As a designer you would love to trust your printer enough to be wrapped up snugly in bed by the time the 3am press pass came – and went. In the morning the file copies would be waiting and – wonder of wonders – match perfectly the proofs you sent over with the job. The stuff of dreams indeed. The fact is, we would all like it if designers trusted the printer because it would remove a great deal of conflict raging about colour balance at the end of the press. Printers hate this. It’s time-consuming, it’s irritating and it costs money.
Unlike designers, who plan a job by aesthetic values and to please a client, the print factory is just that – a factory. It may just as well be producing widgets as print. At the end of the day its sole purpose is to ship goods as quickly as possible from one end of the factory to the other. The problem is, for all the advances in press and paper reliability, sources of conflict between designer and printer are increasing, not diminishing. The great digital revolution is shifting more elements of the print job into the designers’ hands than ever before and printers are picking up the pieces as best they can.
Consider how the situation has changed from just five years ago. Flat copy art boards are now a relic. Photoshop and Illustrator are now standard and ISDN and digital proofs all the rage. Designers may be great at their craft, but how many have stopped to discover the printers’ art? How many fully understand how to correct bleeds and traps that need to be incorporated into the job or the dot gain variables on the five-year-old press which tends to slur if the paper stock is too thin? These are the variables that used to be under the printers’ control and could be compensated for at the planning and film development stage.
All too often, if the file comes in incorrectly formatted, you will never hear of it – it will be corrected without any charge incurred. And what about those marvellous Scitex Iris inkjet proofs? So much better than the old Chromalins that used to flood everything with magenta, and fast too. None of that waiting for ink to dry like a wet proof. You can get a proof over to a client in a few hours. But even with the Brunner control strip, which after three years’ of development is still an incomplete science, you cannot guarantee an accurate comparison with a printed product. We all know that inkjet is a liquid ink, very often squirted on to coated stock when you want matt.
But let this not be a gripe list against designers. We know what we need is a partnership. Price is always a bad issue to buy on, so building in a little margin into a contract will command an awful lot of loyalty from your printer.
If anything, it is paper prices that have been the biggest source of discomfort between designer and printer for the past few years, because the market for paper stocks has been so unpredictable. The comparison with a roller coaster is a good one – three years ago pulp prices from America hit 625 a tonne. Six months later they plunged to 280 per tonne. Since then they have gone back to 625, and back down to 345 where, thankfully, they have settled. But how is the poor printer supposed to maintain a stable relationship with clients when their most expensive raw material – often a third of the cost of the job – is so unpredictable?
Technology is changing almost as fast for the printer as for the designer, but don’t get carried away with the concept of computer-to-plate or digital printing. None of the manufacturers of either has had their hopes fully realised and it will be an awfully long time before they are – if ever. But one steamroller that can’t be stopped is the move towards digital imagesetting, or computer to film. Just as computer typesetting threw a generation of compositors on to the scrap heap, imagesetters will do the same to hand-planners and film-makers. Just think what you will be doing towards that. Many designers have moved into Web design and that is digital technology. With the press of a button you can turn what is on your screen into a four-colour separated film. Wave goodbye to the thousands of pre-press planners whose days are up – you are the next generation.
Jane Lewis finds out what the clients are really looking for from designers in the competitive and expanding world of print and corporate literature.
Although the market for print and corporate literature remains competitive, there is a distinct buoyancy within the sector. Consultancies are busier than they have been for years, as clients reflect a cautious confidence and commission new literature systems after having held off during the lean years.
“Clients have become more forthcoming in the last year, particularly after the general election. People took the view that they had to do something because all the excuses had been removed,” says David Stuart, creative director at The Partners. “Design is playing a bigger part these days. It’s still not as big as it should be, but more clients are using design and the spend is coming from advertising budgets,” he adds.
But, more than ever, clients are looking for effective solutions rather than pretty pictures. “Clients want print to work harder than it’s ever done,” says Domenic Lippa of Lippa Pearce. “They want to know print is going to help differentiate their offer. There’s a pace to it now.”
Areas such as finance and insurance are key target markets for designers as competition within those sectors hots up. Direct mail is another growth area, with figures from the Direct Mail Information Service showing volume has increased from 3173 million items in 1996 to 3420 million items in 1997 while spending on projects has risen by 1m for the same period to 1.54bn.
Although multimedia continues to have a big impact, there is nothing to suggest that new technology will replace hard copy. But Jeremy Sice, director at Stocks Austin Sice, points out that clients and designers alike still aren’t sure how to integrate it. “Everybody’s ignoring the opportunities that a truly integrated communications programme can achieve. At the moment it’s piecemeal and there’s duplication.”
Annual reports are seen as a useful marketing tool, but are still considered a specialist area by clients who often prefer using a consultancy which has an established reputation for such projects rather than a group which works on a variety of print and other graphics projects.
