Here the shortlist of what we do:
- Branding / Logo Development
- Corporate Communication
- Publication Design
- Website Design
- Print Design (All Kinds)
- Package Design
- Exhibit Design
- Email Marketing
- Product and Service Literature
- You Name it
How do we feel confident that our needs will be met in this Virtual Office, or that our project will be completed on time and on budget? In the past, you could walk into an office, look a person in the eye and know that he or she understood the goals. The buck stopped somewhere. Now, the buck may stop with a voice on the other end of the phone, or a message at the end of a mouse click. At times, this is hardly comforting.
Does the break up of a localized geographic business structure mean a breakdown in connections among people? On the contrary, our electronic community is taking trust to a whole new level. Whether we spend our time at formal meetings or in on-line networking groups, trust is still the bottom line. It is the currency that we exchange to connect, gain resources, get sales.
Maintaining trust in these “virtual” times still requires us to work “smart” and respect each other’s time. Have you ever gotten an e-mail that was forwarded 14 times, requiring you to read for 15 minutes only to find out that it was the last sentence that was only slightly pertinent to your roll in the project? By taking five seconds to type, “The meeting is Tuesday,” someone could have saved you 14 minutes and 55 seconds. Wouldn’t we all like to have that extra time?
As a time saver, PDFs rule. I don’t usually play software favorites, but if there were one product that changed the way we work more than any other, I’d say it is Adobe Acrobat. In my opinion, it is one of the biggest factors that blurred the lines of the virtual office. Alterations and revisions have been and always will be part of the design and promotion process. Things change. People change. Ideas change. We need to see things with different type, different images, different colors. PDFs allow us to do that at lightning speed. However, PDFs (at least ones for layout approval) don’t necessarily show some of the details that can make or break a project. Clean preparation for printing or detail work in image manipulation are hard to see on a low resolution PDF and color approval, when you are looking at different monitors with different settings will never be 100% accurate. The illuminated color of a monitor is simply a different way of looking at color than reflective color, or the printed page. The point here is that even with all the approval processes we now have, trust in the design firm is still a key factor.
When a process gets faster and easier, it’s human nature to let our immediate demands take control, without thinking about how those demands affect the product down the road. It’s kind like building a house. Sure, anything is possible – you can change the foundation after the walls are put up; you can change the plumbing after the sinks are installed. But you have to ask yourself if postponing those decisions makes sense. In design, as in house building, making the right decisions earlier in the process is simply more economical and results in a more cohesive project.
To borrow a well-worn phrase, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Successful business relationships were, and still are, based on choosing capable people, developing trust and communicating clearly… it just happens faster now, virtually.
How does this relate to the design process? It works like this. You contact a design firm about a brochure, logo or web site. Since design is a custom-built creative process, there aren’t stores full of it where you can just pick one off a shelf. (That’s a good thing; otherwise you would see other companies with your same promotional material.) You can choose design wisely by looking at for good portfolio and talking to a representative from the firm. The portfolio will show you the firm’s capability and give you an idea of what you can expect. So you sign the contract and, in the agreed-upon time, you have a new brochure, logo or website. What have you gained, a brochure? No, you purchased a new method to promote your product. Maybe the designer developed a new logo. Is that all you’ve gained? No, you now have a foundation for a branding platform. Perhaps the designer created a new web site for you. Is a web site all that you got? No, you now have a branded avenue to connect to a broader audience. It may sound a little like semantics here, but the truth is that promotional materials are tools and if they are designed well, they will work well.
The next time you are sitting at the breakfast table and watching smoke flow out of the slots, remember, you purchased more than a toaster. You have the ability to make charcoal and listen to the smoke detector. Or, if you made the right choice, you have the ability to sit back and enjoy a wonderfully warm, slightly crispy bagel just waiting for the butter to melt.
We are in an ever-increasing state of cross computing. What I mean by that is, we are sending a variety of information and files from person to person, to get the job done quickly. What’s tricky is, we need to be sending the right kind of file so that all of us can accomplish a common goal. We often hear, “I sent them the logo.” That sure sounds simple enough. But if you were elbow deep in a car engine and you asked for a wrench and someone handed you a screwdriver you are faced with some choices: 1) try to use the screw driver or, 2) keep asking for the wrench until they give it to you. In either case, the efficiency of this job has dropped down a notch. If you ask again and you get a hammer, a staple gun or a rubber chicken, you realize that perhaps you and your coworker aren’t speaking the same language. In a flash of brilliance, you decide to build a common understanding with your helper, giving him or her the low down on each tool and its use.
