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Stop bothering me with those pesky job specs!

Stop bothering me with those pesky job specs!

Recently we did some logo work for a guy who had worked with a number of other graphics designers in the past. When he first hired me he said “can you handle my graphic design needs because I’ve asked for quotes from a couple of other designers who are being vague about what they’re going to do, and that bothers me.”

So when I started doing a job for him I sent him an email & asked him the same thing I ask every client, “What are the specs for this job?”…(that doesn’t seem like an unusual question to me but  I guess it seemed like a big pain in the butt to him because the client didn’t answer the email.)  So I asked him again…..”David, can you give me an idea of how you’re going to use this logo artwork so I can be sure to set it up correctly?”   He sent me back an email that said “can’t you just do it the regular way?”.

I tried to explain that while graphics design may not be brain surgery, it’s still a technical skill that works with and outputs technical data.  The artwork we create as graphics designers is the technical information that a printer would need to be able to print a job correctly.  OR if it’s a digital job, the artwork would be the information that your computer needs to be able to display your website correctly, for example.

To do ANY job, we have to know what it’s for and how it’s going to be used.  Is it a printing job that’s going to a “CMYK” or four-color printer?

Is it a spot job such as a two color business card or a silk screened or embroidered t-shirt?  Is it a piece of letterhead that you are printing on your inkjet or laser printer?  Is it a website that you need to load quickly so your customers don’t lose interest?  All of those different types of jobs require us to set up a job with different settings or specs and those settings ensure that the job will print or appear correctly.  And no sir, there’s no such thing as “the regular setting” in advertising.

The problem with this client is that neither of the previous graphics designers had bothered to ask him what he needed the artwork for and as a result the client thought I was a big pain in the butt.  I gently explained that the ONLY reason his graphics designers hadn’t asked him for job specs in the past is because they either didn’t care about his job at all OR they weren’t experienced or trained enough to know any better.  I tend to think it was the former.  And the only reason his jobs hadn’t come out incorrectly is either because the printer fixed the specs without telling him or alternatively, he could have experienced a miracle.

What are “Job Specs”?

CMYK Inks

CMYK Inks

Color Printing – when you’re flipping through a magazine looking at the pretty pictures you’re looking at a CMYK or four color offset print job. A CMYK job prints with the standard, four ink colors that offset printers use: cyan, magenta, yellow & black (thus abbreviated to CMYK).  The artwork for this job tells the printing press how many of each of those four inks to use when they are mixed to make any one color.  If the photos are not set up as CMYK, but as “RGB” (or Red, Green, Blue) for example, the job isn’t going to be able to print at all without being fixed.  So if my client gave us job to his last printer this way they would have had to fix the artwork.

Spot Printing – This type of printing was very popular in the old days because it saved money by using less press time, less set up & clean up time and less than the standard 4 inks.  Instead of mixing the four CMYK inks as with Offset Printing, Spot printing allows us to pick a premixed ink color that the printer essentially grabs off a shelf and uses “as is” to ensure that the desired color is reached.  However with the rise of “discount printing” (which is really just “gang” printing i.e., printing multiple jobs on the press at one time) there are not as many reasons to print spot color.  Spot color printing is still used however.  Sometimes when a client is particularly concerned about their logo colors, for example, we might print a job with 2  or 3 spot colors OR we might print a CMYK job and ADD one or two spot inks (for what’s called a 5 or 6 color job).   Needless to say if we don’t put that information into the artwork, then the printer won’t know what color to use and the printing presses will be confused as hell. There are a number of different types of spot colors used, but the most famous one is made by “Pantone” and you can get a “Pantone swatch book” that let’s you pick the spot colors for your job.

Pantone Swatch Book

Pantone Swatch Book

By the way, you cannot pick your colors by looking at a job on the computer monitor…..what looks orange to me could look pink to you.  The correct and ONLY way to do this is to look at a physical Pantone book and pick the colors that way.  Anything less than that and you’d be guessing.

Digital Printing – there are digital presses now and you would prepare your artwork to print on a digital press the same way you would if you were sending a job to be printed at an offset printer.  however there is some variation in this so for that reason…..you need to ask your printer for his printing specs and give those to your artist.

