Looking ahead

Well, we’re nearly half way through the Autumn term and Christmas is looming… (Sorry for the reminder, but if you’re thinking of digital or corporate Christmas cards, now is the time to be working on them…).

printing_press
A printing press!

This post is not just about thinking about Christmas cards though! When we meet clients about an upcoming project, we like to try to help plan ahead. It’s not because we want to ‘get more business’; it’s because a little bit of planning can save clients a lot of money and frustration…

If a marketing push is something you’re thinking of for next year, please read this example below of how a bit of joined up thinking and planning managed to save a client thousands of pounds. I should point out, that this principle applies to litho printing which is what we use for higher quality projects, print runs over 1000 and special finishes. Digital printing prices are more consistent and best for smaller print runs.

We had a briefing meeting for a large retail client’s 56 page in-store training manual. As employment law changes twice yearly, we recommended that instead of a booklet that could need to be binned every six months, it would be a good idea to have an A4 ring binder printed and laminated, with 8 sections containing the information needed on loose sheets. These could then be updated when necessary, but the bulk of the content could be kept.

When in a different part of the office for a staff newsletter editorial meeting, we just happened to be having a conversation with another representative of that company who was also looking to produce a manual, a couple of months down the line. With a bit of digging, we worked out that what they really needed was a similar folder with inserts. So, we all got together and hatched a plan!

To get the best prices on these folders there are order thresholds. We asked very nicely and a binder printer agreed to print 100 of 2 kinds of folder outer, but class them as one 200 run job on the binder-assembly bit. A threshold was reached, so unit price fell dramatically and our client was able to save thousands of pounds. As a larger business with annual budgets, they didn’t have the small business concern of having the money in the bank. But the principles are the same and perhaps the impact (and relief) is greater when it’s a sole trader who wants to print a series of leaflets.

Is this sort of planning something that could help you save money or raise the spec of your next print job?

Reputation isn’t just about branding

When we talk about branding, in large part what we’re actually referring to is how an organisation’s image and reputation are perceived by the outside world. When people see your logo, what is their first reaction?

Most large companies adhere to their brand guidelines quite strictly to make sure that when you think of them, you remember their logo, colours and products accurately. In large businesses, it takes a lot of time (and money) to keep consistency across everything they do. We blogged a while back about the long and arduous project that Facebook had to undertake to bring consistency back to its brand. But there’s also a big question mark around how company representatives can harm all that good work. Grafica is a design and communications agency, so the intrinsic link between logo and reputation is something we care deeply about.

Here’s a little experiment: Below is a list of companies. When you think of them, even though I haven’t included images of them, how many of their logos and the main colours associated with the brand spring instantly to mind? What do they make you feel? Your emotions will vary according to experiences you have had personally and to an extent what the media has said about them. Here they are:

  • BBC
  • John Lewis
  • Apple
  • Tony & Guy
  • Mastercard
  • Nike
  • News International
  • The Body Shop
  • Coca Cola
  • Starbucks
  • FIFA
  • Nestle

Now, some of those companies will provide you with products and services that make you happy, some may have immediate negative connotations and others will leave you ambivalent. A final group may give off confused messages. Take for instance, The Body Shop. At inception, it was the epitome of ethical trading. You knew that your products were responsibly sourced, everyone was paid fairly and even the packaging was recycled. The logo proudly portrayed trustworthiness right through the supply chain. As the company grew, founder Anita Roddick continually lobbied for ethics in cosmetics—and eventually laws about testing on animals were changed. Then, she became ill and sold the business to one of the companies she set out to oppose. Many people immediately lost brand trust, staff in Littlehampton (where we’re based) lost jobs and in some places, the logo no longer has the same clout. No amount of rebrand will hide the fact that the company is not the same as it was.

You may be wondering what that has to do with your business? Everyone can think of examples of stuff that goes wrong. You buy an expensive coat and the seam comes undone, you go out for a meal and hurt your knee falling down some obscured steps or you take your car to be fixed and it comes back with a never before seen warning light on. The issue is usually less about what went wrong than about how it was put right.

