Print has power, even in virtual form
A novel experience, recently, related to print vs. electronic media in 2016.
Several weeks ago I designed a new web site for that particular pro bono project without end. I also wrote nearly all of it, which I suppose is indirectly relevant to the story. Anyway, more recently I was asked to adapt most of the copy into a print brochure. This was perhaps a first for me, and posed some interesting challenges. That said, more curious is that I had asked people to provide feedback on the web site, and got a few small suggestions from one person—but I received extensive comments and suggested revisions to the same text in brochure form.
Here’s the really funny thing. The brochure has not been printed. It was and as of this moment still is electronic media like the web site. But the response to a PDF of the “print” document was much more extensive than the response to the web site.
I can make various guesses about what may explain this. To be completely accurate, first of all, a larger group of people was directly invited to comment on the PDF brochure, compared with the web site. Still, all of the same people who had extensive comments on the brochure were made aware of the web site. One might imagine that at least some of the eager-beavers among them would have looked at it with a similar measure of editorial interest. Nope, not really.
Beyond that, I guess the brochure has more of a specific limited audience in mind, where as the web site was just posted “out there.” So maybe that prompted more concern. It’s also possible that I’m a better print designer than a web site designer, and that even in electronic form the “print” layout drew people in better than the web site.
I suspect, though, that some inherent features of the two formats were at work.
In particular, I’m struck by the fact that the brochure is a very linear presentation. Start here, go here next, then here, and you can see your progress and finally know with certainty that you’ve looked at the whole thing. By contrast, I planned the web site with the expectation that people might poke around by any number of paths, and likely not be concerned with seeing every page. (This is part of what made it tricky to adapt to print.) I can see how the one is much more conducive to editorial scrutiny than the other.
On top of that, while the brochure was distributed as a PDF, it’s also possible that one or more people did print out its pages; this would also be a lot easier than trying to do the same with the web site. Having this option might also have made red-pen interaction more tempting.
Food for thought, I guess, from both a design and a writing perspective. Hmm.