graphic design service

Design Basics: The Artwork Proofing Process

Hi All! 

I'm writing this series titled "Design Basics" to help with common questions.

This post is about what happens when you hire a designer.  It covers the design process: both the part you see and the part you don't.  By writing this post I hope to help you make the most of your artwork proof decision.

In the studio we get certain kinds of questions and feedback often so I've set out a standard way of handling them.  

First, a quick primer on what a designer does -

There's a good chance you've hired a designer in part for their technical skill.  Usually something's come up that's made you decide to hire them.  Whether it's a print company asking for a vector file, or not having the time or skill to do the digital drawing yourself.  

While knowledge of design software and professional processes are part of a designer's skill, our most important tools are line, shape, proportion and colour.  Add a background in art history, knowing cultural references, skills in layout and marketing communications and you have a complete design professional.  The last bit is the highest value part of what we bring to you.  Yes we have technical skill (knowing the computer programs, understanding how to measure & spec a project, manufacturing processes, materials science...), but our skill in visual communications is the most important part.  We know how to make your project look gorgeous and generate more sales for you. 

Because design can sometimes be a misunderstood profession I'm going to use a second profession alongside design to help illustrate the idea of professional competency.  For this post I'll use a lawyer in my example.  The highest value part of what a lawyer brings you is their knowledge of the law and how it works.  Yes, they fill out paperwork but usually we hire them for the above. 

On to your design project -

When you hire a designer, they'll ask you about what you'd like and what your goals are for the project.  In that conversation your designer will ask more questions to find out how you define success, what you feel is impacting sales, who your audience is and whether there are detailed requirements (i.e. the finished product must include your web address).  

If we use the example of a lawyer - You've hired them because you're being sued and you want to win the case.  Your lawyer will sit down and ask you the details of the lawsuit, what your ideal outcome is, whether you'd be willing to negotiate and what your budget is.

Back to design.  We let you know we'll be sending you an artwork proof. 

Now the behind the scenes work begins...

Your designer will use their background in art and marketing communications to design a product that will do a number of things.  This includes but is not limited to: being legible in its intended context, appealing to your target audience, matching with an existing theme or branding, meeting the budget you've set aside, meshing with manufacturing requirements and achieving your project outcomes.  We do this for ALL projects, whether it's a brand design or a name sign for a baby's nursery.  All projects get this level of attention.

To do these things we employ all the tools in our toolbox: line, shape, proportion, colour, typography, cultural references, marketing practices, knowledge of art history... all the obvious and subtle things humans use to communicate with one another.  We're experts at this in particular: visual communication.

Similarly, a lawyer is an expert in working with the law. 

Let's go back to him for a minute...

At this stage, your lawyer will determine the best way to argue your case so you'll (hopefully) win.  He'll do this using his professional tools and processes.  He'll look at the background of the case, examine applicable laws, consult professional texts, read case studies, assemble evidence and so on.  Because he practices this as his profession, it's his forte. 

In design, once we've designed option(s) for you we put our top recommendation into something called an artwork proof.  This is a single page of visual option(s).  It includes the research we've done on your project, the behind-the-scenes experimenting, the outcome of testing several different ways to solve the design problem, channeling our background in arts & communications and using our technical skill to synthesize both a visual and a project that can be physically successful (i.e. it can be manufactured and will perform as expected once its a real product).  It includes our top recommendation for line, colour, typography, logo use, layout and other visual elements.  A great deal of time, expertise and background work goes into creating the proof.  It's the presentation of our professional recommendations.

This is akin to your lawyer sitting down, after all of his research, to tell you how he suggests you go about winning your case.  He'll give you his professional recommendation, which could include: what to say, what not to say, which evidence he plans to present, how the judge is likely to react and which laws are applicable to your case.  He'll share his professional opinion on the best course of action to take to win your case.

Here's a common scenario:  We send out an artwork proof and our client pushes back on aspects of the design.  This is no problem.  It's something we want to have resonate with you so we don't mind taking the time to explain.