Digital Jobs – not all jobs are going to print, and thus not all artwork has to be prepared for that purpose.  A website design is not for printing (unless of course you want people to be able to print the website on an inkjet printer, and that has to be considered before the job is half done).  There are not printing specs for a job like this but there is still information that has to be integrated into the file that is critical to ensuring that your job looks good and loads correctly.  For example, images that go into a website don’t have to be as high resolution as the images in printing jobs.  Here’s the rule:  You’ll need 72 dpi images for digital/web work, 150 dpi images if you’re printing a job on your inkjet or laser printer and 300-600 dpi images if you’re printing Offset/CMYK.

A note about resolution – if you give your artist a photo that’s the size of a postage stamp then they cannot increase the physical size of that job to be an 8″ x 10″ job, for example.  So always give your artist the biggest, highest resolution images you have and then depending on that, your artist should be able to tell you how big he or she can make that image.  don’t skimp on images…there’s not much worse than trying to use crappy images on a nicely laid out job (well, it also sucks to have typo ridden text, but that’s another article).

While there is a whole lot more that can be said here, I think this is a good introduction for you whether you’re a client with a print job or a young graphic designer who slept during this class in college.  If you have any questions about this please just shoot me an email….at emily@thebrandxagency.com


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Cheap Graphic Designers can = a NIGHTMARE!

Why should you pay someone a lot of money to layout a brochure or a logo or a website, when you can get someone to do it for less than nothing online?  Well, the reason is because graphic designing involves strategic, creative AND technical talent.  Designers need to know how to make something that looks good AND something that works AND something that is technically set up properly to be printed or emailed or posted on the web.  The people who know how to do that CORRECTLY have been to college for at least 4 years [to learn how to prepare the digital files to go to press] and it takes a significant chunk of time to prepare the files for you, so just using that logic we can surmise that vendor would probably NOT want to do that for $20.  IF a designer offers to do a job like that for you for an amount of money that seems “too good to be true” then remember, just like with any other vendor, it probably IS too good to be true!

I have managed a team of graphic designers & web programmers for nearly 25 years now and I can tell you that I spend at least 60% of our production time fixing artwork for customers who have just tried to work with the $25 artists.  What scares me more than those people are the clients who don’t realize that they don’t have good, solid technical files and end up sending the job to print, only to realize that they’ve lost thousands of dollars in the end.

The fact of the matter is that we’re living in tough economic times and YES there’s a lot of price pressure right now so you can probably negotiate to get the price down on your graphic design work, but just keep in mind that if a designer is willing to create your brochure or business card or logo for 1/10th the price of any other quotes you have received, then something is most likely NOT RIGHT.  Don’t waste your money with vendors who don’t know what they’re doing….get your job done right the first time and save yourself a lot of time and headache by hiring someone who knows the trade.  If the vendor is offering to create a brochure for you “overnight” or for less than anyone else, RUN don’t walk, RUN!


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Your Website Checklist

You’ve just hired someone to design and program your new website and they’re asking you Checklistto give them all the things they will need to create the site. The problem is you don’t know the first thing about it, so what do you do?  You can start with this list of  things that most if not all website designers and programmers will need in order to create a new website:

 1)      Unformatted digital text – be prepared to give your development team all of the text for your website in one UNFORMATTED, Microsoft Word or Word Pad document (or other digital word processing file).  Be sure to label each section of text with the page names that the text goes on (so put “About Us” at the top of the text for the About Us page and so on). Make sure that the headers for each page in this section match the names of each page.  These page names should correspond to and match the primary navigation tabs on the home page and any sub tabs or links that may be included with your site. Don’t forget to include all the headlines, sub headlines, and other text that you want used through the site (you may want “pull quotes” to be used on side bars, for example or quotes or captions to be used on photos; also include all the contact information, copyright dates, email addresses, names of employees.)  To ensure you don’t forget anything use your initial “site outline” that you should have created when you asked for the quote for the job, as a guide for the text you need to write and prepare.

2)      Website Instructions – First let me say that there’s nothing more dangerous and confusing than receiving 35 emails each with a snippet of text or a photo with a name like “25944GP.jpg” or other files that are not properly named and prepared to be handled by the development team.   Be sure to include any and all instructions for the website in the above “Digital Text” document (these instructions can be before or after the text for the site). Be sure to make a clear differentiation between the web text and your instructions, perhaps by writing the instructions in colored text or a different font.

