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'We kicked! We screamed! We dragged our feet!' (instituting desktop publishing in business)

'We Kicked! We Screamed! We Dragged Our Feet!'

When we felt the pressure to "get into desktop," we seemed to be moving painfully slowly to some of our clients.

But to us at Hoeck Associates, Inc., a graphic design studio just outside Toledo, Ohio, the costs associated with computerizing design and production were a little scary. So were the ads, which seemed to promise the moon, and the trainers, who explained things in a language that only computer jocks could understand.

I'll admit that I was reluctant. I'm from the old school, and really saw nothing wrong with the way we were already doing things. Besides, if what we're really selling is ideas, does it matter how they are produced? I wanted to be known as "that great little studio in Sylvania that still does things by hand." I didn't want to lose touch with that personal approach to design, but then again, I didn't want to be left behind in the dust of desktop, either.

A Happy Medium

Two years later, we feel that we've hit a happy medium. The addition of two designers who are experienced with desktop, as well as the acquisition of two Macs, a PC and all the related doodads, has broadened our scope and given us options that weren't there for us before. Still, by dragging our feet, assessing our needs accurately and thoroughly investigating equipment, we feel that we've learned an important lesson or two--along with the understanding that desktop publishing, while a wonderful medium, does not have to be, nor should it be, used for everything.

"One thing that we know for sure is that it is great for repeat work, like the company publications that we do," says Debi Lewis, art director. "But I'm glad that we take a good hard look at every job that comes in the shop before we put it on desktop. We already know that we can produce quality work using conventional typesetting and design, and if there's not a good reason for using the computer, like saving time or saving money for our clients, then we don't use it."

We also don't plan on training all of our designers on the new tool--not yet, anyway. "Well, to be honest, I do like playing around with it," admits Linda Ehman, art director. "But for now, it's enough for me to know what it can do, so that I can consider the advantages for my projects. I'm more of a hands-on type with a fine arts background, and have a style of my own, which, for the most part, needs to be produced conventionally. If I do have a project which lends itself to desktop, then I will direct it that way. I'm just no the person sitting behind the computer doing the production."

A lot of our clients thought that our per-job prices would be lower with desktop.

"The thing is, it really doesn't change our prices much to use one tool over another," explains Lewis. "We use the computer for design and we use it for production, but we also design and produce with any number of other tools, depending on the project."

The cost cutting that most people associate with desktop publishing occurs primarily when functions that had formerly been purchased from outside vendors are brought in-house. Our clients are not always saving costs unless they do their own design and typesetting in-house on their own computers, and they're finding out that they're not trained, nor do they have the time, to do either.

With desktop publishing, we as designers are actually setting type for our clients instead of purchasing type from a typesetter, as with conventional production methods. Either way, the client is billed for type. There can be some savings in terms of finished art, but we've found that it pretty much evens out.

The Perfect Project

The first project that H.A! tackled with our new tool was the conversion of Owens-Corning Fiberglas' employee publication, FOCUS, from conventional typesetting and keyline to computer.

FOCUS was perfect for the computer for many reasons.

-- It has an established format.

-- It repeats every month.

-- It has a no nonsense, photo-journalistic design approach.

-- It requires many approval stages, and copy can be proofed in typeset form in place on the page.

-- Our client is willing to write to fit and cut copy for the sake of the look of the page.

-- We are linked to Owens-corning, their public relations firm, writers, and editors by electronic mail and can transmit copy and corrections quickly and efficiently via modem.

"But, it did have to be redesigned from its then mag-tab format to a manageable desktop format," says Peggy Potter, H.A.'s newest designer and the one with three years of computer design experience.

It took us three months to take FOCUS to desktop. During that time, we worked closely with the writers at Funk/Luetke, Inc., Toledo; Burson-Marsteller, New York, and Bill Hamilton, manager, employee communications at Owens-Corning: setting objectives and priorities for the new format. We all agreed that the primary reason to change the publication was to make it more readable. Now, FOCUS continues to get compliments from readers about its new format and ease of readability as well as about the content of the magazine.

