Learning to Love the Content Design Editing Process
The exciting part of desktop publishing is creating pages that please the eye and command attention. But a designer spends a lot of time reconciling clients’ conflicting requirements for edits and improvements. I’m sharing some lessons I’ve learned to make the review-and-approval process faster and more enjoyable for the design and client alike.
1. Editing is not an add-on to the project; editing is the project.
When someone comes to you as a designer for their project, they are doing so because the result is more important to them than the cheapest possible offer on Fiverr. The exciting part is the design and layout, but the part that makes it a top-quality product is the finishing. As a printer friend once said to me: “The first 80% of quality is easily achieved.” Editing can take up as much as 75% of a project’s total workload.
2. If you make their layouts look good, they’ll hire you again. If you make the associated editing process enjoyable, they will never hire anyone else.
Designers and typographers hate editing, but so do clients – especially when four or five people all make the process more stressful by providing their input. If you, the designer, can manage the edits for them in a way that leaves everyone happy, then you will be their favorite designer—even if you cost five times the price. How to achieve this? See the final section of the article.
3. The best workflow is when a single contact gives you all the final edits at once. But if they had that, they wouldn’t need you.
If one person collects and delivers all the edits for you, then your life becomes easy. However, this almost never happens on big or important projects. Someone somewhere has the messy job of aligning these inputs. Being the person who does that is often the difference between being a commodity designer and a key, valued and irreplaceable part of the team.
4. Unresolved decisions often will impact the editing process.
Very often committees, groups and co-authors will disagree about what the contents of a given project should include. It is human nature to delay decision-making until the deadline crunch in editing. Now their problem(s) is your problem(s).
5. Unresolved decisions usually reflect conflict on the client side.
As well as being more work, unresolved decisions often indicate conflict within the client team. Although you may be presented with meritless edits, the person or people behind those edits need to be taken seriously. Failing to manage (or at least recognize) the emotional side of the client’s editing confusion can lead to your being abruptly dumped from the project.
6. Edits discarded earlier may have to be restored later.
Although frustrating, you should always keep many versions of the document. Major changes should mean a new save with a new version number, for example Document 1-1-1.qxp becomes Document 1-1-2.qxp. Use QuarkXPress’s auto-backup feature (in preferences) to ensure minor versions are kept.
7. Clients will continue making changes right up to the deadline.
People will keep sending you changes right up to the last minute. Don’t be surprised by this.
8. Seeing is believing: make the editing process visual.
Making the editing process visual—see below—gives the client enormous confidence that what they are asking for is actually happening.
9. Never mix editing words, numbers and pictures (take a break between steps).
Take a break between working on words, numbers, and pictures or design. Something about how the brain works means that you can easily overlook huge problems if you jump around between the three.
10. The bigger the project, the more edits. Plan for them from the beginning.
When pricing a project, remember that not only will there be more edits in a bigger, more important project, but that there will be proportionately more. Price that in—but be prepared when you pitch to explain your editing process.
QuarkXPress has some features that lessen the frustrations of the editing process. I was pleased to lead a webinar titled “Learning to Love the Editing Process” in which I explain what some of them are.