The same but different

Digital printing processes use variable data workflows to customise text, colour and image within a print run, creating the possibility to personalise print on a large scale. This is not a new development in the industry, the technology was introduced with the founding of the Indigo company in 1993, heralding the so-called ‘personalisation revolution’. To date, the spread of personalisation in print has not been as wide spread as originally anticipated. The technique has predominantly been used by big corporations to personalise their product offering. The Heinz canned food company, for example, offers customers the opportunity to customise the label on a can of tomato soup, adding a person’s name beneath a ‘get well soon’ message, forever changing the status of the multiple – many of the same that are also different.


For these kinds of applications, personalisation in print relies on customer data generated by Web2Print workflows, where online templates are developed that allow the customer to make basic design decisions (colour, text, image) to customise product branding in exchange for their personal information. As Zuckerberg’s recent congressional hearings indicate, the user/consumer and subsequently the state, is finally catching onto the genius of a system that couched the mining of big data in the guise of customer service. And yet, as the general user/consumer’s understanding of issues around privacy grows, industry – the print industry included – continue to develop technologies, focused in particular on the interaction of print and digital interfaces, that further implicate the consumer in the flow of data as capital.

While personalisation techniques in printing have been developed and adopted by corporate brands, there is less evidence of independent artists and designers using these technologies as a means to critically reflect on the implications of these developments for the consumer. The aim of Print/Press is to address this gap, both in the knowledge of the techniques deployed by industry and by facilitating a dialogue on the ever pervasive issue of privacy and data.

To this end, taking inspiration from Seth Siegelaub’s March 1969 project and because we feel printed calendar’s are due a comeback, the project will realise a 2019 Calendar, where 12 independent designers will be commissioned to produce a new work for one calendar month each, using the technological developments in digital print, with a particular focus on the theme of personalisation. The Print/Press website will be central to this process, using the 2019 Calendar to document new developments in digital printing techniques and reflecting on the implications of these technologies for urgent questions around consumer protection and privacy.