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Production and Design (long post)

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  • Production and Design (long post)

    I really need to reach out on this topic. I hope it is not to controversial, but it is driving me crazy and I am hoping for some insight into the BS I am seeing in the industry as a whole. I tend to be a little aggressive in trying to make my point. So I apologize in advance if I offend. My intent here is to grow from the input I receive here.

    I started out as a prepress guy in a small studio I then graduated to to design. I was responsible for doing my projects from start to final output. I have attained mastery level in all pertinent software and then some. I have a very well developed design sense. I was there for 5 years and I learned a lot.

    After the attacks on 911 I had a very hard time getting back into the swing of things. My portfolio was not all that impressive yet so I seemed to be relegated to production positions. Things have gone downhill from there.

    There is a trend that I am noticing now. The gap between production and design is huge and for the life of me I cannot figure out why. Most freelance jobs that I am on, I find myself answering to people who do not hold a candle to my ability both creaitvely and technically. I have found that most designers are worthless. Yes there are talented but they cannot set up a file to save their lives and more times than not I have had to completely rebuild their art from scratch. What was the point to have them do the work in the first place?

    I know a lot of other people in production and many of them are talented artists as well but are in the same boat as me. Creatively gifted, but taken advantage of for our tech savvy nature. I have 12 years into the industry now and I am downright insulted when I have to work for a person with half of the time that I have in the trade, not nearly as versatile as me and not even as creatively gifted as me and yet they get the bigger paycheck. What gives?

    OK so I didn't go to art school, but it is pretty ignorant to assume that just because I didn't go to art school that I cannot handle a design or AD position. My portfolio suffers because I can never secure any worthwhile work from my freelance employers because either A) I am production and don't need a portfolio (that really pisses me off) or B) Security/Trademark issues as they don't want to risk one of their competitors seeing their art before it is released. (I do a lot of high-end fortune 500 work in the branding field)

    Talk about a conundrum. Everywhere I go I see production people getting cycled in and out like no tomorrow. The designers get the all the credit when things go right and the production team gets the blame when things go wrong.

    Which brings me to my philosphy: There should be no distinction between production and desgn. There a a difference between an artist and a graphic designer. All graphic designers should be not only responsible for developing the art but also for its revisions and final output. I am sick and tired of hearing these snuffy designers taking the position that they do not need to know anything except about how to generate pretty pictures on their screens. They need to be held accountable for their work.


  • #2
    There are parts of your post I agree with, and parts I disagree with.

    To give you a little bit of background about myself, I started off, and have primarily remained, as a production person. I've been doing this for close to 30 years. Back in those days, there were no Macs, and there certainly weren't any desktop PC's around able to handle that type of work. Postscript language was a gleam in someone's eye, no more. There were ad agencies and design firms and typeshops. The agencies and design firms sent us their stuff on tissue layouts, and we set the type, film-stripped it into camera ready mechanical form, and it was produced in print form.

    Fast forward to the era of desktop publishing, and then ad agencies and design firms taking their work in-house and sending it to places that used to be doing this stuff as a separate function became the precursors to modern day pre-press houses. What happened in that transition was that a lot of places went out of business, some made the transition very well by adding pre-press services, but the craft of typesetter and film stripping went the way of the brontosaurus (or should I say alliosaurus?).

    While I recognize your frustration at the gap between production and designers, at the same time, I often feel like there's not enough of a gap. Because it seems like a lot of the people that I work with on a day to day basis don't know when to let go of what they're doing and hand it over to me, with my greater amount of knowledge regarding production issues. I'll often be handed a project two hours before it needs to go on a disk to a printer, and be expected to make a 40 page brochure foolproof in that amount of time. Yes, this is partly bad management, but I also think it's an undervaluation of what a production person does when working on projects. We're more than just disk and print monkeys.

    So I guess I just ranted at your rant.
    "Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do!" - Ricky Ricardo


    • #3
      Mostly, I think the gaps just fine.