What clients want
Ian Martin, business development manager at Certa, an insurance company launched last September, used Lippa Pearce to create all of its new literature. “It put in the best overall pitch – it was dynamic, open to ideas and fresh, which is what we were looking for. It stood out as being straightforward in what it wanted to do. It was important that it could bring us the whole service and we didn’t have to deal with any middle men. We were able to sit round the table, and discuss and evolve the project which was brilliant.” Martin believes it is essential that clients communicate effectively to enable designers to adjust as a project evolves. “The key thing it scored on was that their minds haven’tbeen shut to new ideas. Between us we’ve been able to synchronise – it’s been an interplay of ideas and challenges and we felt comfortable about making suggestions. It has shown initiative which I prize more than anything,” he stresses.
Penny Osborne, marketing manager at media production agency Workhouse, says she was looking for a consultancy “keen to partner us, get under our skin and take our creative ideas on board”. She adds: “Because we’re a creative company ourselves, we needed someone who would be sensitive to our creative department and bounce ideas off them.” Osborne, who has experience of both sides of the fence – having previously been with
Wolff Olins as a project manager, says she worked closely with Hildebrand Design to develop ideas and implement the new brochure. She was also impressed that the consultancy was able to “introduce an extremely good printer – that was wonderful as we were able to produce cost-effective solutions that were really high quality.”
For annual reports Helen McCorry, group communications manager at National Express, believes there are specific requirements. “You’ve got an absolutely no-fail deadline that cannot be missed. You really need a design group which is extremely flexible because there are changes right up to the last minute. You’ve got to be in tune with what the company is trying to project in terms of overall image.
Creativity is also crucial – I always expect designers to push the boundaries and present things which may not be accepted but provide a different view.” National Express is currently working with Cairnes on its annual report. McCorry believes the design and production of annual reports is a “specialist area and I would look for particular skills in that area”.
Simon Ingham, advertising and publicity manager for Yorkshire Water uses Elmwood as a strategic design partner. He stresses “people relationships are key, but they mustn’t be too fluid. If you retain the services of a good account director you can use them for other things. It’s looking at how design can relate to the things you’re doing within your business”. Elmwood has been key to creating brands and communication material for specific campaigns, including advertising. “Some design agencies can find creative solutions for above-the-line advertising work and some advertising agencies have suffered – but you don’t need to go to an advertising agency to reinvent the wheel. Partnerships are central in terms of
getting the best results for your company.” Although clients are embarking on more print projects, budgets are tight and it is essential to stick to them. Credit Suisse Asset Management Fund PR and marketing manager Christine Roberts comments: “We’re a small team with a tight budget and we’re always looking for cost-efficiency. Other attributes are a fresh approach and different ideas, and we tend to use people recommended by former colleagues. But we do like designers to stick to their quotes.”
Room for improvement
Clients want to build partnerships and trust their consultants to produce solutions that work. Furthermore, they want hard evidence that they work. While Osborne acknowledges design is in many ways immeasurable, it makes her job easier if she can prove that the design budget is money well spent. “It’s all very well saying you’re an award-winning consultancy, but that’s different to achieving X number of pounds for an organisation.” So for the brochure worked on by Hildebrand, a telemarketing exercise has been carried out to produce quantifiable feedback with positive results.
According to Ingham, some designers “try to do everything. I get mailshots from agencies who say they can do everything for for you, but I feel you’re paying for their hierarchies.”
Martin states that, when working previously with designers, he has felt “less in control of the project and more at a distance”. It was important for him, working on the launch material for Certa, not to feel “abashed” about feeling part of the whole process. He points out that while working with Lippa Pearce they were all able to evolve ideas, whereas in the past projects hadn’t progressed as effectively.
According to McCorry, “there’s always more room for design groups to be very, very thorough with the proofs they send back. Accuracy is vital and everyone has to be consistent. Even a minor mistake is a major irritation.” She adds: “I don’t just want any old printer. I do believe ultimately the responsibility rests with a design group to make sure the printing comes through on time and the quality is down to them. I want sound advice from them.”
Tina Hulme, publicity and PR manager at ICI Acrylics Europe (see case study), believes the challenge for any supplier is to keep the “creative momentum going when you get bogged down with the day-to-day work”. She feels some consultancies fall down on project management. “A big critical area is account management. You get good creative work, but it can be ruined by sloppy project management. I’ve worked with designers in the past where it’s easy to get fired up with good ideas but it all falls to pieces when it’s being implemented,” she comments.
Going over budget is a major bugbear for Roberts. “I get incredibly cross when designers give you a quote and can’t stick to it. It’s up to them to come up with a design that can be done within the budget.” She also dislikes having to pander to creative whims. “You have to be careful that you don’t upset them. Artistic temperaments can get in the way – they get precious about their designs.”
Print is a notoriously cut-throat sector and, despite the increased activity, prices remain competitive. Andrew Wolff, creative director of Edinburgh consultancy Tayburn Corporate, claims: “Clients are still driving down costs and budgets are still tight. It’s hard for us to make money from print.”
