The Need to Proofread

A delicate and difficult skill to master, proofreading is a key step in the production of valuable written communication. A great strapline, an attention grabbing headline and a brilliant advertising slogan all lose substantial impact when printed with a typo. Our eyes tend to focus on the mistake – rather than on the key message. Proofreading is important generally, but the practice becomes especially important in graphic design when working in print. Typos on the web are cheap and easy to fix; typos on a print run of 10,000 copies are a bit more costly to remedy.

Advert on the back of a lorry from IcelandRather than embarrass myself by revealing mistakes from own practice (like getting the postcode wrong on my own company’s stationery), I thought I would use a photo to illustrate the point. The photo – taken on the North Circular last Friday afternoon – also speaks to the importance of checking whether outdoor or vehicle signage is still in good repair.

Do you think Iceland has had many job applicants to be lorry drivers? The pay rate seems a bit low, don’t you think?

The London 2012 logo

London 2012 logo So much feedback on the new London 2012 logo has been published in news articles, posted on websites and ranted about in blogs that we may be growing tired of talking about it. I initially resisted the desire to blog about this raging conversation as my own feelings were mostly covered by some of the many less-than-thrilled reactions to the new logo.

But then I continue to see the 2012 logo in all its monstrosity. And I can no longer keep hold of my public tongue. Every time I see that logo, I have the same reaction: what were they thinking? Striking? Yes, but so is a slap in the face. Memorable? Only in that it has caused such an up-roar, as has Guantanamo Bay. (By the way, I am drawing too many comparisons between the 2012 logo and Guantanamo Bay … simply that both have caused an uproar in some corners of the world. This isn’t a political blog.)

The real short-coming of the logo is its failure to account for those not in the ‘youth of tomorrow’ category. The leaders of the Olympic committee have stressed that it was all about inclusion, but if the logo is geared for the London street culture, doesn’t that necessarily mean that a large portion of others are left out?

Making a logo for the Olympics is not an easy task – make no mistake about that. With so many different stakeholders involved in the process and with so much of the public taking a keen interest in the event, it is an impossible task to create a logo that works for everyone. But what the Olympic committee should be doing now – rather than taking a government-esque response of “that’s the logo; now learn to love it” stance – is adopting a forward-thinking business approach to the backlash against the logo and trying to put a positive spin on it. Maybe even admitting they got it wrong, or could have gotten it more right. At very least, the Committee should acknowledge the role of the public (their customers!) in deciding how the corporate side of the Olympics is presented.

Design as an investment – not as an expense

Good design is worth paying for and should be viewed as an investment, not simply as an added cost or expense. As a graphic designer, I firmly believe that good design will pay for itself in folds. I hold this view not because I am dependent upon it for my salary, but more importantly, because there is data that supports it. Consider the following information from the Design Council:

More than eight out of ten design-led companies have introduced a new product or service in the last three years, compared to just 40 per cent of UK companies overall. 83% of companies in which design is integral have seen their market share increase, compared to the UK average of 46%.

Design is integral to 39% of rapidly growing companies but to only 7% of static ones.

80 per cent of design-led businesses have opened up new markets in the last three years. Only 42% of UK businesses overall have done so.

And consider the following viewpoint offered by George Fisher, former CEO, Kodak:

In the end, what customers really see is what designers design. That is the ultimate tool that a company has in order to be competitive in the marketplace.

My own experience as a graphic designer reflects the ideas presented by the Design Council and George Fisher. For example, I have a particular client with whom I have been working since 2003. When I first met up with this client, a London-based charity, they had no concept of the need for quality design and it showed. Their promotional materials lacked clarity and focus and a basic level of presentability. Their website was poorly organised. The charity was little-known, with a very low profile.

In the four years that I have worked with my client on its promotional and informational materials, the charity’s profile has risen dramatically. The organisation has come to the attention of 10 Downing Street (in a very positive light) and has shown an exhibition about its work and those it helps in not only the Brunei Gallery, SOAS at the University of London, but also in the Houses of Parliament. Through its website, the charity raises upwards of £10,000 or more per year. The organisation has produced short movies, a book and educational materials, all of which have increased its ability to fulfil its mission.

It would be overly stating it to argue that the design of these various materials is the sole reason for the success of my client. Of course not. Yet the design did play a key role. As I always stress to my clients: You may have the most important message in the world and you may be doing the best work in your particular field, but unless we can entice others to read and learn about it – no one will know. We’ll be the best kept secret in the world. That is where design earns its keep. It is quality graphic design that encourages people to pick up that brochure, surf through that website and learn more about the organisation.

Quality graphic design must be viewed as an integral element to the success of any charity or business.

It’s Kuler for Cool Colours

Stumbling about the internet recently, I came across Kuler: Adobe’s online colour selector tool. It’s a great site for playing with different colour schemes, with an eye towards that next design project. Kuler allows users to define and export colour palettes from a web browser. The exported swatch libraries can then be imported into a variety of Adobe programmes. (I have used it with Illustrator – and it’s absolutely wonderful. Very cool!)

