Print designers and the web

I often find myself working along side traditional marketing agencies when developing websites. However, today is the first time that I have seen a client’s website suffer because of it.

I like to think Headscape are a talented bunch. Certainly based on the feedback from our clients we do a reasonable job. However, for the first time ever we have come across a client who we seem incapable of pleasing.

Currently we are working on a project where we have produced three separate designs for the client. We have gone through endless iterations and have really tried to take onboard their comments. I can honestly say that the design work we have produced for them is some of the best we have done. However, despite all of that we have failed. We have failed to find something the client likes.

Although we still have a good working relationship with the client, they have decided to get their marketing agency to do the design work for the site. Today I got my first look at what they have produced and frankly, my heart sank.

Print designers failings

Okay, we all know that design is subjective. Just because I visually don’t like the design a lot, doesn’t mean it is actually bad. However, it does suffer from some of the classic problems associated with a print agency producing screen based design. Here are a few of the issues I have spotted:


One of the most common mistakes made by print agencies working on web design is that they take no account of screen resolution. The design proposed by this agency would involve sideward scrolling at 800 by 600. Not a problem you face with a nice printed brochure!

Colour palette

Colours that work well in print just don’t always work on screen. Reading online is bad enough anyway without choosing colours that buzz or just break up at low resolutions.


Accessibility isn’t something that is often considered in print material but is vitally important on the web. Forms without submit buttons, designs that can only be built with JavaScript and form fields that don’t look like form fields are just a few of the mistakes often made by print designers.

Technological constraints

Print designers just don’t have a grasp of the technological constraints on the web. The limited number of fonts, the layout restrictions of content management systems, the quirks of different browsers (in rendering HTML & CSS), the list could go on. Understanding your medium is vital to creating a successful design.


Probably the biggest failing of print designers who work on websites is their failure to understand how users interact with websites. Print designers often just try and replicate a brochure online. They don’t take into account that users don’t like to read big blocks of text, or hate to scroll. They don’t grasp that web users skim read pages trying to quickly find key content. The result is that you see designs that use multiple columns of text with little to break it up into blocks.

For me using columns of text, such as you would find in a printed publication, is the ultimate print designer’s failing. Not only is it hard to scan but also involves constant scrolling up and down the page.

Our failings

I would love to be able to post the design here and allow you to compare it to the ones we produced but that would be unfair on the client. The problem is that the client is more used to offline printed material than the web and so they are heavily influenced by what the print agency produces. That’s not the clients fault, that is a failing on our part to educate the client about the realities of web design.

So what about you? Have you come across similar problems? Are their other common mistakes I have missed? Add your comments.

  • Adam H

    This is definitly one of the most difficult situaions to be faced with. I actually work with both print and web and I seem to go in phases. A month of print designs and then two of the web.
    Although I feel that design (graphic, web, multimedia) is one of the most rewarding and powerful careers to be inolved in I have also realized that it is one of the most difficult industries because of some of the intangible values that clients just dont see many times.
    I have found that a successful designer can work in just about any industry in the world. All types of businesses and organizations need some form of design, butmany just dont see the value.
    They are compelled by personal taste in many cases rather than allowing a professional to do their job and show them the value of unlocking the hidden and powerful layers of design. It takes more than the mouse clicks and keystrokes to execute a successful design.
    If an architect were to drum up a beautiful home in a software program with blue prints and all, but never have the forethought or experience to know how it would function in the real world what would the consequces be?
    Web design has its own set of consequences that are just not always understood outside of the design community.

  • Mark

    I also have had to implement designs designed by print agencies with no concept of the web. As with all things it comes down to a simple matter of money – if that’s what the client wants, that’s what the client gets. It’s just incredibly annoying when they won’t take expert professional advice!

  • Carl Grint

    I do sometimes think the fact that Web work is seen by some as almost a hobby technology, that Designers can feel its just select an ‘Output to web’ button in their favourite design package.
    Which lets be honest, for a basic web page, this is true, even Photoshop will output your design in HTML, but I think this can led to the core requirements, as you have mentioned, being overlooked.
    There is obviously a major difference between Web Design and Development, and many Designers given a copy of Dreamweaver can generate some nice looking sites, but they miss what is going underneath.
    As you mentioned, web is a fluid layout, you never know the dimensions a visitor will view your site at, making it just one size means that for many they either have left to right scrolling, or the design has lots of white space to the sides.
    I do sometimes think myself it would be nice to have worked in Print Design, to know when I put something together, how I viewed it, was how it would look to everyone else.
    For web work, that is never the case, so many different browsers, let alone those using PDA/Phones/Kiosks etc to view sites, all with their own little differences, which can cause the site to change.
    Maybe that is the pleasure we have, the challenge makes it more interesting, but I do know, there are days, and I know I am not alone, when the thought of a fixed version of my layout is very tempting, and I envy those Print designers.

  • John

    Hi Paul
    Don’t worry. you’re not the only one.
    One client had a print designer create the site and insisted that it be (a) square and (b) non-scrolling, resulting in everything being the size of a fingernail (it was a photographer’s site too). I suggested that the site be changed to an rectangle format, but the designer dug his heals in, so they got what they wanted. [sigh]
    Sometimes you just have to do your best to explain ten times, then give them what they want and take their money.

  • The most fervent students make the best teachers. It’s our love of our craft that will help us deal with difficult clients like this while maintaining a positive attitude and a professional manner.
    Some people are not going to get it regardless of your efforts. You just have to let some of these people go. If they want to stay plugged into the Matrix, then so be it. We can’t save them all. When they are ready to wake up they will, and not before.
    Keep the faith Paul. Good work!

  • I’ve come across a client who had a design ready for coding using 3 columns, newspaper style. So the text would go from the bottom of one column to the top of the next.
    I laughed heartily.

  • “I’ve come across a client who had a design ready for coding using 3 columns, newspaper style. So the text would go from the bottom of one column to the top of the next.
    I laughed heartily.”
    Don’t laugh .. some people do it!

  • I totally sympathize. I’m a 3rd year graphic design student in Chicago, and nobody has yet taught us about designing for the web. It’s amazing how technically retarded some designers can be…education is a powerful thing. I suggest if you’re a designer, learn some of this stuff!