Friday, 10:23am
14 December 2012

Printer wonderland

‘A Printer’s Tale’, in London next Monday evening, looks at new ways in which the worlds of physical and digital can be plugged together

We’ve known for some time that, despite the unerring rise of digital technologies, print is far from dead, write John Ridpath and Cath Richardson.

In fact, the supposedly ‘new’ world of digital has brought new life to the ‘old’ world of print – while physical and analogue materials still figure heavily in the conception of digital products. Perhaps the most tangible interface between these digital and physical worlds is the humble printer.

CodeCards, a physical tool for learning digital coding. 

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At Decoded (John) and ezeep (Cath), we work at the intersection of print and digital. Decoded have been developing CodeCards – a (literal) platform that encourages people to learn to code by playing with pieces of printed card on a glass-topped table. Ezeep is a new startup whose mission is to make it easy for anyone to print anywhere, from any device. We have partnered to host ‘A Printer’s Tale’,  an event that will see us and other 21st Century printers discuss what the future of printing looks like.

Cally Gatehouse’s littledraw game printing from the BERG Little Printer.

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Alice Bartlett will talk about Berg’s Little Printer, and what other people have made using its API (Application Programming Interface). Cally Gatehouse is among the creators of littledraw: a drawing game for children of all ages using Little Printer. She will explain how and why paper is a great medium for interaction design.

Emma Munro Smith will talk about creating a children’s magazine in the UK (for Moshi Monsters) at a time when magazine sales are falling. And Tom Taylor will discuss the ways that Newspaper Club combines the Web with newsprint. We interviewed Taylor, below.

Newspaper Club publications on press.

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John Ridpath and Cath Richardson: People used to predict that print would become obsolete, but we’re seeing new services emerge around printing – why is that?

Tom Taylor: The problem with print is usually not the printing or the paper, but that it’s often attached to business models that the internet has broken.

We believe that the Web is too good to be left behind glowing screens, and once you realise that it’s OK to plug print and the Web together, there’s lots of things to be made, both fun and useful.

I think there’s also an element of British contrariness – a desire to build a future that’s more Thunderbirds than Star Trek. More ‘Tracy Island’ than the Holodeck.

JR&CR: What was the need you wanted to address when you set up Newspaper Club. Were you surprised by the response?

TT: We’ve always believed that if everyone is running in one direction, then it pays to take a closer look in the other direction. The story told around newspapers seemed to be so full of doom and gloom that it seemed to be worth digging into.

They’re fun to make, quick to print, and it’s OK to leave them on the bus. We knew if we gave people some simple, accessible tools then they’d make some interesting stuff, but we honestly didn’t know quite how inventive and creative people would be.

The most obvious thing we missed was wedding newspapers – of course! Some people have made them as the invitations, some left them on the pews before the service, and some sent them out after the day, full of photos and thanks. But we had completely missed it until the first order. (We just printed a marriage proposal. I'll leave a comment when I know how it went.)

For a flavour of all the other brilliant papers, I’d recommend a browse through the Newsagent on our site, or take a look at our blog.

Now we’re starting to upgrade the tools, with our a brand new version of ARTHR, our online layout software, launching in the new year. It’s designed for people who don’t want to deal with the complexity of InDesign or Quark, and I can’t wait to see what people make with it.

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JR&CR: How has digital technology made it possible to do what you do?

TT: It’s difficult to know where to start! We simply wouldn’t be in business. I don’t think any of us would even have met.

We’re a thoroughly digital business, but we’re always trying to balance that with the heritage and history of printing and publishing, and the realities of dealing with hefty metal printing machines all day long.

And anyway, to misquote a friend (Joe Malia at Berg): ‘the physical-digital dichotomy is as false as that of mind and body’. We always try to bear that in mind.

Cath Richardson is Product Manager at ezeep.
John Ridpath is Product Director at Decoded.

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Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue. You can see what Eye 84 looks like at Eye before You Buy on Vimeo.

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