A Paper Website?

Communications for academic departments, programs, and initiatives.

June 16, 2016

The other day my colleagues and I were talking about what we always talk about - communications.

The context was how can can do a better job of communicating learning innovation (including active, experiential, and digital learning initiatives) at our institution.

We got to talking about different communications platforms. At that point, one of my colleagues said something that I have never heard. She said that we should create a “paper website”.

Have you every read about or heard someone talking about creating a paper website?

Google “paper website” and you get 357,000 hits. But a quick scanning of the search results indicates a gap between how I responded to this statement and how Google responds.

When my colleague said “paper website” she was not talking about taking our existing website and printing it out. Nor was she talking about designing a new website from paper, and then translating that paper into digital.

What I think she was talking about was more conceptual - and also more challenging.

Today, we tend to think of our departmental / program / initiative websites as our primary means of communicating. If our message is not on the web than our message may as well not exist.

The problem is that departmental / program / initiative websites are incredibly hard to create, maintain, and update. It is not that the technology is hard, or that we don’t know about web design.

What is hard is that we are always doing more things than can be captured and reflected on the website.

What is hard is that academics are not marketing people or designers or web communications experts. Academic units have great stories to tell about our work - and we want to tell them on the web - but we have limited expertise, resources, and time to make this happen.

The idea of a “paper website” may just be that communicating by paper is actually something we (academics) can do.

The cost, effort, and time required to make a two-page handout is substantially less than the investment needed to create a strong department / program / initiative website.

This does not mean that the website does not need to be created, updated, and made as good as possible.  Rather, perhaps we should think about paper as a means of communicating in the same way that we think about the web.

You might be saying - “of course”.  We already do our paper brochures, our handouts, and our flyers.  We never stopped using paper as a way of communicating.

What I’m wondering is if we can talk more about a paper communications strategy?

Do the people that a department / program / initiative that we want to reach to tell our stories really want to be handed a piece of paper?

What do people do with brochures and paper documents?  Do they read them?  Keep them?  Recycle them straight off?

How does paper compare to websites in terms of attention and retention?

Is it really easier to develop a quality two-page handout than a quality website?

Do academics overestimate our ability to create a compelling paper communications document - and should we be working with graphic designers and communications professionals on our paper materials?

Should websites be about allowing users to quickly find critical information (dates, contact information, staff information, directions, lists of services, etc.) and should paper be about narrative and storytelling?

Or should websites and paper perform the same function of information sharing and narrative shaping?

How do you think about paper as a communications medium?



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