Print designers and the web

Paul Boag

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.

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.