We’re in the middle of a shift in the way we do business in higher ed marketing. People are coming to the realization that the Web has reached parity with print (if not toppling it altogether) as the focus of energy in the marketing department. And, as the Web becomes more central in higher ed marketing, a proverbial question naturally arises, “Which comes first, the print campaign or the Web site?”
Advocates from both sides make their case. Print has always held the prior claim, but the Web is clearly the number-one communication medium. A “print vs. Web” discussion then quickly ensues. But it ends in a kind of stalemate. It clearly won’t due to have a print campaign turned into a Web site. We’ve all seen that this just doesn’t translate well and we don’t need more links to PDFs. But building a campaign off of a Web design doesn’t solve the problem either. Good Web sites are typically minimalistic in their designs and lean more toward information. So what do we do with these two tribes? Who should prevail?
I tend to think that the “print vs. Web” discussion involves a false dichotomy, which is largely why the “either-or” answer is so dissatisfying. We’re asking the wrong question. The question is not “Which comes first, print or Web?” Because we know that neither of these comes first. What comes first is design. Print and Web are merely platforms for design. It just so happens that the print platform came before the Web platform and now our time is becoming more equally divided between the two (although some could argue that we should be spending more time on the Web and becoming more Webcentric).
As I see it, this is the coming of the end of the print designer as we know it and, perhaps, the Web designer, as well (I’ll explain what I mean by that in a second). Print designers will begin to learn more about how to apply their designs to the Web, and a clearer distinction will be made between a Web designer (one who graphically designs Web sites) and a Web developer (one who programs the functionality of the Web site ). In other words, the titles “print designer” and “Web designer” will disappear. I already see this beginning to happen in my department (although you can’t tell that yet because we’re just beginning the process of redesigning our site). Those typically considered “print designers” are learning Flash and HTML. They have a desire to apply their design to the Web platform. I believe this is a natural evolution and that the sooner we recognize it, the sooner we can adapt and get on to asking different questions. And the sooner we can make it OK for true Web developers to hold positions in the marketing department and not have to refer to them as Web designers.
To summarize, print and Web should not be seen as competing with each other. The essence of both is design. In the future, we will only hire designers who can work on both platforms. And it will be more common to see Web developers moving out of IT and into the marketing department, not as Web designers, but as those who oversee functionality.