As you can probably tell, these stories come from personal experiences. A retailer who worries about an undone seam will quickly apologise and replace it, thereby guaranteeing that you go there first next time. The restaurant apologised and offered my friend a free return meal while everyone in the crowded room was watching. But the garage owner who argued that his team couldn’t possibly have fitted a faulty part and damaged something that was attached to the part they had just replaced was asking for reputation trouble. In this case, it took 14 weeks, many letters and arguments, Trading Standards, and the threat of legal action to get a refund on the work and compensation for the damage.

As a communications professional, I find it astounding that it got this far, especially as in the end, the garage had no choice but to pay. It’s often said that if someone receives good service, they tell one person, but if they receive bad service they tell 10. It’s also much easier to keep a client than to find a new one.

A week after this was finally resolved, ironically, we made a mistake. Well, two actually. The first was not to follow our own signing off process (yes, the one we wrote about here not so long ago) so we could have a business card print job waiting for our client when she got back from her holiday. The second was to not notice something on the cards before we sent them to print… Had we followed our usual process and asked her to sign it off, it would have delayed the job about 2 weeks, but our mistake would have been picked up on – and the job was needed urgently. We made a judgement call and got it wrong. This is the first time this has ever happened and thankfully it was a small job.

Remember what I said about it being how you put it right? We have a responsibility to practice what we preach! As soon as we heard, we immediately apologised for our mistake, recreated the artwork and sent the job off for sign off. When it was signed off, we sent it to the printer and paid for an express service so that the job was turned around in 24 hours. Yes, we ended up a bit out of pocket, but we received an email thanking us for sorting it so promptly – the new cards arrived within 48 hours of the old ones. And this isn’t us saying ‘didn’t we handle that well?’, it’s about us saying ‘our clients matter’ and ‘we won’t be making that mistake again!’

I guess the moral of this story is to say that putting a new logo on a damaged brand is a bit like wallpapering over a damp wall – it doesn’t last for long… Or, look after your clients on the small jobs and they’ll think of you for the big ones!

waves_small

What’s the best way of folding my leaflet?

So you’ve asked us to create a new leaflet for you and you want it folded for maximum impact. Luckily, there are a few different ways of folding a leaflet and if you get it right, you can really get your message across.

Your content will be the principal guide, but it’s useful to know a few of the more familiar fold types. They generally fall into the following types: simple; short; accordion (sometimes known as ‘Z’ folds), roll (or barrel), gate, French and parallel. Pop ups and other more creative folds allow for a bit more fun. You can see some of them below.

This shows the most common types of folds for leaflets
The most common types of Folds

How does this affect me?

Each fold has different uses and the fold we choose depends on the purpose of the publication. For example, we would advise using a roll fold if you want to reveal information in a linear, storytelling-type way, or a gate fold if you have information that would benefit from a large, cinema-screen type presentation in the centre.

What can I do in future?

Before starting any project of this type, we would need to see the content first, to assess what would be the best type of fold to use. The placement of the content can then be planned accordingly before the design is created. As with most things, the more complex the materials, the more they are likely to cost, but careful planning can sometimes bring these costs back into the realms of possibility, so it’s always worth chatting it through.

Why we work the way we do, Part 4: Spec work

Firstly, it’s important to answer the question “what is spec work?”

Spec work, also known as free pitching, is where, to create ‘goodwill’ and for no upfront remuneration, designers produce ideas and mock up projects to show a client, or potential clients what their logo, brochure etc might look like if they went with that designer.

no spec logo
You can find out more about spec work by going to http://www.nospec.com/

We don’t do spec work.

You may wonder why? Well, we’re a business based on our ideas. As an example, some years ago when we were just starting out in West London, and against our better judgement, we came up with some ideas on spec for a potential new wine merchant client who seemed very keen to engage our services. We duly produced the designs according to his wishes, at which point, he stopped returning our calls and emails. Imagine our (lack of) surprise, when several months later, we were leafleted by that very same company—and their logo was exactly the same as the one we had designed. It had the same typeface, colours and even logomark. Exactly the same.

Basically, this chap had taken our designs (the ideas are our business—they are our intellectual property and the basis on which we trade) and asked another designer to artwork them (the easy bit). Now, some of you will be thinking ‘but that’s intellectual property theft, you should be able to sue’. Well, in theory, yes we can. If we can spare the time and legal fees, that is. So we, like so many, let it drop. He won. He got his designs for free – although by not listening to our advice, he also wasted lots of money by leafleting a predominantly non-alcohol drinking area.

