Designing with Technology in Mind

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“The world, as we have created it is a process of our thinking.
It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
~ Albert Einstein

Author: Shoshana Burgett, Pink Elephant Productions

Last fall, I hit the publish button on colorKarma.com, and so far, I have not looked back. It’s not easy to leave corporate America, but sometimes life gives you a new outlook on things. After many years of working in the design, print, manufacturing, and technology sectors, it was time for a new challenge. But why create a content site like colorKarma.com, and why now?

A Designer’s Perspective

I graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a design and advertising degree. I love designing, but back then, many companies did not offer health insurance. I took a job at Business Link Communications, the prepress house in New York City. I knew how to design, but I also knew how to code and how to correct the PostScript code. This combination allowed me to assist art directors all over New York City. I learned QuarkXPress, Aldus PageMaker, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe Photoshop. I witnessed the errors many designers made and spent time educating them on how to submit their jobs more effectively.

In those days, design colleges had their students visit printers, manage galleries, intern at studios, and experience roles that were specifically focused on the production aspect of design. This hands-on training provided students with real-world experience and helped them understand the different steps required to bring their ideas to life. We, in turn, learned how to leverage the technology.

Me at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Lab
Roads Collide

Life has many twists and turns. I ended up in corporate America, first Xerox, later at X-Rite and Pantone. At Xerox, our team was at the forefront of helping companies like Tui, Mercedes, Ford, and even Pantone, shift to short-run, on-demand, and targeted messaging. During this time, I saw the internet expand, then apps and digital technology.  Somewhere along the line graphic designers, marketers, art directors, fashion, and other types of designers seemed less inclined or curious about the technology that made their ideas come to life.

Well before the Facebook and Amazon’s of the world presented consumers with curated content, marketers, designers, and their print suppliers were doing it on physical paper. The primary difference was many consumers did not know it. It did not have the same ‘stalking’ feel that those google ads do when you browse on-line.

Over the last 15+ years, innovative print providers saw a tremendous business opportunity to automate the design process. Companies like Snapfish, Shutterstock and Vistaprint led the way, developing applications and web portals, allowing anyone with a digital camera and internet access to design and produce their photo books, gifts or business cards/marketing materials. Lulu (not Lulu Lemon) created a website where anyone could publish and print their books.

Today, design tools are accessible to everyone, with new software and apps popping up all the time. Adobe and Zazzle partner to allow anyone with Photoshop to create and host their designs on Zazzle.com. These apps make it easy for anyone to tap into their creativity but that does not necessarily make everyone a good designer. Designers, marketers, and creatives need a foundation to start — an understanding of type and fonts, negative space, layouts and more.

AIGA Design Census 2019 shows the continued challenges designers face
Design Discipline by Gender from AIGA Design Census 2019
Let’s look at the facts

At 9,429 participants, the 2019 AIGA Design Census was the largest to date. The average age of the designer is 35-years old, and of that, 32% had a bachelor’s degree, and 6% had a Masters. Designers have predominately been Female, and 2019 survey is no different at 61%. At Pantone, I looked at this report all the time, and I was thrilled to see this year’s report separate gender from the disciplines. I would have done the same thing.

According to the survey, art direction was the primary skill designer use today. Future skills like data analysis, data visualization, business, and strategy were all low on a designer’s daily skill set. When it came to design skills around Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Motion Graphics, Game Design, Artificial Intelligence, or Algorithm Design – these primarily went to men (even though the industry is 62% female).  The survey also found that 7% of respondents were ready to call it quits, and 26% said that they really were not satisfied but managing. Even the satisfied designers said they spread too thin, and those least happy did not feel valued.

Year after year, newer technologies, like artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, have been ‘poised to change the industry.’ In 2018 many designers said they did not feel like they had a seat at the table. In 2019, designers stated that the more critical issue they face is the lack of awareness of the impact a designer brings, which supports the number two fundamental issue, not feeling like designers have a seat at the table.

Behind the curtain

Frank Romano, a professor at RIT, used to teach a class on how to design something that could never get produced. Creating for a physical product requires an understanding of the technology, ink density, dye formulation, dot gain, and materials. You might be a great designer, but what if you can’t produce the design?

Designers have become comfortable with Adobe and other tools and complacent in believing their role is simply to be creative. Brands and leading companies are not looking for good designers. They want creatives who can design and have the technical knowledge to get the job done within a specific price and time frame.

Today, suppliers work with many departments, technical designers, prepress, material and color specialists and more. These are all roles that developed as a result of not having an understanding of how things are produced.

Production samples from EFI showing textile, 2½D Adverts.
Designing with Production Technology in Mind

Think of website design for a moment – websites use structured wireframes. Stepping outside the wireframe breaks the digital experience. I listen to many designers, who are responsible for designing physical products or packaging. They complain that website design is confusing, and they don’t like the structure and limitations. I will let you in on a little secret – the same is true for physical products.

Designing for production technology is not a limitation; it’s empowering. Too often, a designer is told that their creation, which looks lovely on screen, is not viable for production. Reasons vary, from too many colors, too costly, media problems, etc. Creatives tell their supplier it’s their problem, and this circle goes back and forth until time or money runs out. No one wants to be told they have to work within a set of rules. It’s time to shift that view and realize that structure empowers designers to do more.

Understanding that production technology has limitations does not mean that designers should hold back in their creativity.  Just look at digital/web designers. There are magnificent, creative and well-designed websites and apps. All of these designers worked within a structure and push the technology to its limits.

Developing and designing a product can take days, weeks, or months.  But we are in an ever-increasing competition to get to market faster, have healthy margins, and drive revenue. Roles like Chief Creative Officer or Innovation Officer are not designers; these individuals are creative in their thinking, but they also understand technology and design thinking. In 2000, a creative leader at a design firm could expect to make $100,000. Eight years later, that same designer was making $105,000— a mere 5% increase. Roles today are looking for CAD skills like Autodesk, strategy skills, and basic business skills. Companies today are not simply looking for a good designer, they want them to leverage the tools that drive business. To feel valuable and bring measurable value to companies, creative design employees need to possess the skills to create and produce.

Mike Scrutton, Director of Print Technology and Strategy at Adobe agrees, While the creative process can be somewhat artisanal, where the artist creates something that captures their innermost voice, it’s only when we share our creations with others though a physical media that it can live. Being able to design for a tangible & physical world where our creations are transformed from digital to a manufactured product requires a particular set of skills and tools.

Photo by Mia Baker on Unsplash
Colorkarma’s Mission

This brings me back to the start of this article.  Why did I take a leap and start ColorKarma?  With instant access to design tools, anyone can be a designer.  This is great news for everyone – consumers, innovators, SMBs, corporate professionals and graphic artists.  ColorKarma’s goal is to help all creatives design for today’s production technology by minimizing frustration and rework.

If you’ve ever gone back and forth with a producer, manufacturer, supplier or printer about your design or been told you can’t achieve a specified color on the material you selected… than this site is for you.

I want to provide designers and all creatives the resources to understand the processes to produce and manufacture a given item. I firmly believe that when creatives understand the technology they are using – they are able to push the limits and create amazing things. It is only then; creatives can create new colors and push the boundaries of the technology.  Plus, it eases frustrations and helps creatives establish collaborative relationships with suppliers.

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