This is the first of a three-part series about how graphic designers can improve their business operations. First, we discuss how to improve workflow and why that’s important to the bottom line.
Whenever I get in a room with graphic designers, sooner or later the talk goes to how hard business is and how customers often over demand, don’t understand what they’re asking for, and make unhelpful changes right up to the deadline.
Graphic design and its related disciplines have come under dramatically more pressure during the past 20 years in part due to the plethora of new design software, free fonts, stock photography, templates, platforms like WordPress and Canva. These low price or free options have ‘educated’ customers to think that design is easy, that ‘anyone’ can do it and paying anything much more than ‘free’ is a waste of money — which, of course, simply isn’t true.
In the United States, 97% of small businesses say that design is important to them, but only 7% use design agencies. While two-thirds would pay $500 for a logo — the average price range for a logo is actually $500 to $2,000. As a former branding specialist, the first thing I would tell any potential client is that a logo is not a brand, and a whole load of work needs to be done before you reach the stage of briefing a designer.
Yet, despite this, the U.S. and other international markets are growing especially in digital. What’s more, while some designers are working at $20 an hour, others are earning as much as $150 an hour, according to market surveys. That is a colossal difference — but, in most cases, it is not because the $150 an hour designer has better skills. There are other factors at play — workflow, clients and expanding into high-yield work.
Whenever You Work, Improve Your Workflow
During the Covid year, I relearned something that I had known back in the days when computers were slow and everything took a long time: whenever you work, improve your workflow.
If you were an early user of PageMaker, you probably remember how long it took for the page to refresh. One of the reasons that Quark was able to come in and capture the market so completely was that it was fast. But, even with great speed, we had to learn to work smart because the computer could never work as fast as we wanted.
A better way forward for most of us is to use every project as an opportunity to improve workflow. We don’t need to use every feature and realistically, in most software, none of us ever will.
For Quark users, life is a bit easier: features have been introduced thoughtfully over the years, and most features interlock well with existing features. If you knew how to do something in version 3.32, chances are it works similarly today. However, if you are using QuarkXPress today, let me say that you are already using it correctly, but keep in mind that. QuarkXPress can work harder for you if you let it.
The most basic workflow improvement is stylesheets. If you’re not using character and paragraph stylesheets, then it will take you a literal 10 minutes to start using them. After that, every job you do will save time, reduce mistakes, and make it easier to fix later.
My guess is 95% of QuarkXPress users are already using these — they’ve been in the package since the early days.
But if you’re using Paragraph styles, are you also using Item Styles? Item Styles let you redesign multi-layout projects all at once. It’s not just about the look of boxes, lines and shapes. Item Styles let you reposition every one of a particular kind of item differently on the page, set them to print or not print, determine where the text will fall, and even manage wraparound, clipping and drop shadows.
If you already embraced Item Styles, have you looked at Conditional Styles? Conditional Styles allow you to format an entire novel, or a catalogue, or a dictionary, or a complete Bible. With that amount of power, it is going to take some investment of time to get the most out of Conditional Styles. It’s important to test what you do on a small amount of text. Once you’ve got them though, you can complete a task in one hour that would have taken eight hours.
If you’re comfortable with Conditional Styles, then you might want to look at Job Jackets, especially if you are working with multiple clients. A Job Jacket can encapsulate an entire brand, complete with contact details and special instructions. Think of the time savings already!
Beyond that, there are many other ways to improve workflow — editing the kerning on a font can save you many hours. You can specify tracking by size. One of my favorites — because I have had more kickback from clients on this than any other aspect of typography — is refining hyphenation. Clients who seem completely blind to hyphenation in anyone else’s documents seem to obsess about it on for their own.
One of the things I most like about QuarkXPress is that it is built from the ground up with workflow in mind. Getting into the habit of improving your workflow a little with every job will pay for itself in a short amount of time.
The second blog in the “Turbocharging Your Graphic Design Business” series will discuss how to deal with difficult clients.
Download a free trial of QuarkXPress and see for yourself how it can help you create more brilliant content, as well as be more productive.