So, we don’t do spec work. Oh, we’ve been asked a lot, usually along the lines of ‘how will I know if I like what you’ve done until I see it?’

Our answer to that is that we kind of expect you to have done your due diligence in choosing a designer. You wouldn’t choose a builder by randomly picking a name out of a telephone directory, and choosing a designer should have at least as much care and attention paid to it. Look at the work on our website, talk to people who know us and our work, and give us a call and chat to us. If you decide to proceed in using us, then you can be confident that we will do our utmost to provide you with the best solution to your particular design problem. We’re not selling high print run postcards that you can choose on impulse; we’re presenting your business brand. You have to pay an architect to draw up plans for you and that is a cost people accept up front. It’s no different with a designer. When you employ a designer, you’re not only paying for their time in working on your project, you’re also paying for their expertise and years of experience. It’s only partly about what we actually do or the time it takes, it’s much more about what we know. After all, that’s what allows us to ‘just design’ a solution that works for our clients in a much shorter time than they could manage themselves.

Besides, if you’ve seen a variety of our work and like it, or someone has recommended us, why wouldn’t we equally be able to produce something that you love for you? By negotiating a contract (clients are entitled to query contracts/ask for amendments if they so wish), signing it off and agreeing to pay us for our ideas, you’re valuing what we do and entering into a viable and hopefully long-term working relationship with us. The people who work with us most happily are the ones who appreciate the value of ideas. With a good brief and clear communication, everyone should be able to reach a happy conclusion in sensible timescales.

Of course, some people don’t like to engage a designer this way, but that is their choice. And ours.

There’s a very good talk to a group of designers by Mike Monteiro that you can watch here if you don’t mind some strong language and a bit of talk about legal stuff.

Why we work the way we do, Part 3: Sign off

What do we mean by ‘sign off’?

Well, when we work on something, we need to know that our clients are completely happy, or preferably delighted, with everything we’ve done. Their signature means we have their confirmation that they are ok for the world to see the work we’ve done; without it, the job’s just not finished. That includes the content as well as the design. We also need to know that a job bag and the final admin and invoicing associated with a project can be tidied up and closed down.

More importantly, it’s part of handing title of the artwork or website from us to our clients. This is the more serious reason too: Imagine we were working on a job for you that involved the printing of £10,000 worth of glossy brochures. And there was a typo inside – or worse, on the cover. It’s often the titles and headings that are most mistake-laden because everyone concentrates on the body text.

At this point, the question of who owns the title on a project becomes critical because the printer will expect to be paid regardless. He’s done nothing wrong, so there’s no reason not to pay him. If we have sent those brochures to print without your permission to do so (sign off), we’re responsible, so we have to pay him. If you’ve agreed that the job is good to go and signed it off, unfortunately, because it’s part of our terms and conditions, you’re still liable. That is why we ask everyone to check everything ever so carefully and only sign off when they are completely happy. If proofreading isn’t your bag, then please, please, please ask us or someone you know to proofread it. You’ll still be responsible at sign off, but you’ll be more comfortable with your signature on the paperwork.

We posted on our Facebook page an extreme example of nobody checking anything on an advert a couple of weeks ago and would like to state for the record, that we would NEVER allow such a poor piece to leave our desks. BUT, if the client had been ours and we had had sign off, we could have done so without any comeback (apart from a huge dent in our professional reputation and pride).

You may think it doesn’t happen, but we’ve seen many sets of Annual Reports and Accounts with an Erratum page. It’s pretty common to see spelling and grammar mistakes in websites, emails and documents these days. One of our favourites was a well known stationery company that appeared to be selling inanimate (stationary) objects. We’ve even picked up on a typo on a product label from one of the country’s most well-known consumer brands. That was probably in a batch of 30,000 or more and the consumer helpline was unaware of how long their proofreading fail had been on their bottles…

Our last blog post on deadlines relates to this. Often, mistakes are missed because there just isn’t time for another round of proofreading. Fresh eyes are necessary and the more time between the last two final checks, the better. If you are able to get a proof from the printer, then that’s even better…

So, when scheduling a job, please do make sure there’s enough time for enough people to look at the artwork properly and only sign it off when you are certain you are all happy there are no mistakes. We hate our clients to be unhappy and losing that sort of money is a surefire way of heading that way…