So, if you are stuck on what colours to use for that website project or you’re not sure about what sort of palette to use on that annual report, definitely check it out.

Converting large-scale print forms for web presentation

I was recently faced with an interesting production issue involving converting a large scale print file (for a poster series that were 700mm x 1000mm). My client asked me to convert the (40 page InDesign) print file to a PDF for posting on the web. My initial attempts at using Adobe InDesign’s ‘Adobe PDF Presets’ didn’t reduce the file size enough – I was getting a file size between 5 – 10 MB. (Granted, 5MB is not a ridiculously massive file download in this age of broadband, but I was worried about bandwidth usage given that my client’s site does get a bit of traffic.)

So, after messing about with all sorts of file compression options (changing the PDF export settings in InDesign), a hair-brained idea, spawned from frustrated desperation, popped into my head. Rather than export via the ‘PDF Presets’, I printed the artwork to a postscript file. I then dragged that PS file into Adobe Distiller and converted it to a PDF using the ‘Smallest file size’ settings.

This got me close – but not close enough. It dropped the file size to 1MB, which I was very comfortable with for web presentation. However, the fonts I had used (HelveticaNeue and Century Schoolbook BT) weren’t displaying properly. They were squished and looking fat, especially the Century Schoolbook BT. I printed a few pages of this new PDF to double-check that it wasn’t just poor screen presentation – and sure enough, it wasn’t.

Hmm … now what?

Well, the answer was to change the ‘Smallest File Size’ distillation settings to embed 100% of the fonts. Re-distilling the PS file gave me what I wanted: 1MB PDF file with the fonts properly displaying and printing. Job done.

Adding Interactivity to PDF Files from InDesign

I was working on a client project the other day that involved converting a large scale print exhibition (40 panels, each 700mm x 1000mm) for on-screen presentation. The project was further complicated by a very short deadline. It would have taken too long (and been too expensive) to reformat all 40 panels into a Flash-based slide show. PowerPoint wouldn’t have worked either as the panels were too text heavy to fit onto a single slide. So after a few trials at different ideas, I quit and gave up.

Just kidding.

I turned to the wonderful tool that is Google and did some research. And what I discovered not only made the project possible within the time constraints but also added a level of functionality and grace to the resulting PDF that I would never have imagined possible before Adobe InDesign. The process involved setting up an InDesign file to export to PDF. (I should mention here that I knew adding interactivity in Adobe Acrobat was possible, but for a 40 page document, I expected it to be cumbersome.)

I started with the original InDesign file (which was set up for the 700mm x 1000mm panels) and then added a series of navigational links that would allow the viewer (scrolling through the resulting PDF) to navigate to the previous page, the subsequent page or the starting page. I also added a couple of buttons that would allow the viewer to zoom in and out on the PDF. (This worked best in Adobe Reader 8; in Adobe Reader 7 or earlier, the zoom features still worked but scrolled off the page when zooming. In Reader 8, the document ‘zoomed in’ with the buttons as the anchors, if you will, such that they were always on screen, unless the viewer then scrolled down the page to read the panel text.)

Once the InDesign file was properly set up, I exported to PDF, making sure to remember to export the hyperlinks and interactive elements on the ‘General’ tab on the Export dialogue box. Failure to do this renders the buttons and navigation useless in Acrobat.

After the file had been successfully exported to Adobe Acrobat, another nice touch (I thought!) was to change the opening settings so that the PDF file opened in full screen. This makes the navigation that was added in InDesign the only available navigation (unless the viewer hits the Esc or Ctrl-L on the PC) and therefore makes the PDF document the complete focus on the screen.

An important to aspect to remember about PDF documents, and what makes this process work so well, is that there was no need to resize the document dimensions in InDesign as Acrobat will scale the file to fit the screen. Yes, this does make for a larger file (the total exhibition file was about 10mb), but as this project called for the PDF to be distributed via a DVD-ROM, this was not a concern. (I could have re-sized the images in the InDesign file before exporting but, again, the distribution was via DVD-ROM, I decided against that option.)

I have uploaded the first few pages of the exhibition, so you can see the lot for yourself: Interactive PDF available for download.

PDF for Print: Pass4Press

Recently I was investigating the use of PDF files when sending artwork to print (at a print shop or house.) Historically I was having trouble ensuring consistent quality and functionality from the PDF, ie, elements within the artwork would not print properly or would not print at all (even though they were visible on screen in the PDF). Working mostly in Adobe InDesign, I was exporting to PDF for digital printing; for traditional offset printing, I was still sending the InDesign file, fonts and included images to the printer.

After a particularly troublesome file (the cover of an Annual Report for a London charity), I did some rather extensive online research into the matter. The solution to my PDF’ing woes? PDF/X-1a! Yes, indeed, when exporting to PDF from Adobe InDesign CS2, the best option for quality printing is PDF/X-1a. Whether it is a simple two colour business card or a double-sided full colour fold out map, you can still use the PDF/X-1a for your output. Here’s a great site from which to read further: learn more about PDF to print production at Pass4Press.