Does Digital Spell the End of Traditional Design?

Does Digital Spell the End of Traditional Design?
5 minutes read. March 5th, 2020.

What’s So Great About Physical Design?

Attention spans are shorter than ever. We’re in the age of multitasking, the era of swiping, the time-conscious period of constant preoccupation. This is where the digital world has its benefits: we’re talking time-and-space saving digital solutions typified by their instant accessibility and willingness to fight for even ten seconds of your precious attention.

Let’s look at print design. Spend time engaging with a piece of print and it’ll all come flooding back – the multi-sensory interaction, the tactility, the knowledge that you can keep it forever (the feeling of collectability that comes with owning an item brings a real value element to the experience). A printed item represents a physical design object that has more dimensions to it than digital could ever wish for – both literally and metaphorically.

As vital as digital has been in defining our 21st century lives, we must remember that we consume design, rather than merely seeing and hearing. A book, for instance, triggers our senses of touch and smell (even our hearing – consider the sound of a page turning). Aside from tapping and swiping (mindless actions to which we’ve become robotically accustomed), we live out our day-to-day digital lives on autopilot, forgetting that we actually have hands and noses.

When you design a printed or three-dimensional outcome, you’re faced with a range of options. In the case of paper-based solutions, you can completely transform an outcome based the options available to you (paper quality, thickness, coatings). There’s also a whole host of additional methods available (spot printing, textures, embossing...). That finishing touch is something that digital just can’t compete with.

Evidence of a Resurgence

There are stats to back up the suggestion that traditional outcomes still appeal to the masses. Physical book sales are on the rise, with the Guardian announcing a fourth consecutive year of growth. There’s most definitely a future for print in the digital age.

“Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.” – Stephen Fry

The new chapter of increased book sales is echoed by the resurgence of vinyl, too. Another throwback that shows no sign of going away soon, 2017 spelled a 25 year high for vinyl sales in the UK. Whilst there are a number of reasons behind the record revolution, it just goes to show that digital doesn’t have things all its own way.

Must it be one or the other?

It’s easy to get swept up in debates like this – to take a militant, one-sided approach and pin our colours to the mast in unwavering fashion. But let’s remember, whichever team we’re on, we’re allowed to have a foot in both camps. Which begs the question: can we supplement the physical design experience with something digital?

Back in 2019, we designed a video-box brochure for BAE Systems’ Academy for Skills and Knowledge (ASK), a cutting-edge learning facility in Samlesbury. When we received the final outcome, we were reminded of the value of physical outcomes, of design that demands committed engagement. Then we lifted the lid and enjoyed the promotional video for the ASK facility, which played on the built-in tablet. There was something about this merging of the two, this hybrid design, which justified our belief that you’re allowed to have your cake and eat it.

See how memorable physical design can be by taking a look at our BAE Systems ASK Facility video-box brochure

We’re gradually being introduced to virtual and augmented reality solutions that combine physical and digital worlds. Whether seeing the world through a headset and picking up virtual items with a pair of controllers is your cup of tea or not, it’s still a memorable, multi-sensory experience, evidence that designers out there recognise that our needs transcend mere visuals.


The information age has led to digital design dominating the world, and understandably so. But all the evidence suggests that it shows no sign of conquering traditional design any time soon. They say you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, but all the evidence suggests that print and physical design is here to stay. The digital age is well and truly advancing but the love affair we have for the old ways hasn’t faded.

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Does Digital Spell the End of Traditional Design?

Paul Hough

Creative Director

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