Why we work the way we do. Part 2: Deadlines

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by”. Douglas Adams
English humorist & science fiction novelist (1952 – 2001)

Ah, the deadline… love it, or loathe it, we all need deadlines from time to time. Unless you’re a designer of course, in which case you need them ALL the time…

Some of the more laid back might say that they’re a little bit arbitrary anyway – but where would we be without them? Let’s be honest, would anyone actually finish anything if they didn’t have someone waiting for it? Think Sagrada Familia – 133 years and counting… Ok, that’s a bit of an extreme example, but you get the picture (with scaffolding)…

So, why do we have them?

Well, everyone likes to know where they stand and deadlines are a good measure of progress. A client quite rightly is paying for a service and they want to know they will get what they’ve paid for. For bigger jobs like websites, deadlines are equally as helpful to a designer though, because they help with scheduling. Reflection, review and sign off times make it possible to quickly turn around other clients’ small urgent jobs during the natural pauses in a larger project – but only if everyone knows what to expect and when.

How can a client be truly delighted with their website, book or branding if it wasn’t even ready for the launch party?

Now, there aren’t many environments that are immune to slippage, so scheduling ‘wiggle room’ is crucial. Before a contract is even drafted, it’s good to look at when the finished article needs to be ready by – and work backwards. If this timescale just isn’t going to be possible, the client has three main choices: revise spec, push back launch date or find another designer. Where possible, compromise is a good friend here.

What are the main causes of slipped deadlines?

In our experience, there are a few main reasons why things don’t always go to plan:

  • delays in starting due to late signing off of previous projects
  • lack of clarity/communication around brief
  • delays in signing of contract/deposit payments
  • non receipt of content
  • Scope creep
  • misinterpretation of brief
  • unexpected absence (client or designer)
  • major change of specification or additional/new client project team members
  • unavailability of clients to review progress at key stages or sign them off (see first bullet above)

Usually, the quickest way to keep a project on target is to speak openly at the start. It’s no use a client being so in awe* (*scared) of the ‘creative’ that they don’t ask for clarification of a concept they are struggling to grasp. We’ve said many times before that a design job is only as great as the confusion it doesn’t cause – to the end user or to the integrity of their brand. Other things that can help:

  • designers: cut the jargon and observe clients’ non-verbal communication signs
  • clients: say what you think (nicely please!)
  • if you say you’re going to do something by Friday, do it – clients too! (there we go with deadlines again!)
  • spend plenty of time working out the remit of a job at the beginning; it saves time in the long run
  • clients: make sure all your colleagues who need a say are included as early on as possible, especially if they have the right to veto your project. Saying ‘but we’re too far along the line’ does not always work…
  • restrict who has admin rights to websites and keep backups (oh yes…)
  • designers: prepare a comprehensive questionnaire covering every possible aspect of a job – it’s easier to skip a question than to remember something important when in discussion
  • sharing of likes, dislikes and snippets of a desired look and feel, however trivial it may seem, speeds things up – as will notifications of holidays and business trips
  • scheduling regular review meetings/chats/calls to keep everyone on the same page means any difference of perspective can be rectified quickly

If everyone knows what is wanted/expected from the outset, key dates can be factored into a realistic schedule. When that happens and everyone sticks to it (barring any unforeseeable circumstances), it should be possible to deliver an end result that exceeds a client’s expectations: more jam for tea!

Why we work the way we do. Part 1: Contracts

Some of our clients are still surprised when we follow a few ‘formalities’ around projects. By formalities, we mean things like estimates, contracts, agreed timescales and sign off sheets.

We’re a relatively informal and flexible team and we like to make sure that our clients are delighted with everything we do, which is why we have these processes in place. It means we all know where we stand and we can all relax within the agreed remit of a job. In this post, we focus on contracts and why we always work with them.

Why do I need a contract?

Well, if you were to ask us to create a small leaflet for you, it’s reasonably simple: you ask us to quote; you agree our price and give us your brief and deadline; we work on it; you approve it; we send the artwork to you or to a printer and then we send an invoice for the work completed. This seems reasonably fair and straightforward.

