Archives for posts with tag: print

It’s difficult for me to believe that we just finished week 6 at RIT. This has been the most intense quarter yet. In part that’s because it’s my last. Teaching one class for only the second time has contributed as well. But most of that time has been taken up trying to come up with ways to bring sustainable change to the School of Print.

Coming up with ideas has not been hard. It’s the doing and nurturing parts that take all the time.

One effort we’ve undertaken is to start a blog for the School. SPMEtcetera soft-launched earlier in the quarter. Our hope is to create a destination where the industry, alumni, and prospective and current students can discover all the neat things that are going on at SPM. The great part, from a sustainability perspective, is that all the writing is being done by student employees. We’ll make an official announcement about the blog later this week.

The other big project is the Open Publishing Lab. There will be a lot more about that soon. The good news is that over two years of planning will (hopefully) be coming to fruition in less than 14 days. We just need our teams to make it to May 3 and the innovation festival and then we’ll have a lot to talk about and show.

I just wrapped a three hour workshop on Variable Data Printing for the International Graphic Arts Education Association (IGAEA)’s 2007 National Conference currently being held at RIT. It’s a teach the teacher type event. I spent most of the weekend preparing my material, and, of course, once I got on the ground, I scrapped about half of it.

Variable Data Prints are print products that are customized by pulling information out of a database. The primary use is direct advertisements (what some folks outside the biz commonly refer to as junk mail). The workshop, based on the class I’ve been teaching for the last year or so, presented a method for introducing students to the marketing, technology, and visual aspects of creating VDP.

Or at least that was the plan. As usual, once you begin to execute things change. The lecture part stayed mainly the same. But I changed the exercises pretty significantly. Things definitely need to be more “tactical.” Next time I’ll use more step-by-step hand outs. I think I avoided them because I wasn’t sure if they would limit the need to have an instructor – the concern of going too far down the path of a self taught workshop.

One of the committees that I’m currently serving on has been charged with coming up with an end of year event display event for School of Print Students. This type of event, in theme, if not form, is pretty common across the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. For example, each year all the students and faculty members in the film department gather together and watch every student’s final project. Likewise most of the other arts have gallery exhibitions or studio walk throughs.

All of the above focus on an end product. But what is the end product of print? It’s easy to focus on the created artifact. But that often is reduced to concerns about the item’s graphic design. That focus is completely inappropriate for printing students – if for no other reasons that they are not training to be graphic designers. Arguably, the final products could be evaluated on choice of media and production aspects, but many of these factors are controlled by the assignments.

Frank Cost noted these problems with judging print production at the beginning of the chapter “The value of print” in his book The New Medium of Print (Cost, The New Medium of Print, 2005: pp95-7).  Cost reminds us that most printing industry awards are based on the quality of the final project rather than intangibles such as “was the job delivered on time? Was the customer please with the service? Did the product deliver the anticipated value to the customer?” (Cost: p95).

Cost goes on to suggest that while print quality is important, it’s also assumed. Thus, companies differentiate themselves on those other vectors. Likewise, our students are judged on far more vectors than simply “did the job print” and “is it pretty?” The challenge that we face is choosing a method of display that brings those intangibles to light.

The benefit, pedagogically, is that finding a method to display the intangibles serves to make the students more aware of their existence – that, as Martha says, “is a good thing.” The question is, what method is best?

Grading is done. And so far I’ve only had a handful of students complain. So that’s a good thing. The weather, however, is atrocious — hot and sticky — and my office has no air conditioning. So research is progressing slowly. Today was spent tying up some loose ends and compiling my "academic" summer to-do list (which I share with you now — in no particular order):

  • Finishing revising thesis for publication
  • Finish Google Print & Scholar article for Conduit
  • New Media curriculum review
  • Faust research
  • Translation proposal
  • Learn Xienet
  • CSS/XML conversion work
  • Website redesign

I wish I could say more about a bunch of things, but I can’t… at least until I can.

A note before proceeding: this post may read as a bit of a “duh” to some folks. To others it may seem like the height of naval gazing. These relationships have been bouncing around in my head for about a week and I needed to get them out in order to sort these concepts out and begin making them my own. Like any good spark of an idea, this needs to be taken as a beginning and not a definitive standpoint. As with all models, there are holes in this one. My overall goal was to create a jumping off point for future discussions about what it is that we’re doing here at RIT and where we are going.

Last week, after my interviews at RIT, Frank Cost and I sat discussing the School of Print Media (SPM) and its relation to the field of communications. In particular we were trying to situate our position in the ever expanding world of technologically mediated communications. We both agreed that we weren’t simply in the business of facilitating communication, as that’s too broad a category. Nor are we in the business of Publishing, which has specific industry and process implications beyond the (re)production[1] of a text. So, from an academic perspective, what exactly are we specializing in here at SPM?

