What you need to know moving from print to digital design

There’s been a predictable shift in popularity of design from print to digital over the last 10 years; somewhat unwelcome for those working predominantly in print. But there is no need to worry, print design people, for the transition from print to digital is relatively smooth. There are, however, some key notes you will want to take in order to make said transition.

Digital refers to non-physical media including websites or apps. Designing for digital isn’t that dissimilar to designing for print – in fact a lot of your existing print skills will come in handy when designing for screens. There are some important differences however, so here’s what you need to know for anyone making the transition from print to digital:

Layout
The first thing you need to know when designing for digital is how much more fluid your work is when viewed. While a poster or a newspaper – once printed – won’t be altered in appearance, a website will be displayed differently for computers, phones, tablets or different browsers. Users even have the access to adjust how they perceive the design by zooming in/out or adjusting browser settings. This means the imagery you use must be flexible for small and large resizing. Generally, if a user is adjusting their settings too much, you probably don’t have a very friendly user interface.

But it’s not the end of the world if something is incorrect (although I wouldn’t recommend it). Websites are always updating and changing, so you can continue to make improvements right up to delivery.

Media
Now that you’re digital there are significantly more media options available for you to use to complement the design. You’re no longer restricted to pictures and words – digital media has the advantage of being able to access both audio and visual media such as videos, podcasts, music, animations etc

While this freedom might make it tempting to fill your design with different types of media, as always it’s important to only use media that actually complements the design. Use your designer expertise and only use content that helps your purpose.

Collaboration
If you’ve been working in print recently you might be used to working solo. Working with others in digital design is essential. You can’t just design any old thing, you need to consider the web developers who will build your design. This sounds like another wall to break through to get your work out there, but they will actually help you develop as a designer. As Paul (creative director or something) likes to say, “We design the look and feel of the car, they make it move.”

User Experience
It’s easier to predict how users will absorb the information in print because the designer tends to control how users do so, and that’s largely the point of print design. Digital design has a slightly different attitude towards users in that it’s about creating an experience for the user. In digital design, users are there to engage in an interactive experience provided for them by the designer, and this should be a priority for you as much as the design itself.

Visual Design
There are several visual elements you need to be aware of. First of all, the typography available in digital design is restrictive compared to print. Things are significantly better now, but there are still limits to what kind of font editing you can do for digital.

Then there’s colour. If you’re a designer for print you’ll already know CYMK (Cyan, Yellow, Magenta and Black) and RGB (Red Green and Blue) and you’ll be used to using CYMK. This is because CYMK colours work subtractively, whereas RGB colours are additive. You can find a more detailed explanation here, but it’s important you know that you’re working in RGB if you’re in digital!

Much of what you learn from design comes from experience and takes times to properly digest. When coming into a digital design job collaboration is essential. Be amicable towards others and complement each other’s work flow. There’s always something to learn in digital design because the industry is constantly changing and won’t slow down for you. As they say; ‘This train’s moving. You’re gonna have to jump on.’