologist

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This final lesson goes to the web designer with a penchant for mixing fonts. Don’t do it amigo, just don’t. If you want to create impact with your fonts, how about using different fonts weights, styles and colors for instance?

Using Calibri for regular copy, Tahoma for subheadings and Times New Roman for your headings will throw your reader off, and you definitely do want that.

Final Word…

There are definitely many other lessons you can learn from print media. With our today’s lessons in mind, what other lessons do you feel web designers stand to learn from our print counterparts? Please share with us in the comments!

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About The Author

Freddy is a writer, web developer and founder of Vistamedia, Inc., a nice place dedicated to the online entrepreneur looking to boost conversion rates using effective web content.

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