“Don’t fuck the vapid, damnit.” A sage piece of advice that everyone should be taught. It came from an ongoing essay by Kevin Smith, director of oh-so-many innappropriatly funny movies and Jersey Girl. The advice is funny, but the essay is actually interesting. His friend, in the movies and in life, Jason Mewes, is well known for his drug problems. But Kevin Smith is in the midst of a so-far 6 part essay on Mewes’ conflict with drugs. The story itself is sad and touching, but the writing is amazing. It’s not easy to write an engaging and interesting account of an addict’s fight with their demons.
I need to start a list of quotes somewhere.
Beware the approaching vent. May only be legible to designers and geeks:
The saying goes, that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. This week, I again had it confirmed that this sentiment applies nowhere better than in graphic design. Many is a client who’s tempted to try creating artwork on their own, wether because they’re a control freak, or they believe it will save them money. But it usually just ends up making me money. This week’s client is a semi-regular, who sends me their “finished” artwork to make it print-ready. The process reminds me a great deal of decorating the christmas tree when we were little. After spending hours with my sister and I spreading decorations on the reachable bottom 3 feet of tree, my mother would remove everything and spread it throughout the full length of the tree after we went to sleep. We were happy. My mother was happy. And I keep my clients happy. Remove every photo, convert them to a usable resolution, and change them to a printable color space. Correct, well, … every single bit of punctuation in the document. (Come to think of it, in 14 years of English classes, we never were taught the difference between a hyphen and a m-dash). Really… stop writing your annual report text in an email program or raw text editor. The world is already over-run by inappropriate apostrophes and quotation marks. Change your spot colors to process colors, and vice-versa. Switch to the professional version of your MS fonts. Add a bleed… everywhere. And move the text away from the edges of the page. (If you ever wanna see that vein throb in the forehead of your print rep, try putting a 8pt. rule around the outer edge of your page or bleeding off some 10pt. type from the bottom of the page.) Take the 15 text boxes you used to create your donor list, and convert them to 1 box, (columns, baby, columns), so that I can change the spacing on about 2 lines. Remove the hand indents you inserted in all 250 lines and use 1 simple command to do the same thing. Swap your soft-returns and your hard-returns, (Wow… that sounds awfully suggestive), so that the now-singular list can be formatted with a paragraph style. Remove all the double spaces you put in-between sentences because an English professor who studied in the dark ages once told you that it was proper. Convert your (oh my god I can’t believe you had the patience) dotted lines made of hand-typed periods to a simple filled tab.
On and on and on. I’m not talking artistic quality. I’m just talking process and procedure. The sheer amount of time you can see they had to spend to get the document to look the way it did is amazing. And it’s sad, when if they knew the tools they had, it woud take a quarter of the time and an eighth of the effort. There really is a reason that a single page layout program costs three to four times as much as a copy of Microsoft Word.*
*Okay… admittedly, I’ve yet to meet anyone… anyone… who properly uses all the features of even Word. I figured out a few years back that I had recieved and cleaned up, at that point, approximatly 10,000 Word documents. And in all that time, and all the time since, I have never recieved a Word document that was in perfect condition, ready-to-import. If I ever do, I think I’ll marry that person and have super-babies. Although as I get older, I am more likely to just accept someone who knows how to set a tab-stop.
Okay… no more funny. Serious design bother now:
I’ll say up front that I’m picking on no one in particular. It comes around from many, many people. And I myself have been guilty of it at one point. But I really get the urge to pummel people with a t-square who say that graphic design is the process of making things look pretty. Yes, the word used is always “pretty”.
Graphic Design is as much about making things look pretty as carpentry is about cutting pieces of wood, or computer programming is about using clean coding, or writing is about filling a column. Take me. I’m a semi-sucessful graphic designer. But I’m fairly bad as a fine artist.
From strictly the design portion of the job description, the goal is to convey a message clearly. (Or rarely, to obscure a message). That means taking into account the people doing the receiving. How they’re receiving. Where they’re recieving. What you want them to do after they’re done receiving. You take into account a huge history of visual communications. You account for cultural traits and mores. You’re job is to manipulate peoples impressions.
And if you perform as a more full-service designer, those things are actually a small part of your job. You may also coordinate with people supplying resources and ideas, and people producing tangible materials. You deal with design concerns versus technical capabilities versus political realities. (The Dali Lama always goes on top). You organize multiple jobs at once, and meet everyone’s schedule.
And like any service-industry job, you have to learn to communicate. Not only do you have to keep the right people informed, but you have to know how best to communicate to each and every individual person. Some people thrive on bullet points. Some need detailed answers. Some people want to control every interaction, while others just want to be kept in the loop. Until you’re President of the United States, you can’t get away with saying “this is who I am, you need to learn to communicate my way”.
Do designers make pretty things? Sure. But think back to whatever psychology you’ve studied. Think about what goes into the human concept of “attractive”.

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  1. Very nice. It’s amazing how screwed up a Word document can be. 48,000 extra tabs and spaces. Extremely odd formatting, etc…
    A client asked me for the corrected text last month after I’d set up a print piece for her. She recognized that I had made extensive changes. I cut the modified text out of InDesign and pasted it into Word for her. I don’t know if I hadn’t moved text that direction before or just had noticed, but Word maintained the InDesign formatting. Tab placement, indents, line spacing, it was the most beautiful Word document I’ve ever seen.

  2. InDesign is very faithful to Word. Even if you copy and paste the text out of InDesign straight into Word, it maintains the formatting.

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