Desktop publishing helped us to meet our objectives and continues to be the best way to produce FOCUS on a timely basis.

We learned a lot about how we can make the best use of desktop during this particular conversion.

-- For us, desktop publishing functions more as a production medium than as a design tool.

-- It's better to underbuy when purchasing equipment. We used service bureaus until we really felt justified in adding to our equipment investment.

-- Pagemaker on the PC is not as easy as Pagemaker on the Mac, if you're not already using DOS, no matter what any retailer, manufacturer or trainer says. (But, as our client is PC based and uses E-mail, and as we could use a PC for our accounting and books, we have and use both.)

-- You don't actually skip typesetting and keyline, it just gets done in a different way.

-- Proofing copy in place on laser proofs is a real plus for clients.

-- It isn't always cheap, or even cheaper to work with desktop. Someone still has to do the work, but there are ways to keep costs down.

-- The biggest savings in desktop publishing comes in terms of time savings. We had to change a few habits, but found that by having control of the type in our studio for this kind of project, we can respond more quickly to changes and last minute additions.

A Mini-Seminar for Clients

Still, with all of the things that we were learning, we had found a puzzling communication gap with some of our clients, most of whom are writers in public relations and corporate communications capacities and are responsible for publications as well as one-time projects. Neither we nor they seemed to really understand how to communicate what we needed from each other to make the best use of our desktop publishing capabilities.

These clients all have computers and have been told by the manufacturers that they don't need their designers and typesetters anymore. They've been told that desktop publishing is cheaper, faster and better. And they're asking themselves some questions: Should they do desktop publishing internally? What types of projects could they really handle, and which ones do they need a designer for? If they don't do desktop publishing internally, should they insist that their designers use it for certain projects? Which ones? And when they put copy on a disk, why doesn't it come back from their designer as expected? And if they set their own copy for smaller internal projects and skip the designer altogether, why doesn't the typesetter fix their mistakes on the Linotronic runouts?

It was during a discussion with our typesetter, who had been experiencing similar confusion with customers, that we came upon a possible solution. It was obvious that, with desktop, the traditional roles of writer/client, designer and typesetter were being transposed, overlapped, omitted and just plain jumbled. So we said: "Let's just sit down, all of us, and discuss it."

Which is what we did. Together with our typesetter, Toledo-based Metzger's Type House, we planned a "mini-seminar." We invited writer/clients who we thought may have been getting pressure internally to design and typeset on their own computers. We also invited clients who, while not interested in desktop publishing internally, may have had unrealistic or unclear expectations of what was really possibly with desktop.

It was evident that we all still have a lot of questions. While we may have only scratched the surface, we wanted to let our clients know what we and our typesetter had learned, as well as how we intend to use desktop, so that everyone can work more efficiently together.

We got a great response from our workshop, and discovered some real common sense rules to go by. We also think that our clients understand the process a little bit better, will call the next time they have questions and maybe even H.A! and Type House for new or different kinds of work.

One thing is for sure. Our clients know that we'll investigate the best design and production solution for any problems that they may be facing now, taking budget, timing and individual constraints into consideration. And that may or may not include desktop publishing.

The Best of Both Worlds

Our goal as a graphic design studio is to produce quality work in the areas of communication project design, support and management. This includes being able to meet tight deadlines and work within the client's budget.

We've found that desktop publishing, when combined with our own individual approach to design, is a great tool that can help us to be more flexible in accomplishing that goal.

And, by dragging our feet and continuing to question every step along the way, we feel confident that we're giving our clients our best.

Marcia Hoeck is owner/president, Hoeck Associates, Inc., Sylvania, Ohio
COPYRIGHT 1989 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Hoeck, Marcia
Publication:Communication World
Date:Nov 1, 1989
Words:1693
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