Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Undecided Customer

Ever have one of those clients who is referred to you by "a friend," and when you contact them about the (insert job here: flier, business card, etc.) they give you the briefest of ideas about what they want but then when pressed they basically have no idea what they want, they just want it to look good? Yeah, I get a lot of those.

I realize that as a "designer" it's mostly my job to come up with the concept for the piece. However it seems to me that more often than not, when someone claims they don't have anything specific in mind, they actually do. Which means it can save a LOT of time and heartache to dig a little deeper to see if there's even the vaguest idea in the back of their minds on how they want their project to appear. There's nothing more frustrating than spending time putting together a job and then upon sending the proof to a customer who has previously said "I don't know, just put something together," comes back with a response of "that's not really what I had in mind."

Maybe it's a cop-out, but often times I'll ask them if there's another business that they like their style, or a competitor that they want to distance themselves from - therefore making sure that their piece doesn't look anything like said company's pieces.

It can be tricky trying to get a read on some people, and in our "over the computer" age where I do most of my business via email, cell phone and the like, it can be especially hard. As a work from home mom, it's tough to arrange, but it can be really beneficial to actually meet with the client face to face if at all possible. Despite all the advances in modern technology, there's just still a lot that gets lost in translation over the lines of digital transactions.

So, what's the point? Well, basically, take some time to really learn your customers. Don't just take the info they give you and go, you might be missing something important. When they say they don't have a preference on something, be sure to dig a little deeper - they might not realize themselves that actually, they do. Ask the questions, throw some suggestions out there, even if they're just off the top of your head things and see what happens. You might hit a stoke of genius, or you might get a good idea of a design idea you want to steer clear of. Either way, I bet you'll be surprised at how much information you can gather that will come in handy down the road.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

To go Cloud or not?

So, my current software dilemma is the issue with updating my Adobe software. As painful as this usually is each time I finally break down and upgrade, it's even more so now. With the introduction of Adobe Cloud, I have to decide if it's worth it to purchase the final upgrade to my software or just skip it and begin subscribing to Cloud.

For those of you new to this idea (as I was myself until a few months ago - if that tells you how well I keep up with software updates) basically, Adobe has decided that rather than continue to upgrade their software for purchase, this latest version is going to be the last that us users can purchase. Now, we're going to have to subscribe to a monthly service to use their software. The benefits are that we'll always have continual access to the latest version without having to keep up with updates ourselves. The downfall is that instead of spending the big bucks once ever few years as we deem it necessary to upgrade, we'll have to pay approximately $50/month to use the programs. Now, I honestly have not done all the math yet to see how this works out for me. Depending on what you use and how much it costs you to purchase the software (or the upgrade) every however many years, you may come out ahead. But, it's just possible that if you can squeak by without upgrading EVERY TIME there's an upgrade and only purchase every few years, it may not come out in your favor.

Now granted, there are smaller packages you can get, but your access to the programs and support for them are limited, as you might expect. So, how do I feel about this new step? Not really sure yet... But, if I'm going to continue doing business in this field, I don't see that I've got much of a choice. I just hope they've made it fool-proof. I'm not keen on spending a lot of my (un-billable) time working out the kinks and figuring out how to access and work software that I've been using for years already because now I have to access it through an online service rather than having it on my computer.

Guess we'll just have to wait and see how it goes. I guess the good news is that although this is kind of "news" to me (since as I mentioned before I don't honestly keep up with "business news" like I should - hey, if it's working well, why mess with it?) Cloud is not brand new. So hopefully that means they've had time to work out the kinks. Although honestly I've read both good and bad reviews. But, I supposed that's how it's going to be with anything; can't make everyone happy.

The really frustrating thing about all this is: do I really even have a choice? I mean, honestly, what other programs are out there that are truly print-quality programs that work together as seamlessly as the Adobe Suite does? Not to mention the learning curve that would come with switching to a brand new software when I've been using Adobe since PageMaker was out? (Do you guys even remember PageMaker? Come on, I'm not that old!)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

From yearbook to intern to prepress and beyond...

(Or, really just "About Myself")

I began my journey into graphic design in high school. I kind of just fell into it. I can't even remember exactly how, but for some reason I ended up signed up on the yearbook elective my sophomore year in high school (maybe a natural progression from being on the newspaper in Jr. high?) and it stuck. For the next 3 years, yearbook was a big part of my identity. Although we did use Macs to do layout, we also worked with the old tried and true paper graphing layout techniques. We were involved in just about every aspect of putting the yearbook together, and as part of the "People" section (aka the "Mug Shot" section of the yearbook, I was also part of the annual school picture days.

We came up with the ideas for and wrote the stories, including conducting the interviews, we took the pictures (although we did have a designated "Yearbook Photographer" who did most of the more professional-ish shots), we wrote the captions. We even sold ads to local businesses and manned the table for the purchase of yearbooks. And, early the following year before school even officially began, we were at the school manning the table for yearbook pick-ups - because the books printed during the summer - which also meant we had to produce a smaller "memory book" for the students to have at the end of the year for a momento until they could get their actual books.

From my yearbook experience, I came to love the creation process - coming up with a concept and following it through to the finished product. There was just something about holding in your hands the actual thing that you had spent so much time and effort on. There was pride, which made the job more than just work to be done but something you enjoyed and something that mattered. I had no idea how to translate this into real life, but I knew that THIS was something I wanted to do.

Fast forward several years later, and I was blessed to get an internship at a print shop local to the college I was attending. I interned there for several years until my immediate boss left and began his own company, which I transferred to soon after. There, it was a a 3-man operation. My boss, a part-time pressman, and myself. It was amazing. It was chaotic at times. It was frustrating and there was a huge learning curve on a regular basis. And I loved every minute of it. over time, the business grew, and eventually it took over the original print company we had both come from, and business was steady. Life was good.

But, I missed my home and family. I was currently in NC but had grown up my whole life in VA. So, with my new husband's blessing, we decided to leave and go back to VA. I found a relatively large print shop in VA and applied. They didn't have any openings for my line of work, but they did have something for customer service, so I took it. Besides, I knew the business (sort of), so that should be a piece of cake, right? Well, mostly it was. But it wasn't doing the thing I loved. But, I was content for a while.

After being at this new job for several years (and after being paired up with a salesperson that I obviously could not handle), a position opened up in both the art and prepress departments. They decided to give me a shot. I "tried out" for the art position, but ended up deciding that prepress was really where my heart was, so I ended up back in the prepress department with "my people." Funny thing about this was that I was the first female in an all-male department in years. So, at least kind of "my people!"

I stayed there happily until we had our first baby, after which we decided I would stay home. Which was great, and I was completely on board with that decision, but I still missed my work. About 6 months after my son was born, I mentioned my desire to do something to an old colleague from the print shop and it was quickly worked out for me to do some work on the side for them as needed. And, thus my graphic design company was born, and I've been doing the work from home, slowly growing my client list and workload for the past 6 years.