Everyone’s a Designer (Get Used to it)

“That’s a given with these types,” he replied. “They design something that looks good on the screen and assume it’s ready for mass production. Last week a lady gave me a disk with a flyer advertising her company’s monthly specials. Seven fonts, nine graphics and two bleeds … not that she would know what a bleed is. She proceeds to tell me how she wants it to look and could she see some hot paper samples.”

“Let me guess. She wanted fluorescent pink … something that would grab attention,” I said.

“Close. Fluorescent green… a Christmassy colour!” Jared replied sarcastically. “Then I asked her, ‘Did you include the fonts and graphics?’ And you know what she said? ‘Don’t you have fonts? That’s your job isn’t it?’ I’ve had it with these folks!”

“So what do you intend to do?” I asked. “More and more people are buying inexpensive publishing software and creating their own materials. You can’t blame them. Who’s going to fork out a thousand dollars for Quark or PageMaker when they believe a $99 package will do the same thing?”

“But a $99 software package doesn’t make you a designer,” he shot back. “Just because you buy paint doesn’t mean you’re an artist.”

“I know that. You know that. But the marketing message on the box suggest otherwise,” I replied. “But before you blackball customers that use off-the-shelf software, you might want to rethink your positioning strategy.”

Jared learned design at a community newspaper. He caught the tail end of 1-point tape and grid sheets and quickly adjusted to desktop publishing using PageMaker and Photoshop. A career change added experience with QuarkXPress. When he opened his graphic design studio, he added Corel and other high-end software to his skill set. He was competent in his designing and prepress ability. But consumer-driven software was rattling his comfort level.

“You’re good at what you do,” I said. “But your skills are being replaced by consumer-friendly technology. Remember when desktop publishing buried the big blue Compugraphic machines? That was just the beginning of a printing revolution that continues to streamline what was once a complicated and expensive process. Technology has substantially lowered the price of entry. And since consumers are buying into it, you better change your mindset if you want to survive.”

I live near Acadia University in Wolfville, one of the most wired universities in Canada. Internet access is everywhere and each student receives an IBM ThinkPad that’s loaded with Microsoft software. Students and staff are using Microsoft Publisher to create term papers, reports, resumes, course calendars, documents and even books. When I spoke to the print shop manager he’d never heard of Quark.

“There’s a whole generation of consumers that won’t buy into the old standards of layout and design. Technology will continue to cut down the learning curve … don’t forget, we pioneered the mouse!”

“And not that long ago!” Jared said laughing. “So what should I do?”

“You know that answer will cost you money!” I chuckled, referring to my consulting fees. “But I will give you some clues.

“Most businesses plan for growth but they build their plans on doing more of the same. In today’s uncertain market, that’s not smart. In a competitive market like printing, that’s darn right stupid. Why not find ways to grow the market? Discover a niche that’s not being served. What about offering a specialty service? Or really delivering on customer service.

“But you have to go further than the free coffee and competitive pricing. That’s a given. For instance, I was thinking about all those people who have Microsoft Publisher on their computers, both at work and at home. That’s a huge market. Why not develop it? Become the MS Publisher pro.

“What about being proficient in using those low-end publishing packages and helping customers with the process rather than making them feel inferior for using them?

“If you welcome your customers the way they are, instead of the way you think they should be, you’ll uncover lots of opportunities to serve them.”