3)      Correctly prepared and formatted Images – The exact size of photos that your team will need won’t be clear until AFTER the design phase of the web development is File format imagesdone.  For that reason it’s just better if you give your team the biggest, highest resolution images you have. If you have those images on your computer, do not try to email them to the team by embedding them into a word document or an email.  You CAN send them as an attachment to an email OR better yet use a service like “drop box” or see if your team has an “FTP” server that will make it easier for your to transfer files that are very large.  If you try to email these images they may clog up your email software’s outbox and even if they go out of your own email system, you won’t have any way of knowing if the client can accept files that are that big.  For that reason it’s just better to upload them to an FTP server or use a system similar to Drop Box.(to use an FTP site, someone from your development team will have to send you the instructions and log-in information separately).  Be aware that not all images are “ready to go”…and your design crew may have to do some photo retouching, cropping, resizing and other word that may or may not be included in your initial website quote.  If you have a choice to send your images in a variety of different file formats, most designers would prefer .jpg images (pronounced J-peg).

4)      Image and file Naming – Be careful how you name the files and  images that you give to your development team because it’s REALLY hard and very confusing when they get files or images that are named “qap239r809.jpg”.  If you could name the photo or file WHAT it is……that is very helpful and avoids unnecessary delays.  If the image you are sending is a photo of “Mary Smith” then you could just name it Mary Smith.  It would be even better if you could add the name of the page where you’d like that photo, for example marysmith_pricing.jpg  (don’t forget you can’t ADD a period in the text name…. you CAN add an underscore OR a dash, without a problem – no other characters can be inserted into a file name and the .jpg part is added automatically so you don’t need to worry about that part…just name the first part of the file name (before the period) as I’ve explained here.

5)      Captions – if you would like a caption on or above any of the images, please provide the information to your team by creating a list using the Image file name (see above instruction about naming your files) plus the text that goes with that image next to the name. You can include this list with the text for the website (with the instructions, before or after). If your website is going to have a series of photos with captions, you’ll want to consider how those photos will look next to each other and try to keep any text or captions that go with the photos in a similar style and length.  It’s better not to have one photo with a big, long sentence under it while another photo has two words.  Also remember that if your site is going to have any moving images or text, which are usually programmed with FLASH instead of HTML, for example, you will want to have those captions of similar length and style as well.

6)      Forms – if you plan to have a form on your website, be sure to include the text for the form (or the field names, in other words) with the unformatted digital text that you’ll be providing to your development team.  Also you’ll need to include the email address where you want the form information to be sent to (so for example if you have a form on your “contact us” page, then whenever someone fills out that form, your team will need to know what email address you’ll want that information to be sent to).

7)      Logos – you development team will also need any and all logo artwork that you use for your company and possibly the name of the font that goes with your logo and business package (some companies have a typeface or “font” that they use for all of their outgoingfavicon 1 materials and some organizations even have instructions or rules that go with those fonts & logos, that a marketing team would have to have in order to use those items correctly).  Be sure to send your logo in the highest resolution possible and if possible send the version that’s color and the one that has a clear background or no background.  If you are not sure which logo to send, then I’d suggest that you send  them all the logos you have (you can include these files with the images you will be emailing or posting to the FTP site or putting into “Dropbox”).

8)      Social Media Links – if you want social media links on your website please send 20-social-media-iconsthe links or web addresses to each of your social media webpages.  Try to avoid telling your programmers “can you link my website up to my Facebook page?” because this opens up a whole new can of worms and a number of opportunities for the programmer to connect your website up to the wrong Facebook page.  If you want your site to be developed quickly and correctly, make it as easy and clear as possible for your team so that you minimize confusion and maximize the chances of things being done right the first time.

9)      Contact info – Don’t forget to include any and all current contact information with the content for the website including all the email addresses you want listed on the website (and where you’d like those items to be listed or located).

