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Print Planning at the Arm-Waving Stage

By Nani Paape, independent project facilitator 
I like to get in the loop with a print project while it’s still at the arm-waving stage. That’s the time when designers are just beginning to dream up design solutions, but haven’t done too much designing. Sometimes the entire design team gets together at this point; other times it’s just me and the lead designer. It’s a great time to include the electronic production artist, too. Don’t forget to bring the creative brief!
At an arm-waving stage meeting, designers ask me questions like:
• “Have you ever seen…” or 
• “Is it possible to print silver ink on top of 4-color images?” or 
• “Can you find me some printed samples of black and metallic copper Duotones?” or
• “How many pages does a book need to have in order to be perfect-bound?”
I review the creative brief and ask questions to help me understand the designer’s creative intent, too. With this understanding, I can often suggest techniques and structures and start thinking about workarounds for must-have design features that may pose manufacturing challenges.

Things print managers think about
Are there finishing or mailing considerations? Does the piece need to fit into a particular size of envelope or weigh in under an ounce? Will the reader want to write on the paper? Where will the pieces be shipped to and when do they need to arrive? Will posters be folded or rolled?
All of these questions need to be considered during design, but can be easily missed. Asking them before design begins, helps avoid future revisions.

Pesky budget details that influence design direction
At this meeting it’s good to review any budget information that’s available. We might want to sketch out rough specifications for pre-design, budget estimates.
We can also discuss which ideas would be likely to fall into VW, Ford, or Rolls Royce price ranges. For example, a plus-cover brochure on premium uncoated paper will be more expensive than a self-cover brochure on a number 2 coated paper. A design that includes 20 photos will cost more than one that includes 10.
When the preliminary estimates come in, you’ll know whether an approach you’re considering will fit the budget the client has in mind before you’ve spent time and energy going down that design path. 
Some designers worry that a production manager will be a naysayer or budget gatekeeper. I don’t operate that way. I rarely advise designers to kill any idea at the arm-waving stage. After all, finding ways to produce cool designs within budget is a big part of the fun!
Early is good
I usually leave these sessions with a list of samples to track down, technical questions to research, and budget bids to send out. 
Including print and production resources at the arm-waving stage gets everyone thinking about the project and beginning to draw up our internal checklists and ideas, as they relate to our areas of expertise. As one printer’s CSR is fond of reminding me, “a print job well-planned is a job already half-done.” Well, maybe not half, but you get the idea.
—Source: Nani Paape is an independent project facilitator providing print production management, marketing writing and editing, and creative project planning to design firms and creative companies. Read more about Nani’s print management philosophy on her blog, Printing Disasters–and how to avoid them, at © 2009 Nani Paape

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