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The Power of Print
Design

The Power of Print

If knowledge is power, as the saying goes, then printing is one of the most powerful inventions in human history.
By RICOH x THE BEAUTIFUL TRUTH
18th Mar 2022

In 1620, Francis Bacon recorded the three things that he believed to be turning points: “These have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world: printing, gunpowder, and the mariner’s needle.” 

For millennia, crafts like science, writing and philosophy were commonly solitary pursuits, with the possibility of collective knowledge severed by time, borders and language. But in 1436, with Johannes Gutenberg’s advent of the modern printing press, Europe was propelled out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance: an era of enlightenment, scientific revolution and democratisation of knowledge. 

By the 16th century, printing presses in Europe were producing between 150 and 200 million copies of work and dramatically changing the social, intellectual and political landscape. Suddenly, ideas could transcend borders and time. 

Everything changed. Groundbreaking texts, like the Origin of Species (1859), could be mass distributed, accredited to a specific writer and have widespread influence, while classical texts like Plato’s Republic could be reprinted and read by the masses.

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The power of print was felt across the breadth of society as it catalysed the era of mass communication and permanently altered the structure of society. More recently, print has been instrumental across society, from wartime efforts in 1945, like Dig For Victory leaflets, to proving to be more persuasive and emotive than digital media in academic and business environments. 

From the thread of a single idea, printing grew to become one of the most powerful technologies in history. And its story isn’t over yet.

The Value of the Physical

For hundreds of years the main way to get an idea out has been through print. Books, pamphlets, posters and magazines have played a crucial role in helping to win elections, slow emissions and even save lives. 

Part of the power of print is the emotional connection people have to the physical. Think about holding a thank-you note from a colleague, printed concert tickets, or a printed report that was months in the making. The physicality of these things give life to the meaning and memories behind them. 

Simon Isaacs, National Sales Director at Ricoh, recognises the wealth of intangible value that print medium can bring to the world: “Printers are already winning with imagination, creativity, innovation and an enterprising spirit.”

From the thread of a single idea, printing grew to become one of the most powerful technologies in history. And its story isn’t over yet.

Research confirms that paper elicits more emotions than digital mediums conveying the same information. A joint study from Temple University and the United States Postal Service measured subjects’ heart rates, sweat, movement, and breathing while reading to determine their emotional responses. Not only did paper documents elicit a more substantial emotional response, but readers also remembered more clearly what they read.

In another study where participants were asked to remember the brand of an advert they had just seen, individuals shown a print advert had 70% higher recall than those shown a digital advert. Paper advertising has also been found to activate the ventral striatum area of the brain more than digital media, an area associated with valuation and desire – in short, linked to our desire to buy. 

Another study scanned participants’ brains while they viewed material on print and digital mediums. They found higher levels of brain activity when individuals were looking at the physical media. A study conducted at Dartmouth found that printed mediums helped participants understand the why of a story or process better than when they viewed it through digital media.

“Printers are already winning with imagination, creativity, innovation and an enterprising spirit.”

Simon Isaacs, National Sales Director at Ricoh

Print leaves a deeper footprint on the brain, and helps us to truly comprehend and connect with information, rather than merely repeating it. 

David Sax, author of The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, believes in the power of physical mediums to affect our senses and emotions on a deeper level: “We seem to forget that we gauge the world with all of our senses — with sight, with smell, with touch, with sound.”

Rory Sutherland, vice chairman of Ogilvy UK, is a passionate believer in the power of print to convey a brand’s commitment and faith in their message or product: “When an ad reaches you digitally, the cost to the advertiser could be a fraction of a penny, so it doesn’t say much about their faith in their product.” 

The average person has over 1,600 unread emails. “I’m willing to guarantee that not many people have ever thrown away a FedEx envelope unopened,” Rory says. “The human brain has evolved to see costly communication as sincere communication. You can communicate your sincerity and trustworthiness in a tangible, visibly expensive medium with far more power.” 

In short, printed materials elicit a greater emotional reaction, lead to better and deeper understanding of the content, and communicate their value to all of the physical senses.

Less is More

Despite this, it’s no secret that the print industry is challenged by ever-growing digital industries. “We must all face it: the industry is changing,” says Simon Isaacs.

However, far from rendering print obsolete, the shift in the market is giving rise to higher quality, greater value and more impact when it comes to how print can fit into an increasingly digital world. Simon is excited about the future of print: “The industry looks and sounds very different. Instead of outputs, this new print sector is motivated by valuable outcomes.”

“It is no longer just about price, or ‘selling boxes.’ We can assist print businesses to make a digital transformation because we have already undertaken one ourselves. We can help them to innovate because it’s what we do each and every day.”

Far from rendering print obsolete, the shift in the market is giving rise to higher quality, greater value and more impact when it comes to how print can fit into an increasingly digital world.

The UK print remains a £14 billion industry with over 80,000 people employed. Unit sales of books rose 8.9% in 2021 compared to 2020, and 44.3 million people read monthly magazines in the same year. Jim Bilton, Managing Director at Wessenden Marketing commented that “print product is becoming lower frequency, lower volume, higher-priced and – usually – better quality in terms of pages and paper.” 

Access to ideas has never been easier. Every day 500 million tweets are sent and 264 billion emails land in an inbox. Today ideas can spread faster than ever before, and with greater diversity and volume of voices clamouring for attention. 

As an increase in screen fatigue begins to impact digital marketing revenues, especially during the pandemic, print offers the perfect balm for the moments that the digital realm becomes overwhelming. Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, says people are increasingly turning to print for specific moments or ideas that they want to communicate: “There’s a certain type of audience that prefers engaging with content in print.”

Often, less is more. And print has the power to deliver on impact when it’s needed.

This piece appears in The Beautiful Truth magazine Issue 01, available for pre-sale here.