      Some people are really good at the artistic side of it, but aren't that hot at the technical. Others are really good at the technical side, but just aren't very artistic. There's actually very few that are good at both, so for the most part this system works pretty well.

      Sure does suck for those of us who are good at both, though


      • #4
        What happens more often is the production person makes the artist look good but the artist gets the recognition (and the paycheck).

        I've long been a proponent that these are two separate fields, each as worthy as the other. Hang around any other GD forum and the designers will all look down their noses at the prepress guy trying to tell them how to 'do it right'. The GD education system is sorely lacking in practical, real world experience. Most students learn more in a month on the job than they do in their 4 years of school when it comes to the technical aspects of getting their pretty pictures to print. But the major problem is, some of them never get that exposure and some of them just never learn. The attitude of "the prepress guy will fix it-that's his job" is becoming rampant. Design used to be a skilled field. It's not so much, any more.

        As far as your current dilemma, you can rant about it but you need to find a way to make this current system work for you. It sucks when you have managers that know little about what works and what doesn't. It sucks not to get the plum jobs. It sucks not being able to use work you've done in your portfolio. But perfect worlds do exist. They are just hard to find.

        What's stopping you from taking concepts used for other companies and modifying them for your portfolio? "Similar to" works. There's also consulting and freelance anvenues out there. Don't rest on the fact you lack a degree. Gloss over it.
        Last edited by PrintDriver; 03-14-2007, 07:28 AM.


        • #5
          I symaphise with you Tom, I spent a year or so as Pre-press in a compnay and a Graphic Design position became available, it went to a person with a degree. Unfortunately he wasn't suited to the quick turn around of jobs in the Newspaper industry. 2 hours for a quarter page design was not what he was used to, I ended up filling his position as he left 1 week later.

          The job was advertised again. I lost out again as this persons portfolio was quite impressive and mine consisted of adverts created for Newspapers with the strict rules that govern them, hell I'd have chosen the other guy. He never turned up for the job.

          The job was advertised... again. By this time I'd been doing the job for 3 months, filling a position that I was permanently being passed over for. I went to see the "man in charge" and asked him bluntly if was even worth giving him my CV and Portfolio for a third time because quite frankly I was sick of wasting my time. He looked a little shocked, appologised for passing me over as he'd just assumed that I was incapable of doing the job full time as I had no qualifications. I bit my tongue, it was either that or curse like a drunken tramp at him.

          I left the graphic design job just over a year later for more money as Pre-Press for a commercial printers. But now I see other designers out there earning more than me and giving me the hassles. It annoys me, but I'm hardened to the world. I've alo met some designers that have next to no money and I sort out their problems too. I just don't complain as much. Is the subconcious dislike of people who earn more than me but in my opinion don't deserve it. I don't like the way I feel, I just can't help it.

          There is a divide with some people, I can only hope that with a little education, for both sides, it becomes a more harmonious working relationship.
          "Here lies Spug. He never tried an avocado"


          • #6
            Thanks for the responses. I feel better that I am not alone in my frustrations. To clear something up, I do have a degree it is just in Communications with concentration in video production and marketing. I am completely self taught in GD. It would have been another 4 years of school to switch majors so I had to do it the hard way.

            Do any of you start at a production and after a few days there think to yourself, "If they gave me the authority to manage this whole production from, design, production/prepress to account management, I would be able to run this studio with 25% less staff, handle twice the volume and reduce costs by an easy 15%-20%?"

            It just seems to me that what really hurts any production is the fact that there is no qualified central management. Too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. I think this is due to the fact that the central managment for a production is not very savvy in any aspect and only concerned with the bottom line. So the organizational makeup of a creative studio is left in the hands of over-sensitive technophobes. It is also due partly to lack of any accountability, it's like Abu Garaib, just filter down to the lowest ranking people when things go wrong and in our case it is the production people.


            • #7
              There are 2 people that do pre-press here and the other guy is technically my senior. When he's in holiday I seem to get so much more done and in an organised fashion. Sure there is more work to do but I feel so much more organised.

