There is more print around us than any piece of technology. Print is also the most pervasive manufacturing technique. Volumes range from a year’s supply of packaging printed in just one week, or as small as one item. It is one of the very few manufacturing processes found in every town around the world and in most people’s homes.
Furthermore, most print is on paper, which is highly sustainable and recyclable. Print can be flat and two-dimensional or folded and three-dimensional. Print can be highly disposable, with the shelf life such as a newspaper, or a priceless piece of art. Print transformed the world – when knowledge was interpreted by a select few, hand transcribed and available to a very limited audience, print brought about one of the greatest revolutions and enabled much of the democracy we know.
Although I’m a little obsessed with print, my background is that of a physicist and electronic engineer who believes print will never die. I’ve dedicated almost the last two decades of my life to discover how print can become the next digital frontier. By using a combination of printed, cut, creased, laminated and folded material containing printed graphics, conductive inks and a small electronic control module, print can come to life.
My team and I have been adding touch sensitivity, sound and Bluetooth connectivity to paper. Creating posters that talk, record sleeves that become DJ decks or books that become pianos as just a few examples. Print opens up the ability to democratise design and manufacture, so that electronic products can be designed and manufactured by anyone, anywhere in the world.
The resulting human interface is friendly, familiar and blends seamlessly into any environment. I believe a big part of the future of product design, human interface, electronic devices and the portal to the digital world can be through print. Why talk to Alexa when you can just touch a piece of paper! Print is dead, long live print!
Dr Kate Stone