I often hear horror stories of companies who have hired someone to work on their website, only to have that person drop off the planet or stop working on the project abruptly with no explanation.  I’d wager to say that these people get frustrated asking for materials, waiting for them, asking for the next thing, then waiting for that item and so on….only to lose time and money and ultimately any and all profitability on the project.  This isn’t inevitable however and you’ll greatly reduce the likelihood of having any major issues if you will take the appropriate amount of time on the onset of the project in order to prepare the materials that your team is going to need.

Finally, don’t forget that your development team is most likely made up of a number of people – you may have a marketing person who is helping you plan and outline the site, a copywriter who will help you to write the text, a designer who will develop the design of the website, a programmer who will program the basic site (an HTML programmer or WordPress Programmer, for example) and possibly other programmers who will do specialty programming such as FLASH, database or E commerce programming.  Finally you may have someone to help you after all that’s done to market your website and get it listed on the quality management teamssearch engines.  You may not need to send all the above information to each person who is working on the site, but it will be helpful to you and certainly the initial people working with you to be able to see all the information in one place – well-organized and clearly thought out – before they start on your web development project.


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I hate to ask but what the heck is my brand, anyway?

I hate to ask but what the heck is my brand, anyway?

In a recent post I promised to help you figure out how and when to change your brand. But before I do that I think I should take a minute to define branding for you…..

After a million years in advertising I’ve pretty much heard it all….but recently when pitching a potential client they told me they wanted our ad services, but they just didn’t want any “Branding”.

My first thought was “What in the world do they think branding is, anyway?” The word “Branding” has been misused and thrown around too much lately. The truth of the matter is this: asking for advertising without branding is like buying a car without a motor.

I think in general people IN advertising assume that people OUTSIDE our world understand all the terminology and intricacies of our profession. BUT THEY DON’T and there’s no shame in that. Just put it out of your mind that you could ever hire an ad agency and take your branding “on the side”. It ain’t gonna happen – and if it does, you’re wasting your money and getting really BAD advertising at the same time.

Here’s what you need to know: in order for folks to recognize and remember your ads, the ads have to be visually and contextually MEMORABLE. In order for an ad to be memorable, it has to have some VISUAL element that is repeated from ad to ad. Without that, the consumer has no idea that one ad connects to the next….and no way to identify and remember you….(and the same applies to the content…..if each ad says something completely different, the light bulb of “recognizeability” may never turn on for your potential client).

You may come across a hundred different definitions of branding, but they all boil down to this:

Your branding is some visual and/or contextual element[s] that can be repeated from ad to ad with the purpose of creating a recognizable look and feel or BRAND. Brands can be created for a product or a service or a business…or all three.

Your brand may not apply just to your ads either, it can incorporate your logo, your colors, your music or slogan or any of the other elements that separate who you are from your competition….or in other words, your brand is your identity. You brand is what the consumer uses to remember you. It’s that “thing” that makes them wonder or hopefully realize that they’ve seen you before….and it plays on their subconscious and forces them ask themselves “hey this seems familiar…and perhaps I should take a longer look at this?”

In order for any of your advertising to work, it has to have a unique, definable, consistent and repeatable brand and that brand should be used on an ongoing basis in order to help your target market to recognize and remember who you are….long enough to make a buying decision. It’s not any more complex than that (the complex part is finding a way to integrate that brand into your design and content…and unless you’re particularly inclined, you need a pro to help you with that).brand

NEXT POSTING: OK, so my graphic designer created an ad for my company, but I ran it one time and haven’t heard from anyone.  Stay tuned to hear about the importance of frequency when it comes to advertising.  The buying public not only needs to hear about you multiple times but they need to be able to remember you WHEN THEY ARE READY TO BUY SOMETHING (and of course you normally don’t know when that is, so you have to use some ad tricks to get people’s’ attention). 


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Why does it take so long to create a website?

I cannot tell you how many times my clients have commented on how much work is involved in creating a website. I think that when anyone sees a finished product, no matter what it is, the tendency is to think about how simple things look, but the fact is that any intelligently developed product or project requires time, thought and effort (and experience and education don’t hurt either).

