The Printer and the Designer

A few nights ago for the umpteen times, I was watching the film version of Rogers and Hammerstein II great musical Oklahoma! But this time, a particular song impressed me with a new meaning. The song goes something like this —-“Ho, the farmer and the cowman must be friends. The one man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow, but that’s no reason why they can’t be friends”. The lyrics of this songs deals with the struggle between farmers and ranchers. Oklahoma’s story was derived from the lyrical play set at the turn-of-the-century in the Southwest called Green Grow the Lilacs. It was a battle for turf rights, The lyrics continues—“I’d like to say a word for the farmer: He come out west and made a lot of changes, he come out west and built a lot of fences, and built ‘em right across our cattle ranges.”

So, the song and lyrics The Farmer and The Cowman lends itself to another theme in today’s printer and graphic designer relationship. The printer and designer are also dealing with turf rights. The feeling among many young designers is that the printers are encroaching upon their turf, mainly graphic design. Due to the number of design and production computer programs that are available today and the relative ease of use and reasonable cost, it is tempting for many printers to offer graphic design services to customers. With the availability of this service, the printer can now truly become a one-stop shop. It’s all done here. From the design, to production, and finally, the finished printed piece, such a-deal! Some printers say that,”it is a logical service”, because they will have complete control of the job and it will be done technically correct. No missing typefaces, EPS, and TIFF files, or incorrect trappings and weird computer outputs. With that premise, I have no argument.

Where does this leave the graphic designer? Well quite frankly not as bad as creative types may think. With the advent of technological changes, technology has thrust the growing and responsibility in purchasing, output decisions, production quality control, specifying, organizing, and designing in the hands of a creative designer. With this “techno” power comes greater responsibility in becoming more knowledgeable and creative. Rapport with the printer and designer has always been critical but not as critical as it is today. For so many things can go wrong with a computer file output and the blame (if things go wrong), often lies with the designer in its interpretation. A close working relationship and help from your printer can have astounding results – mainly, the job prints exactly the way you and your client visualized the printed piece to be. Let’s face it, after-all, most printers want to do the best job for their customers.

The printed page (publications, corporate reports, newsletters, brochures, catalogs, stationery design, etc.) is still the largest segment of work done by graphic designers and the second largest segment of work is point-of-purchase projects. With this fact in mind, the print jobs haven’t really changed much since the introduction of computer technology into the creative field. Print design is still the king and not the web site. The method of arriving at the final printed stage has changed but not the creative process of designing. The need to know your client’s product and the way it is to be used and marketed will always be the main criteria into conceiving good design solutions.

I remember watching a film on the PBS network about the prolific work of I.M. Pei, the American architect. His work, involves a prolific succession of commissions in cities that encompasses three continents: the glass pyramid that served as the new grand entrance to the Louvre Museum in Paris, the seventy-seven story Bank of China office tower in Hong Kong (the tallest building outside the United States), the bell tower for a Buddhist temple in Japan, Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio and the J.F.K. Library in Dorchester, Boston Harbor – just to name a few. With such a wide divergence of cultural and design problems to deal with, I was impressed with the variation of styles and solutions to each of these projects. Solving design problems for an architectural structure, in many ways, is the same as solving a problem for the printed page. I.M. Pei reflecting on his thoughts on each of his projects stressed that the acquired knowledge of the problems (with the environment, structural requirements, the client’s needs, etc.) is essential and only with the collection of this knowledge can he then begin to work on the solution and design of the project into his vision. In other words, the solution to the design problem lies within the problem.

With today’s greater awareness of design through a whole generation of visual stimulation from the media of television, films, special effects, and print; the glamour and excitement that is associated with creative professions is responsible for an alarming number of people entering the graphic design programs. There are approximately 2,600 educational programs in the United States alone that are described as “graphic design programs” according to Rich Grefe, executive director of AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts.) The total number of students those programs graduate annually could reach up to 50,000. There is no doubt that an infusion of new talent into the graphic design market creates a pricing problem. As competition among designers grows, the compensation levels become more diverse, often in general, much lower. When you think about it, how do you put a price on ideas? And, isn’t that what we as designers are all about.

 With that element factored in having such a number of students graduating from the graphic design programs and looking for employment, you can understand why so many of the professional designers are wary of printers that offer graphic design services. The only way out of this dilemma, for the graphics designer, is to develop his or her own knowledge and respectable influence within the client’s realm and introduce a new perspective and creative way to solve its clients design problems. Technology has given the graphics designer unlimited opportunities to achieve striking expressions of their creations and has also made it possible to work faster with more experimental possibilities. At the same time, the potential for poor design work to exist is more prevalent now from amateur and uneducated designers. With the stiff completion in the market place the job of being a professional graphic designer, is more demanding and challenging today than ever before. And, the printer can be a valuable “tool” in helping the graphic designer realizes its final printed creation.

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