Media Types and Systems of Communication

Many people think of media as ‘news media,’ and not the specific use of the word to describe the material system of a communication channel.

Books are a form of media. Books are a form of printed media. That word, just two decades ago, meant the medium of printed pages, tables of contents, paperbacks or hardcovers, and whole set of materials that have since changed formats dramatically. They are not just a form of printed media anymore. Today a book can be entirely electronic published in different ways that never include a press or paper.

So a better definition of media should mean the systems of communication used within a communication channel. People who produce software will not like this type of definition because media “types” dominate their thinking. “Media types” are basic building blocks for media and by thinking about the distinction you can easily see how one is different from the other.

The media of any information system uses different media types to create an architecture of interaction. (This is what software designers call the ‘user experience.’). Media types are used to build the way you communicate with others through a particular medium. Media types include:

  • Text
  • Images (pictures or illustrations)
  • Graphics (like tables, charts, and maps)
  • Sound (everything from recorded speech, live speech, or music tracks)
  • Animation (the combination of graphics, images, and sound)
  • Video

But look what happens when you take a look back at a point in history (not so long ago) and really examine a form of media.

Media Media Types used
Newspapers text articles, editorials, directories, images (news pictures), display advertisements (graphics)
Books long form text, images, graphics
Magazines text articles, long form text, images, graphics

This isn’t even close to covering the diversity of what print media is, but it shows the constraints of this media from the 1480s to the 1980s.

Print media was, and still is, a way to create a particular type of interaction with users of the medium (readers). That architecture of interaction is very different from the interaction capabilities of online news media sites even if they are modeled after newspapers or magazines.

Today we’ve seen a transition from print media to digital media across every media format from books and newspapers to movies to software publishing itself. (People under the age of 20 have no memories of inserting and ejecting floppy disc after floppy disc in order to load a program on a computer.)


Creators of digital media must take this architecture seriously if they mean to have the most impact.