              One of my previous bosses when I was a Graphic Designer at the Newspaper showed his complete lack of knowledge one day, it was all I could do not to laugh in his face.

              There were 3 of us and we'd complained that the only colour printer to proof to was not networked (it couldn't be) so could we have a spangly new one rather than constantly interupting the poor lass that was sat on the computer connected to it. He thought about this for a moment, then said "Why can't you just use that one as well?" unfortunately he was pointing at an A4 flatbed scanner at the time.
              "Here lies Spug. He never tried an avocado"


              • #8
                LOL. Story sounds very familiar.

                I had a technophobe CD at one job who could not and would not understand how color correction works and she forced the production and prepress teams to match laser prints for press, so all the colors we were supposed to use as per the style guides we created were all wrong. SO not only, did we have to match the lasers, we had to go through the style guides of all 5 brands we were dealing with (all simultaneaously being repostioned) and adjust all the color pallettes and all on top of having to push out over 400 hundred pieces of collateral in less than 5 weeks. When it all went wrong and we missed our deadlines by about a weeks an a half, the CD recommended a clean sweep of the production team...and the fault was all hers and everyone knew it and they let us all lose our jobs. The print production manager nearly lost his job and barely made it out alive. Total BS.

                3 designers were promoted to art directors at the same with the CD citing that they performed well under pressure. Even more BS. I was consodering suing them but I didn't want to screw things up for my recruiter and they actually gave me a nice bonus for putting up with that.


                • #9
                  I'm convinced that too many production skills shown early in a design career can be dangerous. Anyone remember 'streaming'? That was a term used for an old public school curriculum theory that would identify and steer kids who 'thought with their hands' into the trades. It was abandoned because of a lot of problems-- mostly due to the fact that it left the expert educators holding the fate of the students, not the students themselves. A similar problem pattern holds in many design studios and shops. The technically gifted (aka gurus) get the toughest production work and steered or held in these positions while those who 'can't' move onto design-only type of work, promotions, etc.

                  There's a Dilbert cartoon I always think of where the boss says to a newly (accidentally) promoted intern, "C'mon. Let's go out and do some strategy and call it work!"

                  Don't make the mistake to think that lack of technical knowledge means lack of advancement potential. In many cases, it's a surplus of such knowledge that shuts the door. Be careful how and what you reveal as your area expertise-- particularly if it can replace the responsibility of someone else needing the same knowledge.


                  • #10
                    You just hit a fresh nerve, TomBlaze.

                    We have recently had a client bring two package design projects into the shop that were designed by someone else, and they could not be executed as designed. My guys fixed the designs and made them printable. Sadly, the problems were very basic and should have been obvious to anyone worth their pay as a designer. Ironically, they were both done by a designer who formerly worked for a big agency in NY, which shall remain nameless. We later found out he only designed it and turned it over to another shop in NY to create the production files.

                    Well, poop! Who dropped the ball? Both were suppose to know their stuff and obviously neither did!

                    I did get some satisfaction from pulling my client's stones from the fire after they had given two projects to someone else that should have come to me. Yes, they paid for that! It can be expensive to clean up someone else's mess. And by the time I got the problems they were willing to pay anything! I got seven new package design projects out of their experience.

                    Rant over and back on point....

                    I expect my art directors to understand the production process enough to make intelligent design decisions. In other words, they need not be designing products that are too expensive for the client/project or impossible to execute. Designers must understand the production process. They also need to know when to pass the project off to someone with more experience that they have. For us that means working with the printer very closely, and at some agreed point we pass the files to print production.

                    Is it art? Is it a business? It is both!


                    • #11
                      This is why having a designer be 'jack of all trades' is a mistake. Today a designer is expected to know print file prep and web programming and word processing and network configuration and OS troubleshooting etc, all the while answering the phones and everyone else's questions.

                      'Master of none' just doesn't cut it. Six brings up the interesting point of cost. Not knowing production methods can sometimes be a killer.






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