Why Design is Vital for Printers

Nothing is great that is brainstormed alone

A seat at the table of creative marketing decisions have two essential components (among several) that are required, design and manufacturing. When brainstorming occurs, where brainstorming occurs, that is the seat designers and printers need to be in. Adding value is what creates value. If you want to be valued, be at the decision making touchpoints with the client. Online printers have understood this and many have added design capabilities to their User Experience. Design is the essential communication of the creative intent. 

Stated simply, it guides every contributor downstream in the delivery process to what is needed to meet a client’s marketing needs. So why do so few printers have design as a core component of the value they offer? A 15 year old study by the Design Council in the UK nailed the value of design using business performance data. 

“What they discovered was that the companies that put an emphasis on design did way better than the ones that didn’t – they outperformed the FTSE 100 index by 200% in fact.”      The Value of Design Factfinder Report

Similarly, designers need to make sure they are included in those early discussions. While it seems obvious, especially so in corporate staff design teams, that designers would be included in creative decisions, all too often they are not. 

Vicki Strull

“When designers can speak the language of business, it expands their skills”

Vicki Strull of Marketwise Academy describes the designer’s dilemma. “We all talk about a higher seat at the table. We want to elevate them to that higher seat. When designers can speak the language of business, it expands their skills, and it changes the perception that people have when they enter that room”. 

What is being described is the value a designer brings.  The goal Marketwise promotes is to fill that gap, provide the tools and confidence to give them knowledge and information in terms of marketing strategies. Note the value add is at the marketing strategy stages. 

This is important for both designers and printers. If cost rather than value is the lead, you are traveling a path to be a commodity. For designers, if you are ‘tagged’ as a specialist it is next to impossible to claim value in areas outside of that specialist category. Anyone who doesn’t understand the importance of a design generalist likely does not understand the difference between a pickup truck and a Lamborghini.

Daniel Dejan

“They may not know what it’s called, they may not know how it's done, but they visually understand how it enhances.”

Daniel Dejan, another member of the Marketwise team says that once a young designer or a young print production manager gets hired, they go into an assembly line. Daniel adds “And the truth of it is, it is advantageous for companies to turn their employees into specialists, rather than allowing them to maintain and become generalists and have a huge, broad body of knowledge, and understand how they all intersect.” The core goal of Marketwise programs is to help the participants know what things are called and who can make it real.

I have written previously about a story told by a print company executive that had a creative design agency division, and closed it. All those employees sitting around? Too expensive, he said. But more disturbing was that the clincher in the decision to close it was current print clients, ad agencies, saw the creative component as competition.  My take is those complainers just gave validity to the value that in-house agency added to differentiating the printer from every other printer.  

 Steve Jobs, a business visionary, is credited with saying “if you don’t cannibalize your business, someone else will.”  

 That printer would have risen much higher in value if they had gone directly to the clients the agencies had and deal directly. There are concerns about a manufacturing mindset being nimble enough to compete with an ad agency. Frankly, turnover in the creative teams in an agency is generally a sign strength, of fresh thinking, new blood. 

Printers, who are indeed manufacturers, limit their value proposition to the equipment they have on the floor. That is probably why the most common printer marketing effort is the management team standing in front of a new piece of equipment. Can you imagine a designer standing in front of a computer as a way to show what they can create? Totally different mindsets.

Trish Witkowski

“It's a respect for what the designer creates, and this goes both ways, it's also respect for what the printer does.”

Printers do know that the design they receive is the communication on what is expected by the creative team. Trish Witkowski of the fabulous website Fold Factory and also a member of the Marketwise Academy team, provides insight into the relationships a designer needs to foster. “It's a respect for what the designer creates, and this goes both ways, it's also respect for what the printer does.  The designer must understand what they're talking about, what they are asking of the printer. But then from the printer side, respecting that the designer has a vision, that they have a job to do.” These are skills both must develop, and it is the ‘touchy-freely’ aspect of the process that in fact adds value. The better the communication, the better the result. The better the design files, the better the printed product.

 I will be attending one of the Marketwise Academy’s courses as an observer. It is important to know what is going on in the graphic communications industry to keep relevant and promote the concept of value. Daniel Dean’s point regarding specialist vs. generalist is fundamental to realizing the value that both designers and printers must grasp, and take the actions with the confidence that gains them that higher seat at the table where the creative job takes form.

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