Two brand consultants walked into Drupa. No, it’s not the start of a bad joke…
Last week, myself and a colleague embarked on the world’s largest print exhibition, held in Düsseldorf Germany, to discover what was leading the way and setting the pace in the world of design and print.
As we walked 16 miles across 17 exhibition halls, it occurred to us that you didn’t need to know an anilox from a doctor blade to understand or appreciate the technology that was coming on offer. Likewise, 3000+ hours of press time under your belt wasn’t mandatory to the plethora of products on show.
I read somewhere that photography was dead. While the advancement of smartphone cameras and social-media-led sharing platforms has meant that even editing is now done on the fly. Surely the things we can achieve through interactivity and the automation of editing effects are imaginative, if not creative? No, photography hasn’t died – it’s diversified. The same goes for print. Whenever I hear people say it’s dead or dying, I apply the logic above. Like photography, print is undergoing a revolution of its own. It’s a digital one, a nano one, and above all, one in which all stakeholders can play a part.
Before heading off to what would be my third Drupa, several of my friends who work with big global brands asked what there was to see. The biggest allure is the sheer quantity of manufacturers. It’s like a sweet shop for printers, filled with each and every conceivable print effect and process. My friends were surprised to learn that plenty of brands already go to Drupa. Which made me wonder, why don’t more branding agencies attend?
This year I saw two Print Management Agencies, accompanied by all those with a vested interest in design, to the shelf and beyond. It was refreshing to see some design represented at Drupa. Hopefully one day this will become the norm. If designers were privy to the gems of knowledge we were picking up at the exhibition, it would lead to a far more holistic approach of working.
Walking around, I was filled with a renewed admiration for printers. I saw stands offering solutions to problems I didn’t even know existed, and how effect manufacturers such as Kurz and ITW Foils were combining imagination with the realities of production.
As Creative Services Director for our London studio, I often get to travel the world seeing print companies, their machines and effects. It’s one of the ways we keep on top of being able to bring creative ideas to life, while fitting around a client’s needs. However, these trips are nothing when compared to the access to cutting edge technology you get at Drupa. Standing on a Speedmaster without wearing a hairnet, looking directly into the ink flow, watching the experts change the plates quicker than an F1 pit crew was an honour. Knowing that the print run I was watching would inform the next four years of innovation was exhilarating.
Highlights include stands from HP, Canon, Heidelberg, and Landa – a company who definitely knows the market. Benny Landa sold Indigo digital printing to HP, then immersed himself into a new project of nanotechnology. Employing 500 scientists and an R&D budget a small nation would be proud of. Using high-speed digital printing on large formats and on any kind of untreated paper or plastic. Vision is part of their DNA, and I’m excited to see the impact they’ll make on our industry.
Esko, Pantone and X-Rite were all present and pushing innovation with the knowledge they’ve earned from years of experience. Expanded gamut printing is becoming very impressive, and these guys are leading the way.
It must be said, that not all the insights we took from Drupa were new. One of the exhibition’s highlights was the incredible Gutenberg Museum stand. Seeing where print started, and comparing it to the technology around us was a truly overwhelming experience. There was also some great work from the Type Directors Club. It was encouraging to see the presence of such good design amongst all of the exhibition’s technology. Last but certainly not least, we were delighted to see how innovations in 3D printing and printed electronics have broken new ground.
We made it through Drupa with sensible shoes, a willingness to walk, and an openness to learn. With so much technology on show, you have to be proactive approaching stands and figuring out what they could do for your clients.
If anything, the exhibition is just the start of a journey. If you don’t come back and chase things up, you’ll forget what you learnt as quickly as the pace of innovation you saw. From foiling to ink manufactures, paper merchants to printed electronics; we came away utterly impressed, with a new set of contacts, and can’t wait to see what the future may hold.
So you may ask why two brand consultants went to Drupa. I would ask, why only two? Designers feed off creativity in many forms. A better understanding of what’s achievable would not only help them decipher the confusing world of print, but give them the confidence to push what’s possible, and create groundbreaking designs and brand experiences.
At Elmwood, myself and my colleague who specialise in design realisation, along with the rest of our creative services team, are a source of support when it comes to design executions. Instead of advising on the limits and restrictions of print, more and more we’re being asked for suggestions on ways our designers could make their latest ideas a reality.
Next time at Drupa, I’d really like to see more of my peers attend and play a part in integrating design and print together. After all, print will never die, it will merely be reborn with a different technology.