The fact is that a website cannot be created in a vacuum. And as much as I hate having to say this before I get a job from someone,  I have to have SOME input from my client about what they do, who they want to target, what TYPE or style of website they like and want, etc.  Of course I can and will help them to think through all of these types of things (called “Ad Strategy”) but sometimes it’s hard to get the clients to give me ANY time to talk about their businesses and what they want to accomplish with their marketing.  This isn’t a step you can overlook – all good advertising starts with strategy.  Strategy is thinking about who you are, what you do, how you want your market to perceive you, who your competition is, what their advertising looks like and on an on  Way too many people hire independent graphic designer or web programmers and think they are going to provide them with everything they need. What they don’t know is that those people are just one part of a bigger team that works together to make excellent advertising products and websites.

A website starts with strategy first and then moves on from there to “site structure”.  Site structure thinks about what pages a website will have and how they will be organized.  Clients sometimes don’t recognize how their site’s structure is tied to their design.  You may want to have three basic areas of the site, one each for each category of product you sell, and so the site structure and site design have to consider that. For example, if you sell widgets and you have three different categories of widgets…let’s say Widgets for kids, Widgets for Adults and Widgets for Dogs, then the site design might have three columns.  If you plan on adding 3 new product categories later, then the designers will keep this in mind and find a way to set things up so that more categories can be added to the site later.

After developing a site’s structure the client or the ad team will need to write the text.  If the client opts to write their own website text, I have to get that text from them and that can take a while.  Then I have to proof the text and edit it and send it back to the client for their approval.  The website development project will usually go faster if you hire us to write your text for you, but that still takes research time and multiple drafts before the content is ready to go.  The text is essential to any project because it tells me how many pages we’ll need and how much space is going to be need for that text. In a time crunch, I might be able to get the development team started on the site with JUST an outline of the text, but it’s always better to have the full text before proceeding.

All this has to be considered BEFORE any design work is done or it will take twice as long to do the project when things have to be redone.  Many times a client is just figuring things out as they go along and as a result the job specs change in mid-stream.  This can be very frustrating for the web development team….not because we care if you change your mind, but because we’re losing time and money if the job takes longer than what we have originally estimated.  I can tell you that I try to do many of these mid-stream changes without charging extra, but what happens is we reach a point where we’re losing money.  If I haven’t mentioned the negative impact of these changes before that point, then the client usually gets frustrated or mad because they’re not considering all the other “free” changes that have come before.  Just keep in mind….that if you don’t mind paying for extra changes…..then we don’t mind making them for you.

Once the client gives us the text they want on their website (preferably 100% ready to go and in a digital format with little or no formatting like bold words or bulleted text, etc.) I can start assigning all the different aspects of creating a website, which includes:

  1. Outlining the text
  2. Formatting (or unformatting) the text
  3. Determining the page names
  4. Creating the site structure
  5. Considering the functionality of the site and loading the plug-ins or creating the custom programming required to integrate these functions into the site.
  6. Hiring the appropriate designers and programmers for each aspect of the job.
  7. Designing the site or searching for and selecting a site design template (depending on if you’ve paid for a custom designed website or a template designed website).
  8. Searching for, getting approval for and buying the images from a stock photo house.
  9. Acquiring the product images and logo artwork from the client.
  10. Editing the photos or other images.
  11. Selecting the site fonts.
  12. Programming the basic site – which can include many different types of programming and multiple different programmers who work in HTML, WordPress, PHP (the native language that WordPress uses),  CSS, Javascript and on and on.
  13. Programming any ancillary functionality to the site (such as E commerce/Paypal, membership only access, databases, etc.)
  14. Proofing the site
  15. Making the customer’s changes
  16. Writing and programming the site Metadata (title, description and keywords)
  17. Marketing the website (I could make a whole new list for this item).
  18. Web marketing – none of that even considers the work that is required after the site is built to market the site and get i t listed on the search engines.  That is a whole other article!!!!

I recognize that once you see this list, that developing a website can seem like an insurmountable pain in the neck.  It may be somewhat of  a pain (as everything worth doing is) but it’s not insurmountable because we know what we’re doing.  If you’ll let us, we’ll guide you through the project to completion and satisfaction and you’ll end up with a top-notch website that will make your company look great to the public and make your target market WANT to visit your site.  For more information please don’t hesitate to contact me at emily@mdept.com.  I am more than happy to offer up advice and answer any of your questions, whether you do business with my company or not!!!


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Top 13 reasons to update your website

Top 13 reasons to update your website
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Why doesn’t my Graphic Designer “get it”?

