In a recent blog post, Michael Josefowicz of the Digital Nirvana blog (http://bit.ly/bL71sc) talks about how the new internet landscape changes the role of printers in our world. Mr. Josefowicz observes “What McCluhan attests to is that, when a disruptive technology (such as print in the 15th century, electronic communication today), manifests itself in a way that changes mankind’s sense ratios. Mankind itself is changed forever. When any one sense or bodily or mental function is externalized in technological form, societies change…
“Printing’s number one challenge is to determine where it fits into this new reality.”
I fully agree with Mr. Josefowicz assertion and believe that we can return to McLuhan for the answer: “the medium is the message.”
Over the years, Pitney Bowes’ Advanced Concepts and Technology research group has studied the uses of paper in today’s rapidly moving world. In that research, we recognize “the affordances of paper” such as not requiring technology to retrieve data from it, being an enabling substrate for very inexpensive and portable data displays (which is really what paper is), and allowing for relatively easy annotation. As pointed out by Daniel Goleman and Gregory Norris in their New York Times op-chart piece “How Green Is My iPad?” (http://nyti.ms/bho3NZ), paper is “greener” than eBooks depending on the volume of paper.
We also recognize where paper falls short. It is a static representation of information. It is not independently interactive. Annotations are difficult to capture. It consumes space.
Just as radio was not silenced with the advent of television, paper will not be completely eclipsed by the internet. People seldom sit down and listen to radio like they did before television: for all purposes, radio has become the means to disseminating information and entertainment to people on the go.
So what does paper and printing become? If we are to follow McLuhan and past examples, paper and printing will morph into serving specific information dissemination needs based on its unique properties.
This new direction begs the question “what is a great print user experience?” Specifically, how might a printed document satisfy a user’s needs like no other media can? Paper is rich attributes unlike any other media, attributes that create opportunities for well designed user experiences. Carefully using those attributes in a contextually appropriate manner will better serve paper becoming the message.
One area for creating new print user experiences that has not been fully exploited is the tactual nature of paper. Occasionally we see careful selection of paper for it tactual sensation in some formal correspondence, greeting cards, high end catalogs, and some advertisements. But paper’s tactual sensation is not limited to the substrate. When is the last time you’ve encountered an embossed document other than in a legal setting? With the world slowing moving to 3D, doesn’t it make sense that we should see more pop-up advertisements?
When we talk of making printed documents more interactive, we look back at the limited success in linking print to the internet. Past experiments include Digimarc’s watermark, the CueCat, Xerox’s glyphs, and recently QR codes and Microsoft’s Tag. Perhaps the ubiquity of cellphone cameras will finally allow that form of interactivity take off. In addition, there have been some interesting experiments in augmented reality with paper as the starting point.
I only offer these two as brief examples of the attributes of paper to be exploited. The changing nature of the world and paper’s place in it cries out to innovators.
In support of Mr. Josefowicz, I agree that those the produce printed documents for others, printers, (so as not to confuse the term with the device), need bring value to their customers beyond simply putting ink on paper. I believe that value may principally lie in co-designing, with their customers, incredible new print user experiences.
I’d love to hear from you a print user experience you’ve had that was memorable.