The field of Computer Mediated Communications divides interactions into two categories: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous communications are those in which all individuals are “present” at the time of interaction. The most common example is the proverbial face-to-face conversation. The notion of “present” refers to a temporal and interaction collocation rather than a geographical one. Telephones, live-chat, and video teleconferences are all examples of technologically mediated synchronous conversations. The key thing is that wherever the participants are, they are communicating in real time.

In asynchronous communications, on the other hand, the participants are not temporally co-located. This blog is an example of an asynchronous communication. I’m typing this at ten minutes to noon on Monday April 24, 2006. Who knows when you’ll read this. It might be later today (Monday April 24, 2006). It might be later this week. Or you might have found this through a Google search a year or two after I posted it. The key thing is that you are not looking over my shoulders as I’m typing this – though, speaking as the author, it often feels like you are.

In order to work, all asynchronous communications must produce artifacts[2] (or artefacts if you’re using the Brit spelling) – “Anything made by human art and workmanship; an artificial product.” (artefact, n. and a., 1989) Without an artifact, be it this blog entry or the post-it note left on someone’s computer screen, the communication cannot take place. Note that the artifact does not need to be long-lived or physical. As already mentioned, a blog can function as an artifact, and that post-it note isn’t intended to hang on that screen forever.

Asynchronous communications can be seen as having (at least) two phases – production and dissemination. I’m currently producing this entry, undertaking the action of translating ideas in my head to a static form within a word document. That’s just half of the process. When I press <crlt – s> for the last time and save this in its final form, the artifact is finished. But, from a communicative sense, it’s latent – unshared. It doesn’t have value until it’s disseminated – published to the web. And even then it isn’t truly a communication until someone reads it – thank you for completing the process.

Acts of dissemination are not created – or are intended to be – equal. The vast majority of artifacts that we create and distribute are not intended for mass consumption. E-mail, and letters before them, are by and large considered to be private communications, disseminated to select individuals. On the other hand, my blog and the books on my office shelves are written for larger audiences. Hence we have terms like “mass media” to denote channels of communication with access to large number of people. I think the prefix “macro” might work better than mass for what I’m getting at. Thus we can differentiate between a micro-dissemination and a macro-dissemination. What is useful about “marco” is that it denotes both large scale and “the existence of smaller individuals”

Relating this back to the conversation I had with Cost, the School of Print Media needs to be concerned with the (re)production and macro-dissemination of artifacts (forms of asynchronous communication). This (re)production and macro-dissemination can take place across multiple technologically-mediated mediums – paper, web, and portable media devices.

There are two key ideas here: (re)production and macro-dissemination. Digital media often blurs the line between the production and reproduction of an artifact. For example, take this blog: there is no reproduction of this entry, at least not in a physical sense. In the background my words are tagged and entered into a database. When the entry is called, my words are retrieved, and then have design styles applied against them in order to render a finished page. But, ignoring RSS feeds for the moment, no additional copies of my words are created. Yet those words can still be, and are, fact, macro-disseminated. Thus we cannot only be interested in the reproduction of artifacts.

Macro-dissemination is used to differentiate us from visual artists whose job is also to produce and disseminate artifacts. The differences between their work and ours is a matter of scale (and perhaps reproduction). In order to be financially and culturally successful, an artist must not only produce work but also to get it disseminated (installed in galleries, patron’s residences, or other exhibition locals). At some point, that act of dissemination may include reproducing those artifacts in a macro-dissemination medium, such as print. In doing so, those existing artifacts are used to create new artifacts (note that artifacts often beget other artifacts) and at that point printers often come into play.

What I also like about macro- is that it doesn’t contain some of the cultural baggage of “mass.” In particular, mass contains the notion of uniformity – mass production. We don’t think of mass communications as particularly personal. One of the most talked about areas of print, on the other hand, is Variable Data Print. Facilitated by digital technology, we can create jobs where each artifact is customized (personalized) for a different recipient. The end result is a macrodissemination of individualized communications (hence the value of macro’s acknowledgement of “smaller individuals”).


artefact, n. and a. Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 1989. cited March 28, 2006: available from

macro-, comb. form. Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 1989. cited March 28, 2006: available from

[1] The approach of using the “(prefix)word” construct is liberally appropriated from the writings of Michael Silverstein, University of Chicago

[2] These records are often referred to as “texts.” My only issue with using this designation is that its easy to conflate the idea of a text with type. Thus, for some, in order to be a text a document must contain type and some form of written structure. Semoticians are quick to remind that any form of written language is, at its core, stable images and that images are also texts. For my part, I think that using artifact sidesteps some of these debates.