Does it seem like you struggle communicating with your graphic designer?  There could be a number of reason why this happens, not all of them are his or her fault.

1) Graphic designers are not mind readers…..MOST designers can do a design in just about any style, but if you don’t tell them what you like or what you have in mind, then don’t expect them to figure that out with the first set of designs.  IT IS PERFECTLY natural to go back and forth with your designer a few times as part of the design process.  That’s one of the reasons not to wait until the last-minute to do a job, because that reduces the amount of “creative time” that can be invested into the project.  Unlike fine arts, graphic design is a group process that’s based on many more things besides what the artist likes or even what YOU like.

2) Not every Graphic Designer is highly gifted….and they are not all equally skilled.  The BEST graphic designer is a gifted artist that is very creative. But just as with any workers, there are a lot of mediocre ones and only a small handful of brilliant ones.  LOOK AT YOUR ARTIST’S ENTIRE BODY OF WORK closely before you hire anyone – if you like the majority of the work they’ve done, then that’s a good indication that they’ll be able to do something you’ll be happy with as well (I know, “duh!”, but people forget to do this all the time).  In any case, don’t blame them if you don’t like ALL their designs because sometimes they have to do things they don’t like (based on some other client’s likes or needs).

3) Most graphic designers are fine artists and  fine art is highly subjective…  ADVERTISING, on the other hand, is a different thing all together as it’s part “creative” and part “logic”.  For this reason, you’ll get better results of you work with a team of people that includes an Art Director who manages your graphic designer.  The Art Director makes sure that your advertising is not only interesting & creative (and visually attractive) but they also ensure that your Graphic Artist understands who your target market is, what your significant margin of difference is and what your company’s goals and needs are (to name just a few of the things they do).

4) Advertising is a process…I can’t tell you how many people are under the impression that the designer should be giving them a final design when they deliver the first draft to the client.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Hopefully you’ve communicated your tastes & wishes to your advertising team and when they submit the first design drafts to you, they will be CLOSE to what you want.  But if not, try to think about the design work they’ve submitted to you.  What do you like about it?  What don’t you like about it?  Try to visualize your artwork with a different color or photo.  Ask yourself if there is enough “white space” AND communicate all that to the Art Director (who will discuss it with the Graphic Designer).  Don’t hesitate to ask your Art Director to tell you what they think and to help you analyze and understand the pros & cons of each layout option.

5) Rely on the pros…..too many times I’ve had a client come back and tell me that her daughter didn’t like something about a design or her receptionist didn’t like the colors.  Of course it’s ok to ask other’s what they think….but try to remember who the pros are and who your target market is.  Ask your ad team what THEY think or call someone you know that’s in the same age and has the same demographics as your target market.  It is far more important for you to ask yourself if you think your target market will “like” it (or react to it) than it is for your 17-year-old daughter (unless she happens to be IN your target market and in that case remember that her’s is just one opinion out of a larger group.).

If you’re working with the right team you should be able to work through the design process and get to the point where you are satisfied with the work you’ve received.  If you’ve been through 3 or 4 sets of revisions and you still feel like you’re very far off then that is the point at which you can question if you’re with the right artist/team or not.  But ask yourself if you’ve been clear with your designer & team (and if you told them you want your ad to have a lot of “swish pop” or to be “interesting” then that doesn’t count because who the heck knows what that means anyway?).

(Please feel free to read my blog postings “How to Proof a Brochure” and that will help you in this area as well; also read “First the text, the rest will Follow”).


Stop bothering me with those pesky job specs!

Recently we did some logo work for a guy who had worked with a number of other graphics...
article post

Cheap Graphic Designers can = a NIGHTMARE!

Why should you pay someone a lot of money to layout a brochure or a logo or a website,...
article post

Your Website Checklist

You’ve just hired someone to design and program your new website and they’re...
article post

I hate to ask but what the heck is my brand, anyway?

In a recent post I promised to help you figure out how and when to change your brand....
article post

Why does it take so long to create a website?

I cannot tell you how many times my clients have commented on how much work is involved...
article post

Top 13 reasons to update your website

article post

Why doesn’t my Graphic Designer “get it”?

Does it seem like you struggle communicating with your graphic designer?  There could be...
article post