On any given day, you can look around your surroundings and come in contact with print design. Information comes to you in many forms: the graphics on the front of a cereal box, or on the packaging in your cupboards; the information on the billboards and bus shelter posters you pass on your way to work; the graphics on the outside of the cup that holds your double latte; and the printed numbers on the dial of the speedometer in your car. Information is communicated by the numbers on the buttons in an elevator; on the signage hanging in stores; or on the amusing graphics on the front of your friend’s T-shirt. So many items in your life hold an image that is created to convey information. And all of these things are designed by someone.
Traditionally referred to as graphic design, communication design is the process by which messages and images are used to convey information to a targeted audience. It is within this spectrum that this textbook will address the many steps of creating and then producing physical, printed, or other imaged products that people interact with on a daily basis. Design itself is only the first step. It is important when conceiving of a new design that the entire workflow through to production is taken into consideration. And while most modern graphic design is created on computers, using design software such as the Adobe suite of products, the ideas and concepts don’t stay on the computer. To create in-store signage, for instance, the ideas need to be completed in the computer software, then progress to an imaging (traditionally referred to as printing) process. This is a very wide-reaching and varied group of disciplines. By inviting a group of select experts to author the chapters of this textbook, our goal is to specifically focus on different aspects of the design process, from creation to production.
Each chapter begins with a list of Learning Objectives, and concludes with Exercises and a list of Suggested Readings on the Summary page. Throughout, key terms are noted in bold and listed again in a Glossary at the end of the book.
In Chapter 1, we start with some history. By examining the history of design, we are able to be inspired by, and learn from, those who have worked before us. Graphic design has a very rich and interesting heritage, with inspirations drawn from schools and movements such as the Werkbund, Bauhaus, Dada, International Typographic Style (ITS), as well as other influences still seen in the designs of today.
We now work in an age where the computer has had an influence on the era of Post Modernism. Is this a new age? Are we ushering in an era unseen before? Or are modern-day designs simply a retelling of the same tropes we have seen for hundreds of years?
Chapter 2 follows with a discussion about the design process. Contrary to what we tend to see in popular television shows and movies where advertising executives are struck with instant, usable, and bold ideas, design strategies are seldom insights gained through such a sudden outburst of inspiration. The design process is a deliberate, constructive, and prescriptive process that is guided by specific strategies. For example, before any piece of designed communication can be started, some very detailed research needs to be performed. This happens well before any graphic design or layout software is opened on a computer. Designing is a form of problem solving, where a system is created to communicate a specific and targeted message. The design process is the way that a designer breaks the problem into discrete creative activities. First is an exploration of what is trying to be achieved. Facts are gathered about the problem, and the problem itself is often defined very specifically. The idea phase is where brainstorming and ideation occurs, often without judgment, as a way to gather as many different ideas and directions as possible. From this, solutions are evaluated, both for their perceived impact on the target audience and for their perceived effectiveness in portraying the desired message. Finally, all of this information is distilled into an accepted solution. Designers do not sit around waiting for ideas to just happen; they follow a process in order to make it happen.
Chapter 3 presents the most important and necessary design elements required for effective graphic layout and design. When designing a layout, the designer cannot just ‘throw’ all of the information onto the page. Design is a thoughtful process that makes use of many different skills to create a design that is both appealing and legible. We discuss the grid in its many forms, including different types of grid such as the ITS grid, the golden ratio, and even strategies for using no grid at all. Space is an important design element, with different items on the page requiring more or less area to be effective. We also talk about the density, or ‘colour’ of type on the page, along with a number of different typographical conventions for making the most of the collection of words on the layout.
In Chapter 4, we begin to move along in the production process and discuss some of the more physical attributes of design. And one of the most important topics in creating printed products is that of colour. It is a complex part of the design process, affecting how an image is transmitted to the eye, how the colours are perceived, and what makes one thing look different from another, even if it is the same colour. Have you ever printed something on your home printer only to be disappointed that it doesn’t look like it did on your computer screen? Highly detailed systems of colour management are put in place to mitigate these differences.
As we proceed toward creating printed output, Chapter 5 is where it all starts to come together. In the print process, this stage is called prepress. Prepress is where all the design work is translated from a file on the computer in front of you into a form that can be ‘printed’ onto a given surface. Imagine the requirements for creating not just one copy of a design, but thousands! This is a very important step, and if mistakes or production hurdles are not discovered and overcome at this step, then the project can end up being very costly for all parties involved, from the designer, to the printer, to the client. This chapter deals with topics such as preflight, imposition, separations, platemaking, and considerations for other print and finishing processes.
Chapter 6 is a comprehensive look at how all of this design work will result in a finished product. The many ways that a design can be printed are varied and complex, but having some knowledge about how the print process works will help to create a more successful project. Is it going to be printed on a box, or on a billboard? How many copies are needed: one or one million? These and many more decisions influence how a product will be produced. This chapter outlines some of the more popular printing technologies, along with industry standard procedures for working with them. Suggestions for choosing the right paper (or other types of substrates) are also made along with best practices for working with colour on the printed page.
Chapter 7 rounds out this textbook with a look at online technologies and how they affect, and are affected by, the printed word. We examine online web-to-print solutions and their contribution to bridging the process from graphic design to printed work. We also highlight other considerations such as branding and digital file resolution strategies. As the world has moved into an Internet-connected, always-on compendium of information, print remains a vital, relevant, and important part of the media mix. Effective communication campaigns make the most of all opportunities that media design and, in particular, print design can offer.
The goal of this text is to bridge the disciplines of communication design and print production to form a concise, accessible compendium outlining the design process in this modern, computer-driven age. While it is common, or perhaps easy, to surmise that graphic design is solely a computer-driven pursuit, when we take a step back, and look at the entire process, we see that computer-aided design is only one part of a larger picture. And by including this larger domain in our studies, we can truly gain an appreciation for the influences and strategies needed to be successful in this field.