But you’d be surprised at the number of times we’ve been asked to create 3 designs (often in several colour schemes or formats) on the basis of “if I like one of them, I’ll go with it”. This is called ‘spec work’. Helpful as we like to be, we do have to say no for a few reasons: the biggest reason is that back in the early days when we wanted to build goodwill, we came up with some new branding designs for a potential client, only to find he went to another agency with ‘his’ ideas and just asked them to artwork them. We had spent a long time researching and coming up with those ideas, and then artworking them for presentation to the client. In order for us not to be caught out like that again, our ideas have to remain our intellectual property until paid for in full or licensed for a fixed term. That’s part of the terms and conditions of most designers’ contracts and we’re no different.

We know some people might think it sounds a bit off, but would you expect to ask a solicitor for advice and not pay (even if you didn’t like the advice)? We like to work in partnership with clients so that we come up with an end result that they’re over the moon with. They are able to specify timescales and add in other clauses that matter to them too.

Likewise, when it comes to building a website, where our time involved can be much greater (1-2 months typically), we can’t really be expected to develop a site on spec. That’s why we never start work until we have a contract signed by both parties. We also ask for additional commitment from our clients in the form of a first installment towards the final invoice on signing of contract and an interim payment when the design and structure is agreed.

Again, some might think that it shows we’re not very trusting, but in actual fact, if we turn down other work for 2 months while we complete a massive project, not only does it affect our immediate cashflow, but if our client were to decide for whatever reason not to pay that single invoice, we are in a bit of a deep rut. And we get a bit grumpy when we’re hungry!

What our contract tends to mean is that everyone knows where they stand, costs are spread and we work with people who value our expertise and commitment. We feel valued, our clients feel listened to and there’s jam for tea.

What was that paper size again?

An illustration of the A series of paper sizes
The most common sizes of paper in Europe

Most of the time, when we do a print job, we work out the specifications based on the size of the finished job (A4, A3, A6 etc.). The reason for this is that paper is measured in standard sizes so everyone in the production process will know what they are working towards. When using, say an A5 reference, the printer knows to order the exact amount of paper to run a job without creating too much waste. Of course, you can have any sized job you like, but you may end up paying more for it.

How does this affect me?

Well, the vast majority of all printed materials are produced in one of the sizes above. The sheets of paper that run through the presses are in these proportions, so using a standard size minimises waste and makes it easier for a printer to plan the jobs on the press. This keeps the cost down and is much better for the environment too.

What can I do in future?

If you ask us to work on a print job for you, we can chat through your options and help you plan the job most effectively. We’ll also take into account things you may not have thought of, such as whether you want to keep your materials smaller than the ‘large letter’ format to save on postage, and best types of paper stock for the particular project you want to do.

An illustration of common envelope sizes
Common envelope sizes

What’s the difference between vector and raster images?

There are two ways of creating images on a computer, vector and raster, and there’s a knack to knowing the difference.

A Raster image of a butterfly
A raster image of the butterfly. In the zoom circle, you can see that the image is made up of square ‘dots’ called pixels

Continuous tone images like photographs are usually raster. Images with large areas of ‘flat’ colour or those created using mathematical equations to define the image are more likely to be vector. Fonts on a computer are also made from vectors.

A vector image of a butterfly
This is a vector image of a butterfly. You can see how the image is made in the zoom circle underneath. The red line is called the path, and the control handles—which control the curve of the path—are also visible.

How does this affect me?

Most of the time, you won’t need to know if an image is vector or raster, but occasionally it can be helpful to know. If you have an image like a logo that needs to be used at a range of different sizes, from say small on a business card, to enormous on a building’s signage, vector formats are best. This is because they can be scaled up or down without losing any definition. Photographic images really don’t look great as vector images though.

What can I do in future?

If we’re creating or sourcing the images for you, you shouldn’t need to worry. If however, you need to supply us with an image, say your logo or a photo for an ad, you will need to know what to send us. We’re always happy to help, so if you’re unsure, please feel free to give us a call and chat it through.

Brand New: New Logo for Facebook done In-house with Eric Olson

So Facebook have changed their logo. I’m withholding judgment until I see it actually in place. What do you think?

Please note that the red in the logo is simply there to show the differences between the old and the new logos. Please click through to the linked article below to see more.

Source: Brand New: New Logo for Facebook done In-house with Eric Olson