Traditional print and print-centric design organizations (think magazines, newspapers, book publishers) have struggled to balance print- and screen-based consumption of their products. The variables affecting the transition from print to screen are complex from the very start. Economic, advertising-based factors significantly influence the investment that businesses put toward both print- and screen-based initiatives. In October 2010, a study published by the Rochester Institute of Technology Printing Industry Center, Print versus Screen—Presentation Medium-Dependent Picture Consumption, addressed some early findings on screen versus print consumption. The study focused on understanding how college-aged young adults consume and retain information on screen versus print and if there is a preference for either medium. The 2010 study consisted of 3 smaller experiments aimed at “identifying and understanding the differences in how information is consumed from print in paper versus computer display.”
The study contained three separate experiments:
Part I: Viewing preferences, printing behavior, and content-management habits
Part II: Identification of behavioral and cognition-based differences between print and screen consumption
Part III: Study of eye movement while viewing screen versus print content
The study used photo books of images located in Rochester, NY, and on the Rochester Institute of Technology campus that were familiar to the participants. If you extract the findings of the study and apply them to larger visual communications efforts, the following conclusions should be considered as you evaluate work effort and the priority level given to screen and print collateral:
- The 56%/44% split of print versus screen preference indicates that design emphasis should be placed to both mediums equally.
- More frequent eye movement (fixations) for screen viewing compared to print suggests that the traditional design rules that work for print need to be rethought for a new medium.
- Initial studies indicate that the medium does not impact the time spent with the print or screen version, but time spent with screen media is less than print.
- The split or fragmentation of end users’ preferences has and will continue to pose a hurdle for any visual communicator. As these young adults age, their buying power will force visual communicators to align their design priorities, but at the very least, print and screen design should be at the same level.
Applying traditional print rules to screen design and layout is a bit like taking an auto mechanic and expecting his manual dexterity to give him the talent to paint an oil masterpiece. The Adobes and Quarks (whatever may come of it in the future) of the world have an interest in creating an application that lets users create content for both mediums, but just because you can, doesn’t mean it is functional, correct, or usable.
Proceed with caution, but remember the mediums are not the same. The RIT study begins to prove that younger people have preferences that embrace both mediums.
Author: John Carew