Graphic design efficiency

TL;DR: any advice on how to make the design process as stress-free as possible would be great!

Hi all.

I’ve just started my first graduate design role. I’m working as an in house designer for a charity.

I am the only designer and so all design requests come through me. This is great as I’ll be exposed to all sorts of different projects, the reason I accepted the job. However…

Organisation is lacking somewhat, and I’m worried about work piling up and being unable to cope. They are leaving it for me to decide how I want to organise. But this is my first job, so I’m not entirely sure…



That’s an understandable apprehension, especially given your relative inexperience. There’s no “magic bullet” to give that will alleviate your fears, but I will say these things:

  • Weak organization is your opportunity to make a positive difference from day 1. Don’t be a victim of it; position yourself as a problem solver and take a proactive stand against its perpetuation. All that’s needed is for one person there to establish a strong, we-can-do-better-than-this attitude, and others will follow your lead. Own your new position and it won’t own you.
  • Forget “efficiency”. That’s a measurement of throughput over time that only applies to repeatable process. Good graphic design requires the formulation of strategy, thorough research, iterative mentality that doesn’t ever settle for the first solution reached, even if it’s ultimately destined to be the correct one. A machine can’t and won’t ever do it correctly. Design product itself should be “efficient,” but the process that produces it should never be subject to measurement as though it’s an assembly line. Everything will, and should, take longer than you’d want ideally. Learn to plan for that, and don’t downgrade your standards in the name of speed. Bring your expertise to the table, earn their respect, always consider the bigger picture, and there won’t be a stopwatch on you.
  • Work always piles up. Plan for that too. Stay realistic about what you allow in others’ expectations and keep your promises by promising strategically.

Since you are new to this, try to think a little bit backwards when doing print.
Think about the finishing before even beginning.
Find out your due date.
Talk to your printer and get their file specifications and their lead times (how long it will take to print and ship your job.)
Find out if they have any special requests. ie do they want PDF handoff (usually conventional print) or would they prefer native files (usually for large format stuff,)
Do they have image resolution specs? You might be surprised how low they are for some large format things like banners.
Find out your bleeds (large format bleeds may be quite large,) safeties, folding locations, mailer postal regs, etc.
For any process you are unsure about, maybe things like varnishing, foil, die-cutting, specialty products, one-off custom work… always ask questions. Questions are good. They prevent costly mistakes later.

Then start designing within those parameters.


Oh, yes! Step #1 of making a good plan is always a well-formed target. Define exactly what and when with certainty before any work begins.

If there’s one thing a designer needs to know, it will be this.

Congratulations, even though you’ve found yourself in a tough situation. As a new graduate, you still have lots to learn about the practical, day-to-day parts of the business that were likely never addressed in school. It sounds like you’re running headfirst into those problems.

One thing to consider is that developing solutions to design problems takes time; it doesn’t just happen. You might not be to the point where you can accurately estimate the time something takes, but you need to make your best guesses and prioritize your working hours to get the most important things done. If the workload is too great, honestly, you can’t work past your limits — nobody can. While you’re prioritizing and scheduling, don’t forget to factor in the time it takes for research, thinking, revisions, etc. Design projects are rarely straight-forward — especially when you’re working with other non-designers.

PrintDriver made a very good point about thinking through the bigger problem, the solution and its implementation — all the way to the end. Don’t dive blindly into design problems. Think it through to its conclusion before you start — especially the practical stuff that designers sometimes tend to ignore. You might change course as you’re working due to detours and finding better routes, but that’s OK — at least you’ll start out with a clear direction and destination.

Find a good printer and ask questions. Loads of questions. Don’t be afraid to tell them that this is your first job and there are gaps in your knowledge. The more you learn about their job, the less daunting yours will become. A good relationship with a printer is invaluable.

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Good advice, I agree with you.