If you communicate that something about your goal has changed, we can make changes to suit the new goal.  For example - "I thought my target audience was teenagers, but I realized their parents are included in my audience too."  Or, "I wanted my road sign to have a car in it, but my partner mentioned our boat services are equally important - it needs to address both themes."  We can apply our expertise to find solutions for these shifting needs.   

This is like saying to your lawyer - I thought I'd be willing to negotiate, but I've changed my mind.  I feel strongly and I'm not willing to budge.  Your lawyer would go off and adjust his strategy to accommodate the change of heart.

Flipping back to design: Where feedback becomes challenging is when a client details very specific changes to the design.  You may not realize it, but you are inadvertently wading into our toolbox.  For example: a client asks us to take the underline out, make the logo bigger, change blue to yellow and swap out the image we've selected.  These requests may seem subjective or like a matter of personal taste, but to a trained professional they're not.  There are proven solutions we know will work and specific, well-researched choices we've made while putting the design together.

When asking for detailed changes you are unknowingly asking us to make the project less effective and limit the success of the outcome.  That could mean making the finished product harder to read, causing the project to generate fewer sales, creating something visually overwhelming or creating something that's unclear or unappealing to your target audience.  In some cases you may be hampering the ability to have it physically manufactured or installed.

When clients tinker with the tools in our toolbox, without having comparable education, experience or professional knowhow it puts us in a challenging spot.

I'll use our lawyer to illustrate...

You respond to your lawyer.  Instead of saying your feelings have changed and you're no longer willing to negotiate, you start wading into his toolbox.  You tell him to take out two pieces of evidence he's put there to prove your case.  You tell him to put more emphasis on an argument he said would be irrelevant to the judge.  And you tell him that two parts of the law he's mentioned don't say that.  They say something else.  You hand these requests to him and tell him to change the strategy.  You'll wait on an update. 

You can see how this puts him in a tricky position.  He either has to defend the merits of his strategy, or make the changes you're asking for, knowing it will damage the outcome of your case.

Back to design.  This is how we've chosen to handle this:

1)  Clients who are well-informed about design trust our expertise and professional ability at the outset.   They have small requests or ask for clarification, but as a whole they know they've commissioned a well-executed piece of professional work.  Once we've clarified anything that needs to be discussed they'll normally see how the finished product will benefit them and approve the project. 

The lawyer equivalent is sitting down to the meeting where he tells you his legal strategy.  You listen to what he says, ask for some clarification, and trust his legal opinion on how best go about winning your case.  You ask him to go ahead.

2) Clients who are new to design may inadvertently wade into our toolbox when giving feedback.  When this happens we'll spend one email helping our client understand the process of design.  That can include illuminating the work and processes that went into making the artwork.  We may address specific requests, justifying our original recommendations and why they are in place to achieve your target outcome.  We may also help by showing how your suggested changes will be counterproductive to achieving your goals.

The lawyer equivalent looks like this:  You tell him to take out 2 pieces of evidence that are designed to help you and that the law doesn't say what he thinks it does.  Your lawyer responds by telling you those 2 pieces of evidence are important to winning your case.  He recommends leaving them in.  And he takes the time to explain that he's familiar with the law, by way of his professional training, and the law states what he'd originally mentioned to you.  

3) If we still get pushback after taking the time to explain and justify our original recommendations we stop explaining.  We'll make your changes verbatim.  

The lawyer equivalent is he stops justifying.  He takes out the 2 pieces of evidence you wanted removed, even though he knows it will damage your ability to win the case.  And he nods his head and says "sure the law says that", when it doesn't.  

The alternative for the lawyer is to return again and again to the same conversation, trying to assert his professional competency and failing.  His reason for stopping this cycle might be to maintain his dignity, or it might be in the interest of saving time so he can move on to the next project.  Our reasons are the same.

A quick recap:

  1. We'll send you an artwork proof.
  2. If given feedback we'll give clarification and explain our reasoning to illuminate why these choices have been made and why they're our top recommendation.  We may make small changes to the artwork but we'll largely stick to our professional recommendations.
  3. If faced with further pushback we'll stop justifying.  We'll make your changes verbatim.

