UX On Paper: What Digital Can Learn From Print

by Steph Brown, UX Architect at Rufus Leonard

I’ve never worked in print and I’ll be honest, after bleeds and crops, I’m completely lost.  And more often than not, when asked to choose between print and digital, I sway towards digital (direct mail is absolutely awful — but then again, are email campaigns any better?). Weirdly, when the shoe is on the other foot, eBooks do nothing for me. I’d take a physical book any day.

So, when I watched a BBC documentary on British Vogue and then re-watched the film The September Issue, I was fascinated by the careful consideration of all the content and the order (and reordering) of the page. Each magazine was a snapshot of the here and now, there was only one user journey. The multiple-user-journey-loving UXer in me was intrigued to learn more.

Of course, when it comes to digital, content is incredibly important too. But digital has a very different relationship with content — it’s fluid, not fixed and on websites we are free to add, remove or change content — even its look, at any time. But this isn’t always a good thing. Take images for example, in a magazine the designer doesn’t necessarily need to worry about adjusting the image quality or size because they’re working in a fixed physical space. But in digital an image needs to work across multiple platforms and devices.

And then there’s the luxury of moving content. Fans across the world sit in awe as the interactive content of J.K Rowling’s Pottermore takes them on a journey through the wizarding world.

What Can Digital Learn?

However, digital designers face the ongoing challenge of designing multiple layouts of the same content across multiple devise, which is constantly changing. Exhausting!

But despite all the things I love about digital content, it can still learn a thing or two from print.

A study carried out by the US Post Office found that ‘Digital ads were processed more quickly. However, Paper ads engaged viewers for more time’.  When the participants were contacted a week later, ‘they showed greater emotional response and memory for physical media adverts’. The study concluded that physical content activated the part of the brain where value and desire is assessed.

This study suggests we connect more importance and value to something we can touch, such as a magazine, book or even a flyer through the post.

The Art Of Editing

Magazine and newspapers can’t print everything they produce, or customers would have to carry it in a wheelbarrow. Vogue is already a workout as it is. In digital this isn’t a problem, you can keep adding content without a thought for page number restrictions, print prices, or customer accessibility. The danger is when a website becomes bloated, bogged down, and unmanageable.

It is important at this point to remember the restrictions placed on print publications and ask yourself: if this website was a monthly publication would this content make the final cut? Are we adding this because we should, we can, or we want to? In other words, does it offer value for readers?

Lead A Horse To Water (And All That…)

Print content can’t be pushy. If it were, the reader wouldn’t read it. We need to take the same approach to digital, by letting the user enjoy and understand the content before encouraging them to act on it. Most digital content has the shared end game of encouraging sharing or purchase, and yes, UX can design a page to make that happen.

But if the content overwhelms a user, they won’t hang around, and if a piece of digital content is shared, it’s often for the user’s personal gain. Sorry website, you’re just a pawn in the game of social identity.

Tell A Story

It’s clear in print that building a narrative is vital, from choosing the ‘right’ cover star, to the order of articles, and where best to place the adverts. The same approach can be used for digital:

  • Ordering the pages — tell a story, provide the right content at the right time.
  • Each piece of content should build the experience — you need to know when to give the highs and the lows.
  • Match written content with visuals — carefully selected photos or graphics can influence the mood of the reader and ultimately affect the general reception of your written content.
  • In digital, clients love the related articles feature — it’s a popular attempt to keep a user on the site. But maybe we should can take a lesson from print: add a little more intelligent data, other than tagging, to offer content that truly is related and helps to give a more engaging experience.

Allies Not Enemies

If the study by the US Post Office is to be believed, then print and digital content are allies not enemies. It is important to remember that concise and considered physical content that feels significant often leads to stronger digital interaction and engagement. I don’t know about you, but a successful print campaign often has me reaching for my laptop to purchase products online and this is something we definitely want to replicate in digital marketing.