That’s the way it works with graphic file formats. Here’s the low down on of some of the most common ones. First, you should know how to spot a graphic file format. Their identifiers are usually shown after the period at the end of the file name, for example a graphic file called “sushi” might be shown as sushi.jpg, sushi.gif, sushi.tif, etc.
Pixel based images
Pixels are small squares of color that make up a photographic image.
Benefits – Good for web use and photographic-based print imagery.
Drawbacks – In print material, a pixel-based image can create a ragged edge when used for graphics with flat areas of color such as company logos. Also, the resolution (number of pixels per inch) is critical. Commonly, an image used on the web is at 72 pixels per inch (due to the limitations of computer screens.) But a 72 pixel per inch image looks terrible in print because there is a much greater degree of detail available in most printing processes.
Moral of the story – don’t expect to take a logo off the web and have it look good in print.
Issues for pixel based images:
1) Resolution – Pixels Per Inch (ppi) is probably the most overlooked image characteristic when giving files to a design firm. Remember, the end use should determine whether or not an image would look good. Web use requires 72 ppi. Print use commonly requires 300 – 350 ppi. Simply put, a print image can be made into a lower resolution web image but a web image cannot be made into a higher resolution print image.
2) RGB vs. CMYK – We’re talking about different ways of showing color here. A computer screen uses RGB (Red, Green, Blue) and illuminated color. Printing commonly prints in CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black). Is this critical to your needs? It might be if you are expecting to get a file from someone and just drop it into a specific use and have it work. But if you are sending a file out to a design firm they can convert it to suit their needs.
Scanners, digital cameras and PhotoShop software are commonly used methods to generate pixel-based images.
Pixel based formats
GIF – Web based format only. Incorporates a different compression process by limiting the amount of colors used to speed the delivery time on the web. Not good for printing.
JPG – Print and web use. (resolution is important here). Can have various degrees of compression that make the file smaller for transfer speed or web delivery but compression can show up as odd artifacts when printing the image. The more the compression, the more ugly artifacts will be seen.
TIF – Generally used for printing. A commonly overlooked issue here is resolution. Printing usually requires 300 – 350 pixels per inch at the final size used in the printed piece. So an image that is 2 inches wide (and 300 ppi) is actually 600 pixels across. If we print that image on a full page 8 inches wide, we now are printing an image that is essentially 75 ppi, which by the way, will look terrible.
EPS – Generally used for printing. Has the same resolution issue as a TIF file.
PSD – Native PhotoShop Document. This carries design specific information that can be very helpful to a design firm. Depending on how it was created it could contain information such as layers with different image elements, text treatments, masking or alpha channels, etc.
PNG – The PNG is mostly a web image format and it has the quality of JPG with levels of transparency unseen in other formats
Vector based images
A “vector” file is one that describes shapes with a mathematical outline. This keeps the file size down and allows for some illustration processes and styles that are more difficult (or impossible) in a program like Photoshop. Generally used in printed projects and aspects of Flash animation. Logos, charts and stylized art are frequently created as vector art.
Benefits – It can be made larger or smaller and still maintain the same sharp quality. From a design perspective, it is a good format to have because it can be converted for any use from print to web without losing size or quality. For most logos this is the best quality format to hand off to any design firm.
Drawbacks – Not good for photographic images
Issues for Vector based images
Software and that version that created it – People use different applications to perform tasks and different versions are released frequently. This increases the difficulty of sending files and knowing that they can be used by a wide variety of people. Generally, unless you need specific capabilities from a specific version, saving a file back as an older version allows more people to use it and you don’t waste time on endless voicemails trying to figure out the software and version each person is using.
Adobe Illustrator is a commonly used software that create vector files.
Vector image formats
EPS – “But wait, there was an EPS format in the pixels based formats too.” Yeah, I know. Simply put, an EPS file can be brought into a graphic layout program for printing purposes.
Native vector formats – These are the formats created by the specific graphic image programs and retain all the separate information that makes the file adjustable. Native files quickly get into the issue of what program created it and what version of that program.
The last word for now.
There are times when any rule or suggestion just doesn’t work. Graphic formats are no exception. Use this basic information as a general guideline to think about when you have to enter into the world of JPGs, TIFs and GIFs. I hope this will save you some time, frustration and a few missed deadlines.
1600 Lower State Rd.
Doylestown, PA 18901