“You’re never happy with fee levels, especially when you’re setting up. But we got value for money and a tremendous amount of commitment,” says Martin. Osborne declares: “I know how much these projects cost and I know it’s value for money but I don’t know whether everyone in the company agrees. You have to be able to justify it on the bottom line.”
Added extras are sure to annoy clients. “You do have to watch the author’s corrections that creep in at the last minute. You know you’ll be faced with more problems for reports and accounts so fees tend to be high,” says McCorry. Roberts says she makes sure she negotiates a fee she’s happy with. “Consultancies which deal with big consumer organisations seem to charge a lot and, when they come to someone like me, I get quotes that are probably double what a smaller agency would quote so I wouldn’t use them on that basis.”
Ingham states: “Larger companies get more benefit from having a single-source contract for strategic design – but for day-to-day stuff there are economies of scale in farming work out to other agencies. It’s getting the best out of your design agency in terms of doing what they want to do instead of the standard stuff that you’d pay premium prices for.”
Although the print market is buoyant, Sice warns the climate may change. “People should be thinking more about what they are doing. When the economy dives the literature market will dry up again. The end of next year may be more difficult and, if we can collectively help clients to produce more effective communications, when the economy dips then they’ll see a value to it,” he suggests.
The explosion of multimedia doesn’t seem to have dented demand for print design, but clients are also looking to consultancies specialising in print to offer skills such as Web design. Such skills can’t just be bolted on and, as Sice points out, there’s still confusion about how clients can best apply multimedia. “People are putting the same stuff in print as on a website. The use of corporate literature hasn’t moved on yet. Technology is providing people with major opportunities,” he adds.
The role of writers is gaining status as clients and designers realise the importance of good copywriting. Stuart comments: “Designers and writers are going to work closer together – they’ll be working in teams like in advertising. For years designers have neglected writers but, to become experts in communications, even designers now realise they have to work so much closer.” Lippa agrees: “You open a brochure and it looks nice but the text is crap – people forget about copywriting, but to us the words are the starting point.”
SECTOR REPORT – PRINT
Case study – Perspex book for ICI by Elmwood
ICI chose Elmwood to promote its Perspex brand after holding a three-way pitch. ICI Acrylics Europe publicity and PR manager Tina Hulme says Elmwood stood out for its ‘creativity and innovation’. She adds: ‘Its ideas were so different it just knocked your socks off. It took a completely different way of looking at things without being bizarre or off the wall.’
As part of the campaign to promote Perspex products to designers, architects and specifiers, Elmwood created a large, glossy book showcasing the use of Perspex. Director Paul Middlebrook states: ‘It’s a celebration of 50 years of Perspex and the aim was to give it the confidence and presence that such a powerful product should have.’ Former Design Week editor Jeremy Myerson was brought in to write the copy while photography was by Jonathan Oakes. ‘It’s about having a good relationship with your clients – challenging them and pushing them to go further than the brief – and showing them how they can be different,’ comments Middlebrook.
‘We’ve done the promotional material and advertising for Perspex and other ICI brands and tend to work in a very holistic way so there’s not the divide between advertising and design consultancy. There isn’t the issue of above- or below-the-line, it’s about communication and communicating the idea,’ he adds.
Although ICI doesn’t have a formal design roster, Hulme says she aims to ‘develop relationships where designers know almost as much about the product as you and can get inside your head and see opportunities you can’t’. She adds Elmwood is ‘very, very quality conscious which is great as it means I don’t have to worry’.
Case study – Hill & Knowlton brochures by The Partners
‘A lot of people have a very healthy disrespect for PR,’ states David Stuart, creative director at The Partners. The consultancy was brought in to create a range of ‘books’ promoting PR firm Hill & Knowlton which is part of the WPP Group. ‘I would love to know what it feels like to be a client,’ admits Stuart. ‘The idea is you go out and communicate and that needs to be expressed in terms that people who are ignoring you would like to hear.’
The result, a series of booklets which play on the PR initials, is intended to promote Hill & Knowlton’s individual services under a cohesive brand. PRoof includes gains achieved for clients; PRospectus is a guide to services on offer; PReview is a series of essays predicting trends and issues; PRogress charts performance and others are in the pipeline.
David McLaren, chief executive of Hill & Knowlton, explains that The Partners was chosen because: ‘We wanted to work with somebody who could provide something that had a degree of wit and lateral thinking to it.’ He adds: ‘We also wanted somebody who could work almost on a diagnostic basis. Good designers are like management consultants and help you to clarify your propositions in a more ruthless way than you could do yourself.’
Copywriter Beryl McAlhone was commissioned by The Partners to work on the project, in line with Stuart’s view that designers should pay more attention to text rather than bring someone in at the last minute or use clients’ copy. McLaren says he is ‘delighted with the results – it’s difficult to bring printed material to life and they certainly achieved that’. He also stresses that the relationship had to be right. ‘It depends on the right chemistry and intelligence. I felt very comfortable with The Partners.’
McLaren is also impressed by the feedback he has had so far. ‘We have already won business as a result of the literature and a lot of clients have written in commenting on it.’