UX design in print media: designing with the user in mind

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Due to the increasing popularity of usability design and user experience design articles that focus on the internet and web design, you might not be aware that user experience design has been around a lot longer than the internet has. This article will discuss the effects that user-experience design has specifically in print design.

It is my firm belief that user-experience design is important in any design setting and your future success in the design industry depends on how well you can design an experience.

What is user-experience design?

If you haven’t heard this term before, you are likely not paying attention to the design community. Design is not just about making things look pretty anymore (I would argue that design never was simply about making things pretty). If you haven’t read up on the plethora of user-experience design related articles out there provide by sites like UXbooth.com, you are still at a mediocre stage in your design career. You will not be a great designer until you fully understand how viewers and users will interact with your design.

With that said, simply put, User-experience design, or UX design is “design that focuses on all aspects of the user’s interaction with the product: how it is perceived, learned, and used.” [source]

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User-experience design on the internet

Also known as web usability the study and art of perfecting UX design on the internet is constantly evolving. Studies are constantly done to assess how people interact on the web–both with each other and with other content, and how to make accessing information easier for the end consumer.

Recently, Smashing magazine redesigned their web site and asked for critiques on the design. Smashing Magazine Realigned, an article featured on A way back, uses basic principles of web usability or UX design to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the site redesign.

If you would like to learn more about the basic principles of web usability I would suggest reading “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability”

, by Steve Krug. It will change the way you look at web design and make you a far better experience designer over all.

User-experience design in print media

User experience design on the internet is usually measured by standard systems found in site analytic tools. Such measurements include

  • bounce rate
  • click-through rate
  • daily, weekly & monthly visitors
  • time on site, or
  • pages per view.

But what about in other forms of media where such specific tracking of user activity might not be so readily available? How users interact with things like a magazine advertisement, a billboard, a flyer, or a brochure are also considered user experiences.

So what are some things that affect user experience in print media? How about hierarchy, consistency and legibility to name a few? Let’s examine these a little closer:

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1. Hierarchy in print

Hierarchy in print design is the way we organize information on a page. I love the way webstyleguide.com puts it: “The primary task of graphic design is to create a strong, consistent visual hierarchy in which important elements are emphasized and content is organized logically and predictably.” In other words, the purpose of hierarchy is to make it easy for a reader to USE the printed material. It’s user experience design.

I recently attended a seminar given by Cameron Moll, web designer, author, speaker, and board member of HOW board of advisors. He focused heavily on the importance of hierarchy in design and how it effects the way a user processes information. While Cameron spoke mostly of web design, I would like to emphasize how this applies in print design as well.

Consider this first advertisement I grabbed from a previous post on Millo called “25 Inspiring and Creative Print Ads“. This advertisement utilizes the principle of hierarchy fantastically.

Notice how eye-catching this advertisement is. Due to the extreme contrast in hue and proportion, chances are you have already read the ad and learned what it is about.

Let’s examine why the hierarchy in this ad is so effective.

A simple way to test the effectiveness of the hierarchy in your design is to blur the document and desaturate the colors. This will help you understand how effective the designer of this advertisement helps the user or viewer read and understand the most important details of the piece. Notice how your eye moves from one element to the next–in the order the designer intended. This is great hierarchy.

2. Consistency in print design

What do I mean by consistency? Let’s go back to your first day of Graphic Design 101. Remember when your professor taught you about alignment, repetition and proximity? Remember when he vowed to kill you if you ever used more than two typefaces in a single design piece? The real principle of design he was trying to emphasize was consistency.

Consider the consistency in these infamous iPod advertisements. The similarities across the entire campaign enable the user to better understand and connect the message the designer is trying to send.

3. Legibility in print design

Last, but certainly not least, let’s take a look at the importance of legibility when it comes to usability in print design.

On the internet, when we speak of usability, we have to consider things like clicking, navigating, scrolling, etc. When we speak in terms of usability in print design, we have to consider how easily the information being presented can be accessed–in this case, usually read.

Frankly, if a user can’t read your content, then what is the point? People are getting tired of reading; they skim passages of text and pick out the most important pieces of information. It is important that all information that the user must receive is easily readable and accessible.

To wrap it all up

So what’s the point? The fact of the matter is, most people think web usability when they hear the words usability design. The truth is, usability design comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Consider product packaging, environmental design, and more. Each one of these design practices include the art of user experience design.

If you aren’t designing with the user, viewer, or reader in mind, it’s time to change!

What other thoughts or tips can you share with us about usability design on or off the internet?

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  1. This article was the first result on a “user experience print” Google query. Thanks! I’m looking for more books or articles that address this concept. I want to learn more about the topic (which I’ve been interested in since high school yearbook club!) so that I can apply these ideas to my work products (and advance!). I am trying to position myself as my workplace’s publication manager, but I need the vocabulary to articulate my choices and expertise, and I’ve never found good sources specific to printed media. Thanks!

  2. Link popularity is very important if you want your website to rank high in any search engine.:~,

  3. Great article! I actually had a ‘web person’ tell me there was no such thing as usability in print design. He didn’t understand that all designers, from print to the web, have to think of such things like hierarchy, consistency, and legibility.

  4. Great article and a nice refresher for designers of all media.

    Having worked in branding for some time now, I agree with Matthew’s point on branding. It has got to the stage where we have forgotten that the key to succesful branding and communication is not just consistency but simplicity.

    I think we are all guilty of trying too hard to make a brand work, on the premise that the brand will as hard as the designers themselves.

    I always try to remind myself that less is often more. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) was probably the best lesson I ever had in my professional career.

    Keep it up!

  5. Muito bom artigo! Apresentou importantes idéias de uma forma simples com exemplos bem escolhidos.

  6. I appreciate the points here about UX applying to print here. Don Norman, who originated the term, intended UX (for Apple) to apply to the complete end-to-end experience, not just one media or another. So perhaps the real message here is (or should be) not that UX isn’t exclusive to web, but that multiple media designed for a unified experience will yield great UX/branding gains. Greater than “usability design” (whatever that is).

    And “web usability or UX design”? Let’s please, please not confuse them. Experience design, sure, but with “user” prefixed we’re squarely in the human-computer interaction (HCI) world.

  7. User experience design has been around forever – almost. Its just a new term to describe specifically what digital media designers are doing. Graphic designers have always been doing it. Industrial designers have always been doing it. Architects have always been doing it. At least the good ones have. Still, its good to point this out to those who might not realize that designing the user experience is not new and its not just the realm of designing for digital media.

  8. Good article. Organizing information is crucial both in web print.
    One thing that regarding the “Hierarchy in print” sample poster, it will be (1) the main text, (2) the picture of the book, and (3) the sub text. The picture with the chunk of black is stronger than the text at the bottom left. If you want to emphasize the sub-title, the text has to be bolder or slightly bigger. It will be the designer’s intention, though.

  9. Hi, it’s a nice small and effective article.
    You or Some one can write more elaborate in print media.
    That will help others to learn more.

    In the net, I found most of the articles related to web only.
    In that point, this article is unique.

  10. Great idea for an article. I completely agree and I love the hierarchy book illustration.

    One thing about consistency I think you missed, though. I think that delves into the realm of branding. However, I do think branding can play a role in the emotions a user feels towards something.

    Thanks for mentioning UX Booth and tweeting us the article!

    1. Matthew, That’s a great addition to the article. Branding definitely plays a huge role in consistency in any design, be it web, print, or otherwise.

      Thanks for sharing.

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