Graphic design can have many challenges. From being creative to working with poor quality customer artwork. In this blog article, let’s talk about THINKING a job through before we even begin.
Let’s THINK About a Design
In fact, sometimes it comes down to the simple things. Spelling, punctuation, grammar are all items in a design that we must THINK through. By THINK I also mean we need to SLOW DOWN enough to allow for that thinking to take place! Not doing so could be very embarrassing!
Making a List & Checking It Twice
Well, why do you think Santa keeps a list and checks it twice. The wrong toy to the wrong child could be disastrous! LOL! But seriously, it’s good advice to make a checklist that you use on each design. What should that list contain? Well, to better answer that question, maybe we should go through all the consideration in design.
Visualize the Final Installed Product
The best way to begin thinking about design is to start by knowing what the final product is supposed to do and how it will be constructed.
- Is the sign indoors or outdoors? This will affect the choice of design media, print, vinyl laminated, not laminated etc.
- How large will the sign be? This is important to the number of design elements to be used, the size of those elements, whether they can be all done in one application or must they be applied separately etc.
- What material will be used for the messaging area? This can determine whether the sign can be made using certain types of materials; vinyl, channel lettering, neon etc.
- Will the signage be eye level or elevated? Again, this can determine things like print resolutions, sizes of design elements etc.
- Will the sign be lighted? Front or back? Could effect things like the choice in colors etc.
- Will you make the sign in your shop or will elements be added in the field? Access to in the field signage can determine some of the sign elements sizes, etc.
Who is the Designer You or Your Customer?
This is a really important question to consider. Remember, you are the professional, so it’s important that you “guide” your customer to a better design, but they pay the bill so ultimately, you may have to bend a little. This is where you may have to allow your customer to “design” what they want, but perhaps you may have to come up with 2 or 3 “alternatives” to show the customer to perhaps help them consider other factors like the ones previously described.
- Do a thorough customer interview. You’ll want to not only find out what the customer is trying to do with the design but spending a bit of time with the customer can help you “frame” the job and set expectations for the finished product.
- Will the customer be providing some of the design elements? This is very important to know ahead of the design. It can determine how much time you will be spending cleaning up poor quality art or whether you can match a logo color etc.
- What are the top 3 elements of the design that are most important to the client? Phone numbers, services, logo, color? It will determine how you will use those elements.
Gather the Right Design Tools
Now, this is a bit of a tricky subject since design tools and a lot like choosing a car. Everyone has their own opinion of what make and model is the best choice. So, what I am sharing here is my opinion and I want to hear yours in the comments. That said, let’s jump in with both feet!
- MAC or PC? Yep. I told you everyone will have an opinion! What I really want you to think through is design vs. production design. So in my opinion, the answer could be both.
- Now for the last 30 years, I’ve just used PC hardware, primarily because of output devices (production in mind). Most of the cutter, engraver, routers, wide format printers connect with PC devices. At the same time, when I do MUTOH live training workshop, I do come across numerous people who prefer to design on a MAC and then use a PC as a server to run the output devices. So can we just settle on looking at the workflow and tweak your hardware so that you get the easiest, most productive workflow.
- What software will you use for design? Again, this can be a tricky choice. In my opinion, there is no right choice. Over the last 30 years in this business, I’ve seen Adobe and Corel become great design software choices, but I have also seen their weaknesses. Of course, programs such as SignLAB or FlexiSIGN were originally created to offer a balance between design and production, so they are in own opinion, a must for the productive shop. Then there are stand-alone RIPs such as those made by ONYX, Wasatch and others. In addition to “design” software, you will also need to think about plugins or even stand-alone software that do things like resample images for enlargement, or trace bitmaps for vinyl cutting. I’ve even seen a great software choice that does vectorize and finds fonts, GraphicTracer Pro. Here are my recommendations:
- Commercial Sign Software such as FlexiSIGN.
- Adobe or Corel for handling tricky bitmaps and to take advantage of plugins for more design range.
- PhotoZoom Pro for enlarging bitmaps.
- VectorMagic or GraphicsTracer pro for vectorizing bitmaps.
- SignElements for access to a collection of fonts, clipart, vehicle templates and more.
- How will you communicate with your customer? This doesn’t sound much like a design tool, but it actually can be. Customers may want to preview a design, make changes or corrections and the like before you actually begin manufacturing the design. Will you send me drafts using emails or will you have another way for them to review the copy. For instance, FlexiSIGN has a feature called the “Artwork Approval Tool” that allows you to upload a copy of the design and then allows your customer to add comments but not the ability to download the file and take it elsewhere. It also keeps track of revisions.
Match Software Features with Output Devices
Now that you have many of the design factors in mind, it’s time to consider the relationship between your software choices and your output device choices.
When designing, it’s a good idea to know the features and capabilities of your output devices so you can design for those devices.
- How wide are your printer and vinyl cutter? This is going to determine where you will apply overlaps if your design is wider than your devices.
- What are the contour cut and perfcut options for your printer/cutter? If your design calls for some elements that will be printed and then contour cut, you will need to know your software options very clearly. While you can certainly “design” a perfcut, some cutter, like the MUTOH VC series of cutters, may have built-in options for this that can take the guesswork out of the design.
Of course, there are other cutters with similar options, but the point is if you as the designer did not know this feature was available, you might spend hours trying to get a perf cut to work properly.
That’s not only design time that could be used on other projects but also cost for your company in design time and maybe even materials used to test your perf cut settings.
- Do you know the right color management settings for the job? Color management is probaby the number one tech support call that a software company receives. Lots of folks try to match a color and because they do not understand the color management options neeeded to do so, they struggle, maybe even printing lots of test swatches until they get close. Good color management would include applying the right monitor profile so you can use soft proofing while designing. Now, if you’ree interesting in a real-world application workshop on color management check out our nationwide tour of live seminar events where we teach students how to set up and use color management. https://www.thinkmutoh.com/live-flexi-training-2019-schedule
- What is the best media choice? Finally, be sure to consider the media choice. If outdoors signage, obviously durability may be an issue. If indoor, perhaps a textile could give the design not only a visual impact but also a tactile one. Will the final print need lamination or even anti-graffiti laminate.
Create A Checklist and Use It
Hopefully, we have covered many of the considerations in creating a great design. At this point, you should develop a checklist for yourself and be sure to use it. Once you hve one done, or if you already have one, why not share it with the rest of our community so we all get better at design?