I hope this helps walk you through the proofing process.  This post is not meant to make you feel bad (at all!).  Client interference is common.  Design is a widely misunderstood profession.  If you've inadvertently waded into a designer's toolbox, chances are your designer didn't take it personally, but they will want you to trust them so they can make your project a success.  That being said, don't be afraid to ask for some changes.  Usually we can accommodate one or two small requests. 

But be conscious of steering the things in our toolbox.  Avoid language addressing:

  • Proportion
  • Line
  • Shape
  • Colour
  • Typography
  • Layout
  • Art Direction
  • Cultural References

DO:

  • Communicate Your Feelings & Impressions
  • Clarify Your Goals
  • Speak To Your Audience
  • Share The Biggest Challenges You Face
  • Share Any Specifics That Must Be Included (i.e. web address, phone number)
  • Lay Out Technical Limitations (i.e. room size, indoor/outdoor usage)

We can recommend a visual strategy to address these things. 

A great tip for trusting your designer is to give it space.  Opening the initial design always produces an emotional reaction - whether it's good, bad or indifferent.  A new design needs time to percolate and settle.  If you open the design and you're unsure about it wait at least 24 hours before replying to your designer.  Review the design with fresh eyes before responding.  When you reply, ask for clarification and avoid detailing numerous changes that fall within our toolbox (see above).  Instead, speak to your feelings and goals.

And what happens if, in your heart of hearts you just can't bring yourself to approve the design?  Even after changes?  Communicate!  Your designer will be happy to help.  Your designer will know how to address what you're bringing to them.  When they've deemed a challenge unsolvable they'll recommend a different designer.  If you've communicated and there is no way to reach a consensus - it may just come down to a difference in working style.  That's ok too.

What do you think?  Was this post helpful?  Let me know in the comments!

Laser Cutting Services

How To Get The Best Price On Laser Cutting

If you're like most product designers you're looking for a laser cutting service that is affordable.  Designers & product developers need manufacturing services that are priced low enough to be able to wholesale, then retail the finished product once it's complete.  Keep reading below...

I work with a range of product developers, each with different needs and areas of specialization.  The prices I quote can vary from client to client.  The source of this discrepancy is the number of hours the studio needs to spend getting the order ready to print.  The more production-ready you are, the fewer hours we need to spend getting it ready. 

I thought I would break all this down to clarify.  This will give you an idea of what services the studio is providing to you in your quote (hint - it's not strictly cutting).  It's also a way for me to share what goes into the job of product development.  If you're new to creative and technical design you may be surprised to find out how much work it takes to take and idea and make it into a real product.  If you're an experienced designer it might show areas where you can better streamline your order to save money.  No matter where you are, I'll give you some tips on how to save money on laser cutting.  

Let's start with a fully trained product developer who specializes in vector files:

 

Graphic Artists, Industrial Designers, Product Developers

What Your Order Looks Like: Vector File, Outlined, Set Up In Correct Artboard Size, Cutting Lines Labelled Red, Duplicate Lines Removed, All Parts Are Located In the Same File, Appearance Attributes Removed, Clipping Masks & Compound Paths Removed, Fills Have Been Removed, All Raster Elements Have Been Vectorized, Type Size Has Been Tested For Legibility, Thicknesses Have Been Verified For Durability In Chosen Material, Interlocking Parts Have Been Set To The Material Thickness Used in This Studio, Patchy Vector Lines Have Been Repaired To Form Continuous Cutting Lines,  Unlinked Type Has Been Linked Or Bridged, You Have A Clear Understanding Of Materials & Their Attributes, You've Chosen A Suitable Material Without Advice, You Will Be Handling ALL Finishing Processes (sanding, painting, assembly, etc.)

What You Pay For: Set Up Fee & Cutting

Who You Are Hiring: Straight Laser is a Piece Goods Manufacturer to you.

