With the market shifting as rapidly as it has been in the Electronic Age – this is a question that often pops up in my dealings with clients, my colleagues, and especially potential clients.
When is it time to hire a Designer?
There was a time, it seems long ago now, when everything printed, from annual reports and catalogs, to matchbook covers and little league flyers, required the hands of creative pros – designers, draftsmen, illustrators, layout artists, darkroom technicians, typesetters, color separators, film strippers, platemakers, printers and pressmen. But that was circa 1980, B.C. – Before Computers. In the Mid 80’s the PostScript Programming language was being developed by John Warnock of Adobe, and Steve Jobs and was developing the Apple Macintosh computers. Eventually the combination of the Macintosh, the LaserWriter II and Aldus’s ground breaking page layout program, PageMaker, changed the publishing landscape forever.
“The DTP market exploded in 1985 with the introduction in January of the Apple LaserWriter printer, and later in July with the introduction of PageMaker software from Aldus which rapidly became the DTP industry standard software.” – Wikipedia
[ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desktop_Publishing ]
By the 1990s, the Desktop Publishing revolution was sweeping aside traditional “drafting table” publishing. The New Tools rose up to replace T-squares, Technical pens, x-acto knifes, rubylith, designer’s markers and drafting instruments. Names like PageMaker, Quark Xpress, PhotoShop, Illustrator, Acrobat, Freehand became buzzwords of the profession and became the Designer’s professional tools. In the current era, Adobe’s InDesign has joined the group, becoming as prominent as Quark, perhaps more so among solo freelancers and small studios.
At the beginning of the DTP R/evolution, many publishers tried to cast aside Graphic Designers and Art Directors for High School Interns, Sales Reps or Secretaries running Macintosh SE’s and PageMaker. The results were not pretty. The years of Very Ugly Junk Mail. After a period of… what I’ll charitably call “adjustment”, Publishers turned back to having the expertise of actual Designers at the workstations and things began to look up again.
What that largely meant is that not only have Design Professionals had to embrace the digital world, the ever increasing strength of our electronic tools has significantly tightened the number of people involved in publishing projects. Compared to the legion of specialists mentioned above, it’s often condensed down, for better or worse, to just the Designer, the Print Vendor and the Client. The force multiplier of our software allows us to take on the tasks of the typesetter, the layout artist, the color separator, the pre-press technician. I do very much miss proofreaders in these lean times. However, this also requires us to be much more familiar with the intricacies of the various publishing disciplines, and a competent Designer in the Information Age is as much Art Director as craftsperson. And with the advent of the Web as a publishing platform, increasingly a technician and programmer.
But something interesting has happened going into the new century. As professional class software grew in power, features and sophistication, so has everyday “civilian” software. Simple publishing applications began to appear, and contemporary Word Processors, notably Microsoft Word and Office, now have significant page layout capability. Combined with an almost endless availability of free or inexpensive templates, clip art and stock photos, the majority of simple publishing projects can be created by end users, and sent straight on to over-the-counter printers, even Office Depot, Staples and Kinkos. ( *cringe*) Online Print services also make a lot of “everyday” printing readily available to the do-it-yourself set. So the bottom of the market, simple to moderately complex business cards, basic letterheads and 3-panel brochures, little league fliers, the pizza place menu, is no longer territory for Design Professionals. For creative pros, the market for Print Designers and Publishing Art Directors has certainly contracted. Forever. I’ve been hearing the comment more and more, “why do I need you expensive, artsy prima-donnas when I can do this myself in Word?” Why indeed?
So just when, exactly, do you need us?
Quite simply, when you want to look better than that.
While it is true that there is a great deal of ordinary printing and publishing you can create in word processors and inexpensive consumer level applications, or through over the counter and online print vendors. There are times when you will want to go beyond that. For starters, what is your own time worth? I certainly don’t fancy myself a Lawyer or a Concert Pianist. The little league flyer is one thing. Your annual report, perhaps quite another. When you’ve spent two hours ftuzing about in a word processor on a business card, and still are struggling with how to get the 10-up Avery template to work. When you realize the the brilliant neon RGB green prints a color that can be charitably described as “swamp water”. When you decide that that piece of clip art looks an awful lot … like clip art. Or the stock photo isn’t quite right. Or that you can’t quite get that logo you had in mind to look quite right in Powerpoint or MS Paint. In essence, when you want to “kick it up a notch,” to look more finished, more professional … and competitive.
That’s where people like me come in. And if we’re any good, we’re probably not cheap, but we’ll provide good value. If you hire some kid in high school or your brother in law just because they have a computer and Photoshop… well, you’ll likely get what you pay for. Believe it or not, a lot of us have training and degrees in this stuff, and have devoted a lot of time to learning our craft and how to get the most out of our professional tools. And the whole purpose of specialists is that we do have expertise in our fields, freeing you to do whatever it is you do best.
When you hire creative pros, Graphic Designers, Illustrators, Art Directors, Web Designers and Developers, you are hiring people who have made good design their career and craft. A proper designer is not a hobbyist. A creative pro brings an extra edge of professionalism and polish, and the effective impact of good design to your projects. We also have expertise in process and production methods, so that what we send to printers comes out looking the way we planned. We understand that there is a difference between CMYK and RGB. We might also know a thing or two about tasteful use of typefaces beyond Times, Arial and Comic Sans. We do not fear white space. We know a something about how ink hits paper. Can specify process and spot color and have that red look like something a fire engine would be proud to wear. We also understand and can explain to you why you cant take that postage stamp sized image off a web site and make it into a poster. And why it’s a really really really bad idea to grab a pic from someone else’s site, especially a competitor. And in the emerging age of Information, a good designer can help you navigate your documents into the digital age. In a future post, I plan to go into the incredible explosion in electronic publishing that we call the Internet and the World Wide Web. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic, and worth it’s own article. Knowing our way around the print and publishing industries, and the digital word, despite our cost, hiring a pro can actually save you money by avoiding the common production errors of the novice. And your stuff will look better.
If a lot of the previous paragraph when over your head, you might just need one of us. But when you’re ready to take it to the next level, we’re here to help you and your company look your best in print or online. And a good Design Professional will be a creative partner, not a prima-donna, and will help you make your ideas shine. This final summary thought applies to not just Graphics and Design, but to any skilled profession.
Hire the Professional, we know what we’re doing.