How To Save Money: Make the best use of your set up fee, material panels and shipping costs by ordering in quantity.  As with any manufacturing process, once the set up is done and changes minimized, your costs will drop significantly.  Order repeats through the same service provider to save money.

 

PRODUCT Businesses EMPLOYING A Professional Graphic Artist 

What Your Order Looks Like:  You Have Your Logo In A Vector Format, You May Have Vector Files For The Product You Want To Cut, Your Understand Product Development Even If It May Not Be In The Graphic Design Industry (Examples: Skincare Company, Clothing Designer, Pet Accessories Company...), You Can Provide Specs And Have A Good Handle On Estimating Size, You Can Provide Comprehensive Detail On What You Want, You Have A Basic Handle On Materials And Have Preferences, You Have A Clear Design Direction

What You Pay For: Some Consulting On The Best Materials For Your Project, Some Size and Construction Spec Work, Graphic Design Time To Develop Your Digital File, Graphic Design Time To Make Your File Production Ready, Test Cuts, Set Up Fee & Cutting, Sometimes Finishing 

Who You Are Hiring: Straight Laser is your Product Developer & Finished Goods Manufacturer.

How To Save Money: If you're partial to your internal graphic designer, hire them to fully complete the product you'd like to create.  Otherwise we can help do the design work to complete the product you'd like to have created.  Graphic design needs to happen either in your business or in this studio (you can't skip it).  Get clear on the exact sizing you need and read the list of materials we stock in the studio to know what's available.  The more you can have these things decided on before you contact us the less time it will take and the less it will cost overall.  If you're seeking post-cutting finishes but the price isn't a fit, consider ordering raw parts and doing the finishing yourself.

 

Service Businesses, Retailers, Resellers, Businesses That Don't Employ A Graphic Designer, Artists Working In HAND DRAWN Formats

What Your Order Looks Like: You Are Coming To Me With An Idea, A Problem To Be Solved, Or A Request (Maybe for a sign or printing), You Created Your Logo Yourself Or Through An Online Generator, You Have A Raster Version of Your Logo & Don't Have Access to The Vector File, Your Business Doesn't Use A Style Guide, You're Requesting Atypical Materials or Custom Sourced Products, Your Request Is A One-Off Item To Solve A Specific Problem, You Would Like To Create A Product But Are Not In The Business Of Design or Product Development

What You Pay For: Sometimes Logo Creation & Branding, Converting Raster Logos To Vector Format,  File Clean Up & Repair, Product Costing, Design Direction To Ensure Product Aligns With Business Branding, Custom Materials Sourcing, Material Selection & Testing, Consulting On Proportions, Size, Fit & Finish, Design Direction For The Product Being Created, Consulting on Specs & Construction Methods, Product File Creation, Making File Production Ready, Test Cuts, Set Up Fee & Cutting, Finishing

Who You Are Hiring: Straight Laser is your Designer, Product Developer & Finished Goods Manufacturer.

How To Save Money: Hire a professional graphic artist for your logo and branding.  We provide this service in the studio.  Please ask us for a quote or hire another designer.  Doing so will save money over the long term as you develop your business.  Determine exactly what you need the finished product to do with as much detail as possible (Example: it has to fit on a shelf that is 7" tall...).  Provide lots of photos: either inspiration pics, or pics from inside the office where the item will be used/placed.  Read the list of materials we can process and try to align your project with a material we stock.  If you'd like custom materials sourced, order in enough quantity that it lowers the cost of bringing it in.  If your idea is out there in the market or can be solved with a ready-made item it is almost always cheaper to go that route.  Consider product development when your idea is custom, branded or it just isn't out there in the marketplace.

 

Summary

There are a lot of steps in product development that may be invisible if you're encountering it for the first time.  Even for seasoned pros, each manufacturing process has its unique needs and set up process.  I hope that by describing the product development job I've shown you a few areas where you can do some prep work to lower your laser cutting costs. 

Thank you for reading.  Was this post helpful?  Questions?  Let me know in the comments!